Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ask Ellen: Can you give me a resource I can use with my family to engage in Mass more fully? Joan

Cavins, produces a great resource every year.  It takes the Sunday readings for a year and creates activities and prayer that you can do as a family.  I have done it with my kids at Sunday dinner and I was pleased to see how much more they understood what was read at Mass after engaging in the activities.

Cycle C begins in Advent so this is the perfect time to buy it and begin.  You can find it at:  You can download it and be ready to go when Advent rolls around. 

If you decide to use it with your family, please let me know.  I’d love to be able to share with Emily how it has enriched your family.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

- Ask Ellen: I am currently pregnant with our first son and I was as well a teacher (before now)in my previous life, like you. I just wanted to say that I admire your vocation to motherhood, as I find myself constantly praying for wisdom as I embark in this new role. I guess that I was just wondering if you felt like that too when leaving teaching behind.

Thanks so much for getting in touch with me.  Congratulations on your pregnancy.  It is one of the most exciting and terrifying times of your life, I assure you.  I also had very mixed feelings about leaving teaching behind.  I loved my students and coworkers and was very afraid of the isolation of new motherhood.  The first few months were very difficult as I learned about my daughter and adjusted to life away from the workplace.  But I will also tell you that even now, more than 12 years later, I look back on the first few months as the best of my life.  Even though I had a son later and I love him dearly, those first few months of just my baby and me were priceless.

I have not regretted my decision to stay home once.  Sure, some days were lonely and the world doesn't value my choice as much as I did.  But for me and my children it was the right thing to do.  You are ahead of the game as you see motherhood as a vocation.  A life-long one at that.  I will be praying for you as you make the transition.  I hope you will keep in touch and let me know how it goes.

I appreciate your kind words about my work.  I am blessed to be able to do it all from home.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ask Ellen: You mentioned that you practice Lectio Divina in your podcast interview. Can you tell me more about that? Jay.

Firstly, Jay, thanks for taking the time to listen to the podcast.  I really enjoyed being a guest on Among Women.  If you didn’t get a chance to hear the interview, it can be found here:

In the interview, I said that Lectio Divina is one of my favorite ways to pray.  Lectio Divina is an ancient Catholic tradition that brings to mind the fascination with New Age mediataion.  Catholics have been practicing meditation for centuries with one major difference fro the New Age stuff that is so popular today: Lectio Divina is centered on God.  In the process you prayerfully use Scripture to enter more deeply into prayer with God.

Before beginning the process, it is important to set aside the space and time.  As I mentioned in the podcast, silence is essential.  That was very difficult for me in the beginning.  There are four stages to Lectio Divina.

The first is simply reading.  Choose a passage of Scripture that interests you.  Read it slowly and prayerfully.  Read it as if God is speaking just to you.

The next step is to meditate on the passage.  Focus on a word or phrase that jumps out at you.  As I mentioned in the podcast, I will often write the phrase down and carry it with me all day.

Next, speak directly to God.  Tell Him what you understood and what was over your head.  Be honest.  Reveal your thoughts and emotions.  Unload what is bothering you.

The last step is to contemplate.  Just be in God’s Presence.  Be open to what HE is saying through the passage and how He is speaking directly into your life.

This is a powerful way to center your day on God and your relationship with Him.  I encourage you to give it a try.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ask Ellen: Who is the patron saint of art? Anna.

I have to admit, Anna, I had to look this one up.  Officially it is St. Catherine of Bologna.  Her feast day is March 9th.

I think she was named the patron saint of art because she painted the many glorious visions she saw.  She also drew lovely pictures that were contained in manuscripts.

She lived a very private and simple life.  She died when she was 49.  Eighteen days after her death, the people reported a beautiful fragrance around her grave.  It was discovered that her body remained untouched.  It is now housed in the Chapel of the Poor Clares in Bologna.  You should get your dad to take you there.  Get some spaghetti while you are there.

