While attending Mass at a local parish recently, I noticed there were no children in the church (and almost everyone there was over fifty). Something about that felt really wrong to me. However, as I reached down to lower the kneeler, I detected a few Cheerios morsels on the floor, which brought a smile to my face. This was a good sign, and how it should be.
As an “empty-nester” church attendee, I long to see pews filled with growing families, to hear little ones making noise and testing the acoustical qualities of the high ceilings, and witness the pitter-patter of little feet tottering down the aisle. Jesus himself said: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14, RSV-CE).
In our day and age, it seems to me not only a matter of eternal significance, but an important key to lifetime happiness and stability, to notice specifically these words of Jesus: “Do not hinder them.” Hindering our children’s opportunity for personal encounters with Christ would be a grievous sin of omission – a failure to do things that we should do, an inadequacy in carrying out our God-given obligation to our children. What steps can we take to purposely adhere to those words in Jesus’s command?
Attending Sunday Mass together: the first priority of the weekend
One way that we could seriously hinder our children is to be lackadaisical about Mass on Sundays. Such an attitude would reflect immediately upon our own relationship with our Lord and Savior. If we are failing in living fully this simplest, yet most important precept of the Church, we take the risk of obstructing our children’s path to Jesus.
Attending Sunday Mass with our family (in a right frame of mind, and not a “gotta squeeze this in amongst the good weekend stuff” mentality) is the first giant leap when it comes to raising children who will grow up to love the Lord and espouse their faith. However, beyond Sundays we must do more, if we want them to be strong, confident, and steadfast in their beliefs. We must ferret out the deeper meaning of “do not hinder,” to make sure that we are doing our very best.
Let them notice your conversation with the Holy Trinity and the saints in heaven
Busy parents, with little ones, sometimes feel that if they can’t fit in a full rosary every day, they might as well just give it up. Don’t give up, don’t lose heart; speak to God as if He were walking beside you, blessing you in your daily work (because, well … He is!). If your children never notice you bowing your head in prayer, never hear you calling upon the name of the Lord, never see you with a rosary in your hands, they will not learn how to build a two-way relationship between themselves and God.
Praying before meals is a good place to start. Beyond that, spend time in little snippets of daily prayer, even if it is just a few short words, such as, “Thank you, Jesus, I love you” or “Blessed Mother, walk with me today, and help me accomplish good things.” If you can lay the groundwork for your children in regular, easy communication with our Creator and the saints, you are leading them to Christ, and not hindering.
Fill your walls and shelves with signs of your faith
Walk through your house with an open mind. Do you see signs of your faith? Does your choice of ornamental items say, “I am Roman Catholic?” If not, this might be another possible hindrance for your children’s faith. When I first converted to the Catholic faith, I learned by visiting people who I considered strong witnesses of Christ.
I found that the homes of believers were often simple, but obviously (and tastefully) enhanced by religious symbols: a crucifix in every room, small holy water fonts near doorways, statues of favorite saints decorating the tables, and pictures of the Blessed Mother on the walls. Many even had a prayer “shrine,” a collection of statues and pictures and candles assembled on a table or shelf, near which the family might gather for the daily Rosary (or a decade of the Rosary, for short attention spans).
This can be an easy and affordable decorating plan, if you head to your local thrift store and rescue some of the Catholic items that you’re sure to find there. Give them a good home where they’ll be appreciated, and save loads of money as a bonus!
Let your children hear you witnessing about the faith to others
If you’ve just heard the absolute best news, or savored the taste of an excellent recipe, aren’t you just bursting to share these things with everyone? Our Catholic faith is the best news ever, and the recipe for eternal life, so we should be talking about it to everyone.
Kids thrive on storytelling. If your kids see you sharing your faith life, and occasionally leading someone to a conversion experience, they’ll see their faith in a whole new light. They’ll come to understand that faith is not something you pull down off the shelf just for the weekends, and only talk about to people in your inner circle. It’s the greatest story ever told, and made for passing on! Being excited and vocal in sharing the faith is another way to pave a clear pathway for your children’s growth in faith.
Read books about saints
There’s nothing like the lives of the saints for lighting a fire in young hearts, and there are saint books published for every age range.
For the wee ones, obtain board/picture books about Jesus and the Holy Family, or Catholic saints. Cloud of Witnesses is a sweet board book for three- to seven-year-olds.
For preschoolers and early primary ages, check out Saint Joseph Picture Books, specifically, My Catholic Book of Saints.
The more seasoned readers in your life will enjoy the Ignatius Press Vision Series, which offers thirty titles of saint stories practically guaranteed to inspire and encourage your children in their faith and love of the saints (recommended for grades 4 through 8, but entertaining for moms and dads, too!).
There are so many Catholic faith-themed books out there geared towards children, so please don’t stop with saint books. Once again, browsing the thrift stores will come in handy (and thrifty) in your quest to fill your shelves with life-giving titles.
Practice spiritual and corporal works of mercy with your children
There are many other tactics that will help to ensure your children’s path to Jesus is easily navigated, and the spiritual and corporal acts of mercy are some powerful road-building tools. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church 2447). How about visiting a local cemetery? Some cemeteries are more like beautiful parks, offering historical pluses such as Civil War sections as well as beautiful lakes and fountains. With a pleasant stroll though the ornate headstones, you can gently introduce your children to the act of praying for the dead.
You might choose to pray outside of the local abortion clinic with kids in tow (this act can fulfill several of the works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal). You’ll encounter many devoted parents, with baby carriers and strollers, giving witness with their words and actions. Or you may prefer to support a local pregnancy center by donating diapers, clothing, or other baby gear. With older children, you could volunteer at a center.
Use your imagination; pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit
Once you get the ball rolling, you’ll realize that the possibilities are practically endless, especially when you allow the Holy Spirit to get involved. Just remember that your goal is to: advance, assist, blaze a trail, clear away, direct, encourage, facilitate, lay the course, promote, and push (your children on their journey to the Lord). These are your active verbs of non-hindering. Embrace them and use them, combined with all of the powerful tools offered to us in the Catholic faith. Your rewards will be great — in this life, in your children’s lives, and in the life to come!
Copyright 2019 Charlene Rack