Countless parents have done their best to introduce kids to the House of God and no doubt, there are many great stories about a child uttering a classic line that won't be soon forgotten.
Some time ago, the National Post asked a number of writers to write about passing on the faith to kids. One such reflection worth repeating in these pages comes from Charles Lewis, on the gift of parenting and how it intersects with our faith journey, all in the House of God.
Years ago I asked a close friend why she dragged her children to Mass every Sunday. Children in church always look as if they are in the midst of slow-motion fits. They squirm, they stretch, they fall over and lay down on the kneelers, then they drool when they fall into a bored stupor. They try to be quiet but you can see it is a form of torture. All their little instincts scream, “Run!” “Yell!” “Play!” and “Get me out of here!”
Then, when they get really cranky, their mothers and fathers pick them up and walk them around the church to keep them distracted.
One young boy I know used to keep track of the length of the sermon just to pass the time.
When the priest was done with his homily, the boy would whisper, “32 minutes,” and smile.
This friend of mine and her husband have demanding jobs; they take their kids to endless hockey practices and other after-school and weekend activities. So it is not like they have a ton of free time. Even God could forgive my friend for wanting to sleep in on Sunday or linger over breakfast.
At the time I asked her about this, I believed that most children would grow up to reject their faith and then revel in telling everyone how much they could not stand organized religion. I know many adults just like that today.
But what my good friend said made more sense than any other explanation I have ever heard for putting children in the pews once a week: In order for her children to lose their faith, she said, they would have to learn their faith first. You cannot be a lapsed Catholic without having been a Catholic. Same goes for Jew, Protestant and Muslim. Then she added she hoped her children would retain their faith, as she did from childhood, but if they ever did drift away they would know that the Church would always welcome them back and what they were going back to.
I now attend the same Toronto Catholic parish as this woman and I often think of her words as I look at all the different children “learning their faith.” To an outsider, or a twice-a-year Catholic, it would still seem like a waste of time. But if you really watch, you can see how parents teach their children in tiny ways.
There is one woman who during the service carries her toddler around pointing to the statues of Mary and Jesus. She is clearly telling her son little bits and pieces, almost introducing Jesus and Mary to him as friends. Some children seem distracted but then they will start saying the words to the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary and look pleased when they get a line or two right. When the sun hits the stained glass just right, it looks like the holy men and women depicted have caught fire — and once in a while you will see the face of a young boy lingering on this image for a few seconds. I wonder if the image will burn into his memory.
These children are all being introduced to this larger kingdom and reality. Years from now they might reject it all but that does not really matter. If they are generous, they will look back and see those Sunday mornings not as a time of trial, but as a sincere act of love that passed along something of great value.
Charles Lewis is a religion writer with the National Post and also serves as the editor of Holy Post, an online forum for those interested in today's religious issues. Contributions, story ideas and comments are most welcome. You can reach Charles at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos: Diocese of Orlando