A great way to honor St. Catherine would be to have an exhibit of your art on her feast day.  You could have some fun party foods and celebrate the gift of art in your life.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Best Of....Ask Ellen If I am divorced, that means I can’t receive Communion, right? Lisa.

Thanks for the question, Lisa.  This is one of the most misunderstood things in the Church today.  Yes, you can receive Communion if you are divorced.  You may not receive if your marriage hasn’t been annulled and you are involved with or married to someone else.

In the eyes of the Church, a legal divorce does not end the marriage.  It is still a sacramental marriage (meaning a sacrament took place)  So you can receive Communion as you did in your married life. (assuming you are free from any other mortal sins).

The problem becomes when you are involved with someone or remarry without an annulment.  See, cause in the eyes of the Church you are still married to person number one.  Therefore, you aren’t free to marry anyone else. 

In order to do so, you must seek an annulment.  This is a process the Church uses to decide whether or not a sacramental marriage occurred.  Many times and for many reasons it might not have been a sacramental marriage and it is annulled.  This means you are fee to remarry and to continue to receive Communion.  Does that make sense?  If not, I encourage you and anyone else with questions about annulments to ask your parish priest.  If you are unable to do so, contact me and I will put you in touch with someone who can help.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ask Ellen: Are Catholics even Christians? Julie.

I do not usually answer questions as forcefully as I will this one but it pushes my buttons.  Yes, Catholics are Christians and anyone who told you we aren’t was telling you a lie.  All Catholics believe in Christ which is what defines a Christian.  But there is more to it.

Catholics are different from all other Christians in that we do not belong to a denomination.  All other Christians denominated from Catholicism.  The term “catholic” means “universal.”  From the very beginning, the Church spread universally.  In the Early Church, if you were Christian, you were Catholic.  It was that simple.  That is all there was.

The Catholic Church was founded by Christ Himself.  He made Peter the Rock on which He built the Catholic Church.  This Church is apostolic, meaning it has been passed on through unbroken succession for the last 2000+ years.

All other denominations broke off from this one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church and were founded by a man or woman.

So, yes, Catholic are Christians.  I would go as far as to say the original Christians.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ask Ellen: What is Gracie's favorite color? Lexi.

What a cute question, Lexi.  A lot of times we see Gracie wearing her school uniform which is a blue plaid.  Do you wear a uniform to school?  If you do, you might agree that it isn’t your favorite thing to wear and might not be a color you would choose.

If you look at the strips, you might notice two things.  For one, Gracie likes her pajamas.  I think comfort is very important.  She also wears pink shirts a lot.  I think Gracie likes to bring color into the world.  Remember when she said she was “a pink candle girl in a purple candle world”?

We will probably see more colors and trends as Gracie grows.  I think she would want you to bring color anywhere you go too.  When you wear a bright color this summer, think of Gracie and smile, ok?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ask Ellen: How can I keep from being distracted during prayer? Tricia.

Great question, Tricia.  My answer in short is practice, practice, practice.  When I first made the decision to get serious about prayer, I found it nearly impossible to sit still.  A good friend told me that I just needed to sit in the quiet.  This terrified me.  I had always surrounded myself by noise.  I would have the TV on even if I wasn’t in the room and an Ipod blaring upstairs even when I was outside.  I didn’t do silent.  But I believe it was the key in going deeper.

Once you get used to sheer quiet, you begin to open yourself up to what is going on inside of you.  You are able to “pour your troubles out to the Lord” like we saw Hannah do this week.  It becomes easier each time you sit down to pray.

It also carries over to public prayer.  I used to spend my time at Mass people watching.  Once I learned how to pray, I could be in a room full of people and hardly notice.  For me, the quiet was the key.

In fact, I just noticed that I am sitting in my office, typing away and the only noise is from the keys tapping and the birds chirping and I am at peace.

