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Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

May 1997

The following Links for Learners resource is offered to those who would like to use St. Anthony Messenger in an educational setting or for further study at home. This resource is prepared with high school students in mind, but can be adapted for other age groups. We will feature one article for further study each month. Back issues, beginning in May 1997, contain this resource. Up until December 1998 it was called a teacher's guide or classroom resource. Teachers with access to computer labs should encourage students to access the article directly online. Students have our permission to print out a copy of the article for classroom use. We encourage you to subscribe to the print edition of St. Anthony Messenger, where you will see all of the graphics, and more articles that you might find useful on a variety of topics. Please let us know how we can improve this service by sending feedback to

Please see our links disclaimer located at the end of this document.

Goal of Lesson

Create a stimulating discussion which will:

    1. lead teens to a new appreciation for Mary and her response to God’s Word

    2. lead to several action steps in teens’ personal faith.


    Ask class, anonymously, to write a short paragraph on their impressions of Mary and her role. Collect and hold.

    Have students access and print out article. Ask students to read article and look up some or all of the New Testament quotes referred to in the article for next class.

    Class Discussion

    Open with reading

    Select one Scripture reading from those highlighted in article, perhaps Luke 1:30-35.

    Time line - Set the framework re: history

    Your students may find it helpful if you position Mary on a time line of Old Testament/New Testament/Church history events.

    Who preceded Mary? Moses, leading his hardhearted people through the desert... Abraham and Sarah, responding in faith to God’s will... Ruth, who stepped out in faith...

    Who was a contemporary of Mary? John the Baptist, preparing people to listen... Elizabeth, with her own wonderful story... the apostles, each with a different response in faith... Mary of Magdala and other disciples who heard the Lord and followed...

    Historical records

    The author reminds us of the scarcity of Gospel reference to Mary. You may want to remind the class that these were times with little written historical records, in contrast to our own times, when we have resources and documentation in all available media: film, TV, radio, paper, computer.

    There is a link here to the culture of Native Americans, with their oral traditions.

    Identify with Mary’s situation

    In a contemporary context: The story starts with a tradesman named Joseph, perhaps an electrician, an auto mechanic, a plumber, in his early to mid-twenties. He is establishing himself in his trade, and is preparing to spend his lifetime with a young woman whom he loves and respects. He is shocked to hear that she, Mary by name, is pregnant, before they have been together. At probably 14 to 15 years old, she is the same age as a high school freshman or sophomore. To heighten the difficulty of the situation, there is apparently no other man as the father. The child is from God, she says.

    (You may want to remind the class of the shorter life span of people who lived 2,000 years ago. They matured earlier, married earlier and died sooner than we do now.)

    Joseph is torn by the situation. What is he to think? What is the response of the community? By contemporary standards, this is certainly tabloid material: a young woman with child, not of man but of God. A message from God assures Joseph. He responds in faith by remaining with Mary.

    Then the young woman goes off to spend time with her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. To further add to the awe of the story, Elizabeth is an older woman, beyond childbearing age, probably old enough to be Mary’s grandmother. The two women, with their “polarized pregnancies,” if you will, are a study in God’s way of choosing what is not man’s way to bring his message to us.

    The situation, then, is this: What do you believe? What would your response be?

    Discuss the article’s message

    Discuss with the class what the author, Fr. Raymond Brown, is saying about Mary. Focus on her role. She is blessed and revered by the Church for two reasons:

    1. Mary is the one person in all of human history chosen by God for his Son’s entrance into our life... his physical presence among us... his intervention in our history.

    At this moment in time, a mere two thousand years ago in the earth’s development and history, God inserted himself into our lives. Mary was his choice for a mother.

    2. Mary responded to this unique, singular opportunity by saying, Yes, I will do it. She had a choice, and accepted it. Who among us would have this strong a faith? We honor Mary because she is another of the rare Old Testament figures who was ready and open to hear God’s word, to respond to God’s word, no matter what the cost.

    In this sense, Mary is the first disciple of Jesus, the first to follow him in faith.

    You can mention again, if you choose, the connection with Mary and several heroes of Old Testament faith, like Abraham.

    You may also wish to connect Mary to present liturgical activity. In this spring season, many teens are being confirmed after completing their parish programs. These teens are usually 14 to 15 years old, the same age as Mary was when she first accepted her role in faith.

    Discuss your students’ responses

    This is an opportunity for some lively discussion and input. The class can divide into smaller groups to talk and record their discussions.

    1. What is faith? How would you define a strong faith? How would you characterize great faith?

    Ask the class to brainstorm and gather ideas. This can be on two levels: faith and courage of conviction in role models; your own personal faith.

    You can ask for examples of role models. They don’t have to be religious. Examples may be Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, perhaps someone in their lives.

    Ask the groups to report to the class on the faith characteristics they arrived at in discussion.

    2. Then put them back in small groups to discuss what the obstacles are to a great faith. Brainstorm and list the obstacles. Again, focus on both role models as well as your own faith.

    Again, the groups can report back on their conclusions.

    3. Now discuss—who “owns” these obstacles? Who can change/remove the obstacles?

    Can you lead the class to see that they themselves own some of the obstacles to their own growth in faith? If they can see this, you can move them to the next step.

    4. Again in small groups, ask the teens to determine action steps to removing the obstacles to their faith growth. This obviously isn’t something that occurs all at once. It is a lifetime process. The point is to move the teens to see that, like Mary believing in God and in Jesus, they too can respond in faith. (Refer to the author’s quote in the last part of the article: “The challenge to accept God’s unfathomable will in faith is ongoing in the life of the disciple.”)


    You may read several of the paragraphs written before class, to offer the teens a view of what they thought before beginning the discussion. Do they feel that they’ve gained a new perspective, a different understanding?

    Or you can distribute the anonymous paragraphs randomly, and ask each teen to write a response to another’s thoughts on Mary.

    For further discussion:

    Discipleship vs. cult: There is so much in the news about cults and followers of unusual, even bizarre, leaders. What is the difference between a genuine belief and a cult following?

    Examples would be: Charles Manson, the recent San Diego mass suicides, the Oklahoma bombing and military cults. Where does faith cross the line to cult?

    The cost of discipleship: Refer to Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship, about being imprisoned for opposing Hitler in Nazi Germany.

    Can we call ourselves disciples? Of whom? Jesus? The latest cult or fad hero/rock star/actor? Our friends/peers?

    Research Resources

    Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

    The New York Times

    The Los Angeles Times

    Time Magazine



    Pathfinder - Access site to a number of online news publications

    The Associated Press

    The Chicago Tribune

    People magazine

    The History Channel

    The Miami Herald

    The Close Up FoundationWashington, D.C.-based organization

    ABC News

    Channel One’s online resource

    The Vatican

    Links Disclaimer:

    The links contained within this resource guide are functional at the time the page is posted. Over time, however, some of the links may become ineffective.

    These links are provided solely as a convenience to you and not as an endorsement by St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications of the contents on such third-party Web sites. St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications is not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites and does not make any representations regarding the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party Web sites. If you decide to access linked third-party Web sites, you do so at your own risk.

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