I was a parish faith formation director when mini-courses first made their appearance in religious education. I was a fan for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it was easier to get four teachers (one for each 6-week commitment) than to find one willing to show up consistently for a 24-session course. The students also liked the diversity of teachers and topics. One year I decided to push the envelope even further by offering a one-week intensive which would replace one of the 6-week courses for 9th or 10th graders. The curriculum was as follows: mandatory attendance at an introductory 90-minute overview in the week prior to Holy Week as well as participation in services on Palm Sunday, Holy (Maundy) Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil and a one-page reflection paper on the experience, submitted within 2 weeks after Easter. Many of the students took up the challenge and profited so greatly from the experience that I repeated the course for a number of years. One of the added benefits of the experiment was the fact that most of the students needed a ride to church so many parents participated with them and found it profitable as well.
The moment of most impact for many of the students was an exercise during the introductory session. I passed out a paper with a graphic of a large table and twelve circles, representing guests at a festive meal. Students were asked to think of the twelve most important people in their lives whom they would invite to such a gathering. They wrote the initials of their guests in the circles, pictured the full table, the enjoyment of the participants and their own satisfaction at having such good family and friends with whom to celebrate. Then they were to picture themselves the next day at a store and imagine the following scenario. As they were considering a purchase they suddenly heard two people talking in the next aisle. When they recognized the voices of two people who had been at their party the night before and just at the moment of preparing to join them, the conversation turned to comments on the previous night’s experience. The two friends spoke in derogatory terms about the whole event and about their “friend” – the host – as well. At this point I asked the students to react on paper to how they presumed they would feel in such a situation.
While the above situation pales as we think of today’s gospel of the Last Supper (MT 26:14-25) and the betrayal of Judas, for young teenagers it could be as if the floor dropped out of their world. If you have never experienced a betrayal by any significant person in your life, thank God! If, however, you have had or can conjecture what such a moment would be like, consider the sadness of Jesus at the betrayal of his friend and companion, Judas. Perhaps you will be led to a conversation with Jesus where you are the comforter and he is in need of your presence.