Go, unplug, sit in a chair and be quiet!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ask Ellen: Why do Catholics use a crucifix and not a regular cross like other Christians? Holly

This is a great question, Holly.  Can you get to Easter morning without going through Good Friday?  I ask because that is what the crucifix represents.  As Catholics, we remember the suffering that was required to bring about the glory of Easter.  We all know that suffering is part of life.  The Church doesn’t want us to overlook the pain and anguish Jesus went through on His way to Glory.  Therefore, we are reminded every time we see a crucifix.  The crucifix is a promise that through our sufferings, we see God.  To take the Corpus off of the Cross, is to take away the power of suffering.  The next time you see a crucifix, think about what Jesus went through for you and bask in the promise that through your sufferings, you will see God.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ask Ellen If I am divorced, that means I can’t receive Communion, right? Lisa.

Thanks for the question, Lisa.  This is one of the most misunderstood things in the Church today.  Yes, you can receive Communion if you are divorced.  You may not receive if your marriage hasn’t been annulled and you are involved with or married to someone else.

In the eyes of the Church, a legal divorce does not end the marriage.  It is still a sacramental marriage (meaning a sacrament took place)  So you can receive Communion as you did in your married life. (assuming you are free from any other mortal sins).

The problem becomes when you are involved with someone or remarry without an annulment.  See, cause in the eyes of the Church you are still married to person number one.  Therefore, you aren’t free to marry anyone else.

In order to do so, you must seek an annulment.  This is a process the Church uses to decide whether or not a sacramental marriage occurred.  Many times and for many reasons it might not have been a sacramental marriage and it is annulled.  This means you are fee to remarry and to continue to receive Communion.  Does that make sense?  If not, I encourage you and anyone else with questions about annulments to ask your parish priest.  If you are unable to do so, contact me and I will put you in touch with someone who can help.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ask Ellen: Why do we even bother with the Old Testament? It is so boring. Travis.

Thanks for the honest question, Travis.  Many people share your sentiments.  I know many people have told me that they don’t bother reading the Old Testament.  They believe all they need to know can be found in the New Testament.

While it is true that Jesus came and offered us the way to eternal life, many truths are contained within the Old Testament.  I would go so far as to say, we can’t fully understand Jesus and His words and actions or even our Catholic faith without the Old Testament background.

For instance the full meaning of Jesus as the Lamb of God is wasted without a complete understanding of the stories of Abraham and Isaac and the Exodus.

I think the problem is that people have not been taught the Old Testament in an engaging way.  I was fortunate enough to find “The Bible Timeline” by Jeff Cavins.

I have recommended this study before.  I think it should be run in every parish throughout the country.  It was truly an eye opening experience.  In fact, I invite anyone who has done it, to comment below.  When you study the Old Testament, you see how pregnant it is with meaning.  It literally sheds light on Jesus’ every word and action.

We are also fortunate as Catholics that the Old Testament is read at Mass.  It is not a coincidence that it is paired with a reading from the New Testament and the Gospel.  The three are grouped together for a reason.  If you listen closely, you will see the correlation between the three.

My advice would be study the Old Testament.  Don’t give up on it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Best of Ask Ellen...

Ask Ellen- What is the apocrypha? -Cindy, NC

Great question, Cindy.  Thanks.  The Apocrypha is a name given by some to the seven books that have been removed from Protestant Bibles.  Catholics do not call these books the Apocrypha because they are part of our Bible.  The books are: Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch, as well as longer versions of Daniel and Esther

To put it in the simplest terms I can, Luther and many after him rejected these books based on the fact that they were not part of the Hebrew Canon at the time of the Reformation.  Most Protestant Bibles do not contain these seven books or have them in section in the back known to them as The Apocrypha.

The Catholic Bible accepts the books for two reasons.  Firstly, the Jewish Canon was not fixed in Jesus’ time.  Therefore, we cannot be completely sure which books were included.  But more importantly, the first Christians, including Paul, used the Septuagint to preach to the Greek-speaking world.  This contained these seven books.  Jesus Himself actually quoted Scripture from the Septuagint.  When the Catholic Church developed its canon it used the Greek translation of the Septuagint that the Apostles and early Church Fathers used which included these books.

