Chapter four is here.
Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments repeatedly refers to Divine Providence. People come into our lives and events happen for a reason. Yesterday I listened to the Cardinal’s podcast on the five pillars that support a Catholic family. The very first pillar is to understand as a family why God made us. He made us to know Him, to love Him, to adore Him, to serve Him, and to eventually reside with Him in Heaven. Therefore, our family must be oriented to live with a view towards eternal life. The other four pillars are family prayer, family attendance at Mass, teaching of genuine love and being open to new life, and a focus on genuine Catholic education. This education is important whether it occurs at home, in a Catholic school, or in a parish CCD program. For those who do not have an iPod but still want to listen to Cardinal Arinze’s podcasts, see if your computer is iTunes capable. It is free to download this application and the podcasts are free as well. You can then listen to them on your computer.
His reflections were just what I needed to hear as I prepared my post on Chapter Five of Keeping Your Kids Catholic by Bert Ghezzi. This chapter is subtitled Shaping Kids Catholic. The essays in this chapter address molding children in the Faith through prayer, worship, the Sacraments, Scripture, and Catholic relationships.
Catholic family prayer is crucial in bringing the Faith into the home. Prayers can be formal such as a rosary, novena, or mealtime grace. They can be spontaneous. Don’t expect toddlers to sit through five decades of a Rosary. However, gathering together to even pray one decade is important. Isabelle, one of the moderators of the Cardinal Arinze podcast describes using shells or pinecones that she gathered with her young children to count the prayers of the Rosary. Invite your children to pray for each other as well. I was very pleased a few days ago when my sixteen-year-old was going to have a rather trying soccer training session with a coach she was not particularly fond of. I mentioned this to her twelve-year-old brother and asked him to say a Hail Mary for his sister. He responded, “Oh, Mom, I already did that as soon as I heard she was training with this coach.” Before we start on a long trip we say a prayer in the car. My daughter and I have prayed the Rosary together as we drove to soccer games. In other words, there is really no activity that cannot include prayer.
Perhaps almost as influential as bringing the family together to pray is a parents example of prayer. Spend time in personal prayer and let your children know it. A friend told me of one of her neighbors whose personal prayer time was truly inviolate. When she phoned this neighbor one of her children answered the phone and said, “Mommy can’t come to the phone right now. She is praying and we don’t disturb her when she is praying.” What a beautiful example of commitment to prayer!
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic Faith. It should be the hub around which our family spiritual life revolves. As Cardinal Arinze emphasizes, attending Mass on Sunday (or Saturday evening vigil) must take precedence over sports, social gatherings, or just sleeping late. Even traveling shouldn’t be an excuse for missing Mass. It has actually become a welcome adventure for our family to visit new churches as we travel. Don’t present attending Mass as an obligation. Do more than the minimum. Occasionally I take the kids to 6:30 AM daily Mass before school. We always attend Mass on Thanksgiving Day. I remember my son was somewhat shocked when he found out Thanksgiving wasn’t a Holy Day of Obligation. All of the truly important events in our lives are connected with the Mass: Family Christmas gatherings, baptisms, confirmation, marriage, funerals, etc. We have seldom lived within a day’s drive of my parents, but they always make sure they attend daily Mass on the birthdays of their children and grandchildren. This reinforces to my children that the Mass is a great gift.
Introducing children to Scripture can be a challenge. I have heard some say that you shouldn’t read children’s Bible stories because the children will view the Bible as just another fairy tale. I disagree. I do think it is important to let them know that you are reading from the Bible and this is a special book. From a very early age my children knew the Bible, even their children’s version, was different from their other books. It was associated with God. They never left it on the floor but handled it reverently. So I think the sacredness of the Bible can be conveyed to young children.
Daily Scripture reading is an ideal but lofty goal. There are certainly books with daily Scripture meditations or prescribed reading programs to read the Bible in a year. I don’t know of anyone except my husband who has had much luck just sitting down and reading the Bible cover to cover. The Church offers a very easy program. Just read the daily Mass readings every day. Within three years you will cover nearly every book in the Bible.
We’ve already spoken of the importance of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but we must also remember to bring the other Sacraments into our lives as well. Confession is so important. Frequent confessions bring peace to the individual but also peace to a family as well. I am certain that my children’s relationships with each other as well as with my husband and me became more loving as they became regular recipients of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are fortunate that Confession is a regular part of both the CCD program and the Youth Ministry. But my twelve-year-old mentioned the other night that he thought it was about time he went to confession again. I am not sure what brought that on, but I am glad he sees it as an important part of his life.
Chapter five speaks of the need to cultivate and nurture Catholic relationships. I think this coincides with Cardinal Arinze’s point about orienting our families towards Heaven. We must seek out a Catholic culture with Catholic priorities. Sometimes we can do this with our extended families but for many of us, family is geographically far away. Many of our extended family members are no longer practicing Catholics. I do not cut our family off from relatives who do not share our Faith. However, I do emphasize the relationships that reinforce our Faith. We do socialize with many families who are not Catholic. However, we share a special bond with those are. My boys have each belonged to the Boy Scout troop affiliated with our parish. One of our priests is the troop chaplain and makes a point of celebrating Mass for them and giving them blessings as they leave for their adventures. Troop leaders do their best to make sure the boys attend Mass if at all possible even when camping. Service projects revolve around the parish.
The aim of this chapter is to provide a blueprint for shaping Catholic children. What do you think?