Lots of Catholic parents come up with creative ways to teach their children about the faith. Crafting ideas to teach the Sacraments, special baking recipes for the liturgical seasons, Catholic educational resources, and even Catholic board games are all ways that parents evangelize their kids. I’m sure for some parents, finding ways to teach the faith to their kids can also be a source of pressure and anxiety. Am I imaging Christ to my children? Am I doing enough catechesis at home? What if I’m not doing as good a job as other Catholic parents?
The good news is that sometimes it’s not so much about everything you as a parent are doing for your children . . . it’s also about being responsive, open, and aware of how your children are already evangelizing you!
I learned this insight a few weeks ago when my parish participated in an Enthronement to the Sacred Heart of Jesus ceremony. The Sacred Heart Enthronement is a beautiful devotion that helps connect families closer together through the love of Christ, reflected sacramentally by placing an image of the Sacred Heart in the home.
For a little background, the Redemporists are big believers in the Sacred Heart enthronement and a family devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. According to them, with the Sacred Heart enthronement, “Jesus is invited to participate in all activities of the family. He then sanctifies all the details of home life. By the Enthronement and under the influence of the Sacred Heart, each member learns intimacy with Jesus. Either as a family or individually, each will grow in confidence and love with the One who longs for our love. Thus, the gift of the Enthronement is an awareness of His Living Presence in the family and a source of grace and blessings for the family.”
The Redemporists have had great success with their Sacred Heart enthronment mission. At my parish, the visiting Redemptorist priest gave three days of talks focusing on family, relationships, and love. One of the talks he gave was about how children evangelize their parents in profound ways. He encouraged parents to pay special attention to all the ways God uses children to teach adults about Himself and the kind of relationship He desires to have with us.
The information he was sharing was great stuff, so I whipped out a pen and paper and began to jot down some of the points he gave:
1) Childlike faith: Belief comes easy to children; they are naturally trusting. For adults, having a childlike faith is often difficult. As we grow up our life experiences cause us to give way to cynicism, doubt, and mistrust. Despite these life experiences where others may have let us down, God asks us to continue to have a childlike faith in Him.
2) Childlike innocence: Innocence is a rare thing to observe in anyone –except in children. Young children haven’t had a chance to get weighed down with their personal sins. Sin always distorts in one way or another, and as adults we really have to struggle to be innocent in all our thoughts and actions. Without children around us, we would forget what it’s like to be without guile, deceit, and selfish motivations. Children remind us of how to maintain this kind of purity.
3) Simplicity: Children aren’t complicated, at all. They don’t agonize over things and they don’t worry. Each day is something new, a clean slate, an adventure to be lived. Children don’t live in the past or in the future; they live in the present moment. Children wear their hearts on their sleeves without hidden motives. They are honest and open about what they’re thinking and feeling. Too often we complicate our lives and our relationships way more than they need to be, and children remind us of getting back to the basics of love and honesty.
4) Love: Children have an enormous capacity for unconditional love. As adults, it is very hard not to view our relationships with a utilitarian slant. What do you do for me, what do you give me? If you stopped providing these things that I want, will I still care about you? For children, love hasn’t had the chance to be corrupted or distorted in this way. Children naturally love their parents with a remarkable purity and want to be with them, even if parents sometimes fail to be good from time to time. Children are naturally loyal and they keep their hearts open much longer than adults, even after feeling hurt.
5) Reminder of the Incarnation: It is one thing to know as a matter of fact that Jesus was born into the world and grew from a child into an adult, all for our sake. It is another to look at your child and think, “Oh my goodness, Jesus was your age once.” The Redemporist priest illustrated this by having a baby, a young boy, and a 13 year old boy come to the front of the room. He asked us to imagine what it was like to have Jesus walking and living among us as a child at each of these ages, and then reminded us that Christ is presently living and walking among us through our children.
Being aware of and open to how God is using your children to evangelize you contributes to your own growth in faith, which will then in turn help you to image Christ back to your child. And isn’t that why marriage and family is a Sacrament? Family life is a rich means of grace flowing into your life.
At a general audience address last year, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on Christ’s call for a childlike faith which he defined as a “pureness of heart” which “allows us to recognize the face of God in Jesus Christ.” He continued, “It is keeping our hearts as simple as those of children, without the presumptions of those who are locked in themselves, thinking they have no need of anyone, not even God.” Children remind us of what God wants us to be like: loving, trusting, and innocent.
What have your children taught you about God?
Copyright 2o12 Gretchen Filz