*Warning: This post includes a rant and a firm stance on a soapbox. You have been warned.*
If you ever want to get my goat, all you need to do is say something like, “Well, they’re just children. They can’t be expected to care about their faith.”
Um, excuse me? Did you just say that children aren’t capable of loving the Lord? Well, I hate to break the news to you but Blessed Lucia Santos, and Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto were just children when Our Lady appeared to them in Fatima, Portugal 100 years ago. They not only believed in her and her message, they’ve led millions of other people to Jesus through Mary by sharing Our Lady’s message despite obstacles and hardship. Because of those children and their great love of Jesus, the world has changed for the better. And they’re not the only examples of children with great faith. St. Maria Goretti was a young girl who died rather than give in to mortal sin at the hands of her attacker. There are many more holy children that have been documented and even more that haven’t. The Church has recognized the faith of children since its early days. After all, Jesus told His Apostles to “let the children come unto me” not because they were cute and entertaining but because He knew that their hearts were open to His love. He even encouraged His disciples to be more like children in their faith so that they could enter the kingdom of heaven.
I have the privilege of coordinating the children’s catechesis program at my parish and I have seen the great capacity for faith that children have. When parents have low expectations for their child’s interest in matters of faith, I try to charitably encourage them to expect more and give their child more credit! Children have an openness to God that adults have often lost. They have a way of piercing through the trivial to get to the heart of God’s message. In fact, over the years, I’ve seen more and more children grow in their love of Jesus because we give them the opportunity to know Him and to love Him in a way that a child can. When a three-year-old told me spontaneously that “Jesus makes food for the whole world,” I smiled and said, “Yes, He does.” (Then I fainted from pure joy!) When a four-year-old quoted Isaiah to her Dad by saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” she was proclaiming the Word of God as her own. And, when children have told me how excited they are to receive Jesus for the first time in the Eucharist, they are sincerely expressing their joy at being one with Christ.
You may be wondering how to do this with your own child. Here are some tips to help you lead your child to Jesus:
- Teach them names.- Just as you did when they were a baby, you should point out things on the altar or in church and give them the names of those things. If you don’t know the names of the items on the altar, start with the altar table itself, the tabernacle, and the priest. Later you can move on to the paten, chalice, cruets, and the rest. Knowing the names of these things helps your child maintain interest as well as follow along with the Mass better.
- Talk about Scripture.-Read the Mass readings together before Mass and give yourselves some time to think about it and ask questions. “What did they mean when they said that?” “What did it feel like to be that person?” “What is Jesus trying to tell me with these words?”
- Teach them to pray.-I’m not talking about memorized prayer although that’s important too. Teach them to listen to scripture and respond to it with their heart. After reading Scripture out loud and pondering it together, ask them if they have anything they’d like to say to God about these words. Then, let them say it without cutting them off or correcting them.
This is just a starting point for you and your child. After you get them interested, follow their lead by answering their questions and asking them questions in response. Soon, you’ll all be closer to Christ and participating better in the Mass.
So, don’t try to tell me that kids can’t understand God’s love for us or that they’re not interested in knowing Him. I know better. And now, so do you!
*End of rant.*
This blog was written by Laura Nelson, Coordinator of Children’s Catechesis here at St. Francis of Assisi and was featured in the March issue of the St. Francis Grapevine. If you’re interested in writing a blog for St. Francis of Assisi, please contact Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org.