If you’d like to learn more about this, I recommend the following article:

Oh and one more thing that bugs Ask Ellen….If you throw out Maccabees, how do you explain Hanukkah?  It seriously perplexes me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ask Ellen: What grades are Anthony and Gracie in? Sophie

Thanks for the question, Sophie.  We haven’t placed them in a grade in the webstrip.  I can tell you that Gracie is in her early elementary school years.  Anthony is slightly older than Gracie, probably about two years.

When the books are published I think you will be able to tell what grade Gracie is in.  In fact, write me again when you figure it out.  OK?

And thanks for following our girl.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What spiritual lesson can we learn from the battle of Jericho?

Ask Ellen: What spiritual lesson can we learn from the battle of Jericho?  Joe.

I saved this question until now.  I thought it would be appropriate since we are in the Book of Joshua.  The spiritual application that I see is the value of liturgical warfare.

The Israelites were up against a formidable opponent.  It was seemingly impossible to bring down the walls of Jericho and lay siege on the city.  Yet the Israelites triumphed.  They answered the battle call with liturgy.  They walk in unified motion, marching around the city.  They blew trumpets as a battle cry and united through music.  And they prayed.

This makes me reflect on what we do at Mass.  We also have a worthy opponent, the world.  Yet we join together with our motions, our words and our music to break down walls.  I think that is the beauty of liturgy.

I encourage you to think about this when you attend Mass this weekend. (especially during this joyous season of Easter).  Pray that you begin to realize the power you have been given through the Liturgy.  Pray that we all do.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How Do Two People Write One Comic Strip? Hannah

Jimmy: How did I get roped in to this? “It's Ask Ellen” not “Ask Ellen AND Jimmy”

Ellen: Well Ellen doesn't do Gracieland by herself, does she?

Jimmy: Not yet.

Ellen:That won't go well, because I can't draw. ANYWAY... in answer to the question...

Jimmy: Well, it's generally started on Skype (Ellen lives in Maine, and I'm in Pennsylvania). Ellen brings a list of possible topics that might make good Gracie ideas. Some are specifically Catholic, some are based on the characters' personalities, and some are just funny ideas.

Ellen: Jimmy ignores at least half of my list, and then focuses on the one or two that interest him. Usually it's the one idea I'm least comfortable with and I end up spending the rest of the week worried about it. I think he does it on purpose! Which now that I think about it, kind of offends me.

Jimmy: Well, if I worried about offending you, we'd still be on the first strip.

(Long Pause)

Ellen: Ahem. ANYWAY... Once we select the topic we want to work on. We play out various scenarios, keeping in mind the personality of the characters.

Jimmy: Right. And we also try to be mindful of which character we've used lately and try to make sure that the whole family gets rotated in and out of the various strips.

Ellen: Once we decide on the structure, we work on the dialogue, which we usually come up with by roleplaying the different characters. Then Jimmy gets his homework (drawing the strip) which he submits to me for approval.

Jimmy: Oh brother!!!! Let's just say I draw the strip, ok? I use blue pencil for the underdrawing, and then ink it with a Windsor & Newton #0 watercolor brush and india ink. That artwork is scanned into Photoshop which I use for coloring. While I'm doing all of this, Ellen takes a nap.

Ellen: My favorite part! When I wake up there are a series of photos Jimmy texted to me showing the artwork in various stages of completion.

Jimmy: Then once the artwork is colored, I upload it to the various places on the internet.

Ellen: And I go off and write the Table Talk Questions.

Jimmy: Easy Peasy.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ask Ellen: Why do nuns take vows of poverty when priests do not? Adrian

Thank you for another excellent question, Adrian. Most nuns belong to orders.  The orders decide which vows the sisters profess and many include the vow of poverty.

I assume the priests you are referring to are diocesan parish priests.  Many of our parish priests do not belong to any particular order. This is not to say they can’t and some do.  Priests that are not part of a particular order are not required to profess the vow poverty.

