My daughter is five years old. In our diocese, we celebrate the restored order of the Sacraments of Initiation, which means that after Baptism, the Sacraments of Confirmation and first Eucharist are celebrated together around the age of seven. About six months ago, my daughter started asking us when she would receive the Eucharist. Very quickly, it became every weekend at Mass she would insistently ask, “Is today the day? Do I get to have Communion today? How many more days do I have to wait before I can have my Communion?” Her faith at this age is beyond what I feel I had when I was five.
I am still surprised at how consistent she is in her requests for the Eucharist, and her longing to join in our community in fully celebrating at the table. What does not surprise me is that she is so responsive to her faith life. When she turned four, I started a program at my parish called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, of which she was a part. This program is based on journeying with children and giving them the tools they need to deepen their relationship with Jesus and to explore the richness of our faith through Scripture and Liturgy. The result that I’ve seen in my daughter gives me such joy; she is building a strong relationship with Jesus that will be with her for the rest of her life.
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
The basic premise of the program is that young children already have a relationship with the Lord. In fact, they have a period of their life (up until the age of about six) where they can enter into that relationship with more freedom and wonder than we as adults do, or even as older children can. The reason? Because as we gain logic and reason, it becomes another step we have to mentally work through in order to offer ourselves freely to God. It is a necessary part of mature faith, but when children are young, their response is free of this challenge. It is a precious time when we can journey with them in joy, wonder, and awe at the richness and mystery of our faith.
What can you do at home?
This program is prevalent, but it might not be accessible to you. There are several things you can do if you are not able to have your children enter into an Atrium (what we call the space that the children do their work.)
Learn a little about Maria Montessori’s method which she used in her schools. An Italian Catholic, she worked with children and promulgated child-led and child-centered learning. It understands that children are naturally curious about their world and want to explore and learn about it. This is the method that Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is based upon.
Read books written by Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi, the two women who created Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Foundational books (required for becoming a certified Catechist) are listed at the end of the post. Particularly, The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey, by Sofia Cavalletti and others, highlights the parts of our faith that young children respond to particularly well.
Share the Scriptures with your children. And I don’t mean in a paraphrased-for-children way. I mean give them the actual stories; give them the verses; give them the richness of our faith. Children in the ages up to 6 respond best to stories in Scripture that meet their need for unwavering love; ones that share the personal love of God, of Jesus, for each of us (by name, even!). This is why the program is named after the discourse on the Good Shepherd (John 10). Keeping in mind that children can become preoccupied with negative; it is okay to skip reading parts that would scare or worry them (such as the wolf, or the hired hand who abandons the sheep) and come back to those parts when they have matured more and can discuss it without being overwhelmed by the negativity.
Explore our Liturgy with them. Young children have an affinity for words (and it’s so cute when they try to say complex ones!) In the Atrium we share with them the names of items used in the Mass (nomenclature), such as paten, chalice, cruets, and others. We also share with them the gestures we use as a community (eg. sign of the cross) and some important gestures the priest uses, such as Epiclesis and Offering. Each part of our Liturgy can be broken down in to small portions that are rich, and which the children can be fed with and which they love.
Pray about each of the things you want to share with your child before you do the actual sharing. When we ourselves spend time in prayer with each of these small pieces of our faith, the Spirit can guide us to the main point of each teaching. The essential reason for which we use gestures, or the essential point of one of Jesus’ parables or discourses…all this the Spirit is more than willing to share with us if we open ourselves up to hearing God speak to us. Our own prayer time centered on these parts of our faith is what gives us the depth to share with our children. It is hard for us to share what we ourselves haven’t yet spent time deepening.
Helping our children to deepen their relationship with Jesus doesn’t have to be complicated. Truly, it is not even us who have that power, but God. We also are the ones sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his word and seeing his actions. We also are called to be little children before God. This is a journey of sharing faith with our children, listening to God with them beside us.
How do you share your faith with your children?
For more information
The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey by Sofia Cavalletti; Patricia Coulter; Gianna Gobbi; Silvana Q. Montanaro, M.D.; Rebekah Rojcewicz
Like Leaven: Accompanying Children on their Spiritual Journey by Patricia Coulter
Copyright 2018 Jane Korvemaker