It pretty much goes without saying that teaching second semester seniors has its challenges. Yet, as with anything worth doing, it also has great rewards. For me, one of those great rewards coincides with the NCAA basketball tournament.
When I began teaching the Paschal Mystery course in the second semester of the 2014-2015 school year I had an idea that I thought could turn “bracket mania” to my purposes. On the Monday after Selection Sunday I gave each of my seniors a bracket to fill in. They were thrilled until they saw the bracket sheets.
“Hey, Mr. Healey, where are the teams? And why does it look like the bracket is filled with Bible references?”
Because this was not an NCAA bracket, this was a bracket for Miracle Madness®.
In Miracle Madness® the different miracles performed by Jesus are paired up with each other. The “better” of the two miracles then wins and advances. Eventually, each bracket has a champion – that miracle that each student thinks is the best miracle that Jesus ever performed. Along the way, the participants need to go to the Bible to read each miracle in order to make his choice. So, instead of worrying about RPI or BPI, free throw percentages or three-point shooters, my seniors are obsessed with comparisons like whether walking on water is better than curing a leper, or whether raising the widow’s son from the dead is better than when He did it for His friend Lazarus.
When it comes to the voting process in each class period things can get a little crazy. Someone walking past my classroom this week might have wondered at the chants emanating from 223 Loyola Hall:
“Demon pigs! Demon pigs! Demon pigs!”
“Through the roof! Through the roof! Through the roof!”
To those of us in the room, this was a stand-off between the rabid fans of the miracle of the Gerasene demoniac (the story where the demons end up in 2,000 pigs who hurtle themselves off a cliff to their death) and those who backed the story of the cure of the paralytic (where the house was so crowded that the man had to be lowered on a mat through the roof). In the minds of those passing by I cannot even make a guess as to what was going through their heads.
So, as we concluded the brackets in each class and came up with a winner for each period, I was able to rein things in and talk about the importance of miracles in the public ministry of Jesus. Since St. John’s Gospel is my favorite, I used it as an archetypal example of the purpose of miracles in the Gospels: they are a sign of God’s power in the world, moments when the Kingdom of God breaks into the ordinary lives of everyday people.
When the dust cleared and each period had determined a champion I had – as I always do at the end of Miracle Madness® - a smile on my face. And so did the seniors – as they always do. I think they smile because they had fun doing something that would have been a chore if it came in the traditional package of “read the miracles of Jesus.” For me, the smile is because I got second semester seniors to read all of the miracles of Jesus and to care enough about them to spend three days arguing about which one is best. Talk about miracles.
Still looking for a way to give alms during this Lenten season? Consider supporting the Jesuit and Holy Cross foreign missions, which were close to the heart of Mr. Healey's late son, Kevin '07.