However, many priests belong to orders that do include a vow of poverty.  The Jesuits and Franciscans leap to my mind.  These orders (and many others) take a vow of poverty.

To answer your question, each order of nuns and priests determine the vows they profess and often poverty is among them.  A parish priest who is not part of any order is not required to take a vow of poverty.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ask Ellen: Can a woman who was married but widowed become a nun? Adrian

Thank you for your question, Adrian.  To answer it in its most general sense, yes.  A woman who is widowed is freed from the covenant of marriage.  That means she is able to enter into another covenant either through marriage or entering the convent.

My daughter's teacher is in the process of becoming a sister.  She has grown children and has made the decision to spend the rest of her life as a sister.  It is such a unique and exciting thing for my daughter to see.

I need to add that the final decision on whether a widowed woman could become a nun would belong to the order she sought to join.  A person who is contemplating a vocation to the religious should spend much time in prayer discerning God's will for her life.  I would recommend that she speak to a trusted spiritual advisor.  I would also introduce her to Saint Rita Cassia.  She can inspire and intercede for women who find themselves in the same position that Saint Rita did.  Here is a link for more information on her:

Sisters do such great work.  The Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary educated me through twelve years of school.  Their impact on my life is significant.  It is my prayer that more women, no matter what their circumstances in life, open themselves to the call to the religious life.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ask Ellen Needs Your Help

I need your questions!  What have you always wanted to know about Catholicism or Scripture?  Is there something you'd like to know about Gracieland or the process we use to make it?  No questions should go unanswered.  

Send me a question today.  Go to the Ask Ellen tab on the left side of the page.  At the top of the Ask Ellen page there is a "Submit A Question" tab in blue at the top of the page.  Click on it and fill out the form. 

Thanks in advance for your help.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ask Ellen: Why do we say “Thanks Be To God” at the end of Mass? Should we really be that happy that Mass is over? Madison, GA

Thanks for your question, Madison.  It does sound like we are happy that Mass is over.  However, we are really thanking God for the opportunity to attend Mass and to be able to bring the blessings Mass gives us to others throughout the week.

Sometimes the responses we use at Mass can seem confusing at first.  If we take the time to think about them and study their meaning we will see how relevant each one is.  “Thanks be to God” is no exception.

This week when the priest announces that Mass has ended, let’s all respond with a joyous “Thanks be to God.”  Then we will take that joy to others in a hurting world.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ask Ellen: Conclusion of Catholic Social Teachings for Middle School Students

Theme 7:  Care of God’s Creation

We have talked a great deal about caring for each other as part of God’s family.  Students also need to be aware of this requirement of our faith: to care for creation.  I would take the opportunity to ask students what environmental issues plagues us today.  Answers could include: global warming, drilling for oil, protection of wildlife etc.

I would make students aware of the need to protect the resources God has given us.  I would brainstorm ways the class could become involved with protecting their school environment.

The last thing I would address before concluding the series on Catholic Social Teachings is the responsibility of voting with an informed conscience.  Students should realize through this study of the Church’s position that no candidate lines up perfectly with the Church’s standards.  I would encourage them to ask their parents why they choose to vote the way they do.  I would explain to them that this is a life-long responsibility: to vote for people who align themselves as closely as possible to the Church’s teachings.  I would leave them with the realization of how fortunate they are to belong to a Church that doesn’t change its policies to reflect public opinion or to align itself with a particular candidate.  They have been given access to Truth and should measure all they do and support against this Truth.  That is truly a gift.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ask Ellen: Catholic Social Teachings For Middle School Students Continued

Theme 6 Solidarity

I would begin by explaining to students what solidarity means.  The dictionary describes it as “unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards”

I would ask students what groups they share solidarity with. (interests, goals, etc)  Some answers might include: families, school, class, sports teams.

I would ask them what makes them a part of these groups.  It would be great for students to focus on the fact that they contribute something to the larger group and that the group works together for the common good.

