Life & Soul

Fr Matthew Pittam: Silence in class

Silence in class

One of the most rewarding aspects of my ministry as a school chaplain has been to introduce students to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and silence. We underestimate the power of silent adoration, especially in schools.

I cannot take sole credit for introducing Adoration in our school – I am indebted to an RE teacher who has helped develop the practice with me. It is certainly been something which has borne fruit.

A pattern has been developed that works throughout the whole academic year. Our first session with each group is based in the classroom. The purpose of exposition is explained and the importance of the devotion to the Catholic tradition is explored. Students are prepared for what they will experience and they learn the names for various items such as the monstrance and humeral veil.

We have become increasingly aware that even those who have been in Catholic schools since they were four may have little concept of the Real Presence or the practice of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. This first session concludes with a very short time of Adoration in the school chapel.

Several weeks later the class will have the opportunity again, but this time it is for the length of the lesson. We give a brief introduction where we revise what was discussed before and then the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. This is repeated several times during the year for each class and has become popular with those taking part.

Initially when we introduced regular Adoration it was the silence that I was most fearful of. I was worried that the students would be bored, and I had fallen into the trap of thinking that everything must be entertaining and conventionally engaging. It is certainly true at the start that some students appeared to find prolonged silence demanding. But my concerns soon largely evaporated.

We live in a world crowded with noise and stimuli. Social media, television, the internet and smartphones have all played their role in the demise of quietness. For many families several generations have grown up with the television on even when nobody is watching. It is no wonder that we become uncomfortable when sound is taken away from us.

Overcoming this was achieved by the gradual introduction of periods of silent adoration. Groups would start the year with only a few noiseless minutes interspersed with music or other devotions, such as the rosary or Divine Mercy. Over time the silence was lengthened. We also did much work during the preparation sessions to explain the importance of stillness and to help students think about how they would deal with this and make personal use of the time.

After each period of Adoration the students are asked to write a brief reflection in their exercise books. Often these are very personal and moving. During Adoration it is difficult to ascertain how the experience has been received and so this feedback has been important in our own motivation to continue. Most students have been extremely positive and have demonstrated an awareness of God, a value of the times of peace and a keenness to repeat their time with Jesus. It has also resulted in a voluntary period of Adoration taking place on one lunchtime a week.

Other staff have now come on board and value the opportunity to experience this with their classes. In RE lessons there is so much theory and it is good to be able to put some of that into practice.

It is commendable that my colleagues have been brave in making time for this within their already busy timetables. There is so much pressure in schools today with multiple competing demands and expectations. Often staff feel burdened to justify all activities with measurable outcomes. Events that cannot be easily evaluated can sometimes be squeezed out.

I see the introduction of Adoration in our school as a sign of hope. We hear so much doom and gloom around our Catholic schools. Yet there are also many things which we need to celebrate more fully. In a world where there is so little time to breathe, this is something valuable that we can offer to our young people.

Pastor Iuventus is away