Lent is my favorite season for teaching Catholic social doctrine. How can you not smile when the liturgical season gives a nitro boost to your pedagogy? The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent presents a goldmine for teaching the CSD principle of “solidarity.” Every CSD class requires students to complete a solidarity practicum. Rather than simply learning about solidarity, the students actually enter solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. It’s like dissecting the frog after learning its anatomy, except moral theology works in a laboratory of virtue. So, what does it look like?
First, students learn about solidarity through course reading and generally a film. As my main textbook I’ve been using J. Brian Benestad’s Church State and Society: An Introduction to Catholic Social Doctrine. While very strong all around, that text itself is light on “solidarity,” so I’ve had to supplement with JP II, Dorothy Day, a documentary called Sister Helen (not of Dead Man Walking fame), a Mother Teresa documentary, even a feature film about Damien of Molokai, etc. Who better to teach solidarity than a man who chose to minister to the sick on an island where he would certainly be infected with the same deadly sickness that had sentenced them to exile.
Second, students choose a way of being in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. They enact this way and write a reflection paper that considers not only what they’ve done, but also what we’ve learned in class about solidarity. Students consistently love this aspect of the course. Here are some inspiring things the students have done or are doing this lent as part of their solidarity practica:
1. Slept for 1 week in his car.
2. Go through all of lent with just three outfits to wear.
3. For 5 days picked one meal out of a hat to eat for that day. On the 6th day, ate nothing.
4. Lived for a month on our state’s foodstamps “allowance.”
5. Sleeping on the floor with no blanket or pillow.
6. Eating only cheese, bread, water, and juice for all of lent.
7. Washing all clothes in the sink.
8. Occupying a technology desert for Lent.
9. Not looking in a mirror for all of Lent.
10. Went without a car for a month (even though it was a normal necessity in the student’s life).
11. Go on a “street retreat”
My experience has been that students enjoy the more challenging of the practica. Students are free, of course, to make their own. In fact, most of the ones listed above are the students’ own creations. What’s really neat is when students can get the fast to generate the almsgiving. For example, going without a car will likely save money on gas. The students calculate what they saved and give it to a charitable organization. Many just give it to the Franciscan Friars on campus.
Do you have any interesting ways of teaching solidarity? What are students doing for Lent? Can it be a pedagogical moment for one of your classes?