In this Social Teaching, the Church is asking us to see ourselves in union with the rest of the world, no matter our differences.  It calls us to love our neighbor on a global scale.  We do this by securing justice and peace whenever we go.  We are called, as Catholics, to work for peace in a violent and often cruel world.

I would conclude by asking students if they have ever thought of themselves in solidarity with the rest of the world.  How will this thought change their thinking?  What can you do as a class to promote peace and work for justice?  What can all of us do?  We can start with prayer and go from there.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ask Ellen: Theme 5 Of The Catholic Social Teachings For Middle School Students

Theme 5: Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers

Today I am pleased to welcome our first guest blogger. Karen Gownley.  Karen is the Assistant to Communications and Community Services, PA AFL-CIO.  She has agreed to lend her expertise on the subject with us today.  Thanks, Karen.

The Catholic church has a long history of supporting Labor Unions. The Church believes that all workers have the right to be paid fairly, treated well, and have safe working conditions. All workers should be able to support their families.

Labor Unions are formed when a group of workers stand together in unity. While one worker would likely be fired for standing up against a boss who is treating him or her unfairly, a group - union - of workers have power and a voice against unfair bosses.

Labor unions have stood up to fight for, and won, things like: the weekend, the 8-hour work day, and end to child labor.

For a quick, fun, history lesson on Unions:

Many more details, facts, & history on the relationship between Labor and the Catholic church can be found here:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ask Ellen: Catholic Social Teachings For Middle School Students

Theme 4: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

This theme is a critical one for middle school students to understand.  The key word that stands out in my mind is “option.”  Students should understand that we have the right to choose to help.  We are not compelled to help the poor and vulnerable by our society.  In fact, society tells us just the opposite.  Society tells students every day that people must fend for themselves, taking what is theirs and using it for their own personal gain.

In this Social Teaching, the Catholic Church tells us the opposite.  As Catholics and Christians we ARE compelled to help the poor and vulnerable.  We are called to help and defend those that cannot do it for themselves.  The Church tells us that we are “only doing as well as our poorest member.”  Encourage students to think of this in terms of the Body of Christ.  We are all members of this same Body.  Like a body, society needs all parts to work together to be healthy.  I may have the strongest heart in the race, but if I break my foot, I cannot run.  Have students understand this important teaching in this light:  I may be a millionaire, but if I never help the poorest person I am not healthy.  I suffer as a person due to my selfishness.  The Church suffers as a whole when any member of her Body is neglected.

Explain to students that in our fast paced technological world the divide between rich and poor goes greater each day.  Today’s students are in a unique position to address this concern throughout their lives.  In this teaching, the Church reminds them to think of the poor and vulnerable first.

Ask students to think of people who fit in the category of poor and vulnerable.  Answers might include: the elderly, immigrants, the sick, the dying, the unborn, the homeless, the unemployed etc.  Brainstorm ways the students can make a tangible difference in the lives of these people.

Being Catholic is incredible because it teaches you to have a worldview.  It is so much bigger than our individual needs and desires.  Students need to understand this universal way of thinking.  Heck, we all do.  Do something for someone less fortunate….today.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ask Ellen: Catholic Social Teaching #3

Theme 3: Rights and Responsibilities

Last week we discussed how we are all interconnected through society and through our families.  We learned that it is our responsibility to care for the poor among us.

This social teaching flows directly from the first two we discussed.  The Church teaches that every person not only has the right to life but also has the right to human decency.  What does this mean?  I would ask students to give examples of things humans need to live well.  Food, clothing, shelter, education, medical treatment etc.

The Church in this social teaching tells us that it is our right to have these things.  Yet, it is also our responsibility to make sure everyone else does as well.  I would explain that  being responsible means we will be asked to answer for it.  The Church tells us that God expects us to help  everyone have what they need to live.  Not only does He expect it, he makes it our job.  We will answer for how well we did this.

