Guest Column

March 28, 2020

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

This week’s offering is provided by Bro. Sam Amos. This is not the first time he has made my life easier or brighter, and I hope you appreciate him as much as I do. – Bro. Brian

Hi all. This is Bro. Sam Amos, a Marist Brother in the USA Province, like Bro. Brian. I teach at Marist High School in Chicago and minister at a local parish, St. Benedict’s, where I teach the CCD confirmation class and help run the youth group. I’m 30 years old, and I live in community with four other Marist Brothers.

On Friday, the Archdiocese shut down everything to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, and now we’ve got at least two weeks of time on our hands, so I decided to write a guest column for Bro. Brian. Brian is one of the province’s vocation directors, and so his life and ministry is a pretty varied mix of travelling the country, attending events, and meeting and corresponding with men in discernment. In contrast, my life right now consists of a fairly regular rhythm of work at school, work at the parish, and community life. This is actually a very classical Marist experience. It’s not what most Brothers are currently doing, but I would say it is how most Brothers started out. For that reason, in this post I’d like to try to give you some sense of what it’s like, and frankly, the fun, joy, and mirth that comes with it. Take this as something to lighten the mood as we all hunker down for the Coronavirus.

At Marist High School I teach Scripture to the sophomores and a class called, “Faith, Science, and Reason,” to the seniors. Teaching Scripture can be a challenge, not because the students are uncooperative, but because they live in a radically different world from the one in which the Bible was written. Marist High School happens to be next to the Chicago Agricultural High School, and I’ve often thought it would be easier to teach Scripture next door. This is one of my sophomores reading aloud from the Song of Songs as part of our Poetry in Scripture Unit:

“How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful you are!
Your eyes are like doves behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats streaming over Mt. Gilead.
Your teeth are like eh-wez to be shorn-”

Me: Wait, what?

Student: Eh-wez.

Me: Ewes. The word is ewes.

Student: What’s a ewe?

Me: It’s a female sheep.

Student: Gross. Why are her teeth that way?

Me: I don’t know. I guess because they’re white.

Student: And fluffy?

Me: Just keep reading.

Student: Bro. Sam, you told us the Song of Songs was a love poem. This isn’t hot at all.

In addition to teaching classes, I also run an after school Polish Club. Chicago of course has a large Polish population, and we have a fair number of students who speak Polish at home with their families. So they have a club where they hang out, plan events, listen to Polish EDM, etc. I’m the faculty moderator, which can be challenging, because I am not Polish at all— my own ethnic background is non-descript white guy—so I have to let the kids take the lead in deciding what things to do in the club and let them teach me about their culture. This is actually pretty cool. I spend all day teaching kids; it’s nice to learn something from them too. The problem is, I have no idea when they’re just making things up to mess with me.

Me: OK guys, the pączki sale on Fat Tuesday was a big success. What should we do next?

Student #1: Easter is coming up. We could have a śmigus-dyngus.

Me: I beg your pardon?

Student #2: A śmigus-dyngus. It’s a think kids do on Easter in Poland. It’s like a water fight, where you chase each other with squirt guns and throw buckets of water on each other.

Student #3: That’s why we call the Monday after Easter, “Wet Monday.”

Me: All right, what kind of a fool do you take me for?

Upon consulting the internet, I found out that śmigus-dyngus was in fact a real thing. My cultural knowledge is also rapidly being rapidly expanded from teaching CCD at my church. St. Benedict’s is a large, predominantly Mexican-American parish. I’ve taught the confirmation class there for four years now, and every year the class has had about forty kids, all of them of Mexican descent. I’m learning a lot:

Me: So let me get this straight. On Epiphany-

Student #1: El Día de los Reyes, Brother. Don’t be such a gringo.

Me: On Día de los Reyes, you get together with people, and you have rosca, which is like a ring-shaped cake.

Student #2: Yes.

Me: And in that cake is a figurine of baby Jesus.

Student #2: Yes.

Me: Isn’t that a choking hazard?

Student #2: We eat the cake with a fork. We don’t just shove it into our faces.

Me: OK. And you all get together again on February 2 for Candelaria, or Candlemas, and whoever got baby Jesus in the rosca has to provide the tamales for the second party.

Student #2: Right.

Me: Then isn’t getting the baby Jesus actually kind of a pain?

Student #3: Oh, absolutely. People hate finding baby Jesus.

Me: The theology of that seems problematic.

Student #3: To make it more fair, people have started putting a bunch of Jesus figurines into the rosca, so everyone gets one, and everyone brings something to the next party.

Student #4: Brother, we have class on January 6 this year. Will you bring us a rosca?

Me: Aren’t they kind of expensive?

Student #4: You can get them at Walmart.

Me: That doesn’t seem very authentic.

Student #1: Oh, we’re sorry, are you too proud for a Walmart rosca?

I wasn’t. Here’s a picture of the one I bought for the class. It came with a plastic baby Jesus to insert into the cake, but I left it out, because it still really seems like a choking hazard to me.


This week’s ‘ear candy’ is a song I just played for my sophomores as we studied the Sermon on the Mount. The brain food is simply the Wikipedia article on śmigus-dyngus.

Ear Candy: “Blessed Are You” by Priests of Beat

Brain Food: “Śmigus-dyngus” by assorted Wikipedia contributors

Come back next Saturday for a new post!