This would be an excellent teachable moment for you as a family or class to brainstorm ways you can help people acquire the basics for human decency.  I encourage you to have the students spring into action

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ask Ellen: Catholic Social Teaching: Theme 2: The Call To Family, Community and Participation

Last week we learned that the Church teaches that each life is sacred.  We addressed the many issues that should define the pro-life movement.  I challenged you to encourage your children to be consistent in the stand to protect all life, at all stages in all parts of the world.

This week students will see that each person is also interconnected to others.  We are a society.  We have laws, an economy, politics, a way we work, etc.  These things shape how humans live and whether or not they flourish.  I would ask children in what ways they have seen this to be true?

Families are part of society.  Families are the key to the progression of a society.  The Church tells us that if we want society to flourish, it must begin within the family.  I would ask the students to examine their role within their own families.  Do they do their part to strengthen it and make it grow?  I would encourage them to pray for all families, especially ones they know who might being having difficulties.

The Church goes on to tell us that we have rights and responsibilities as members of society and within our families.  We should be active participants in both.  We should always seek to serve the common good and well being of others, especially the poor and vulnerable.  I would ask students what things they could be doing to help others, especially the poor?

The important thing for students (and us) to understand is that we have been granted many privileges.  But with these privileges come responsibilities.  Caring for the poor and marginalized is not an option, it is a responsibility.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ask Ellen: Catholic Church's Social Teachings for Middle School Students: Theme One

Theme 1: Life and Dignity of the Human Person

Middle school students are at an age where they can really begin to understand this.  It is a wonderful time to present the correct social teaching and the logic behind it.

The Catholic Church teaches respect for ALL human life.  There are many controversial issues surrounding this teaching such as abortion, euthanasia, stem cells, the death penalty, war and terrorism to name a few.  Children might be somewhat familiar with these terms but we need to be sure that they have the correct reasoning behind the teaching.

Simply put all of the above issues interfere with the value of life on some level.  One of the things that many adults fail to understand is that is truly difficult to find someone who is totally pro-life.  Most people are inconsistent.  Some people are adamantly anti-abortion, yet they vote for people who support the death penalty.  Some people are horrified by euthanasia, yet they support war.  Most people in America have no problem accepting these inconsistencies.  But to truly follow the Church’s teachings, you have to admit that this is contradictory.  We either have to modify our worldview or admit that we aren’t who we say we are.

Children (and adults) might try to argue that the world has gotten too complex for such a simplistic worldview.  Advances in medicine and the current global landscape are challenging.  Yet the Church’s teaching is really very simple: respect ALL human life: in the womb, in the nursing home and in Iraq.  It really is that simple.

I would encourage children to be consistent in carrying out this teaching.  I would encourage them not to get so swept up in one aspect that they overlook the others.  It is a super large teaching with many hot button issues, but at the core it is just common sense.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ask Ellen: Could you explain the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church in a way Middle School students would understand? Kim, PA

I received this very intriguing question from a principal of a Catholic school.   Yikes!

The more I thought about the request, the more I knew I needed to answer her.  I needed to answer her so I would begin to understand it.  Over the next eight Ask Ellen questions, I will attempt to explain these Social Teachings of the Catholic Church is very simplified terms.

I begin today by explaining what it means to be social.  Merriam- Webster tells us that it means “of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society.”

What does that mean?  It means that we are all part of something way larger than ourselves.  We are members of a family, a city, a state, a country, a race, a religion etc. 

How we behave as members of all of these larger groups is important.  The Catholic Church knows that.  The Church asks us to behave as responsible members and to respect all other people of all the other groups.   In short, these teachings tell us how we should act and relate to the world.

Over the next seven weeks we will look at these teachings.  They include: respect for life, participation, responsibilities, caring for the weak, the value of work, loving our neighbors and caring for the earth.

These themes will help us understand what role we are to play in society.  These may be the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church but certainly there is something all of us can learn about our place in society.  I encourage you to think about these issues and how you address them in your own life and how you teach your children about them.  Hopefully, by the time we finish learning about them we will all be better citizens.