The Fruit Is Ripening
Joshua and I are a little intense on the taking children to church front. That is to say, we definitely had a plan in place for teaching our children how to go to Mass from basically age 1-day-old through squirmy toddlerhood and into early childhood. (If you are interested in our approach see: How to Take Young Children to Mass).
We did not deviate from the plan for any of the children and really feel as though we are reaping the fruit of those years of hard work now. It took years – 11 to be precise – and it took hard work. At times it was back-breaking, arm-exhausting, and even embarrassment-inducing.
Now the children know how to behave and generally do, to varying degrees. Joshua and I both always hear all the readings and the whole homily. We are able to focus and pray without having to take disruptive children out of the church. And neither of us have aching backs or exhausted arms from passing babies and two-year olds back and forth throughout Mass.
This is where I might write: “Mission Accomplished.”
But that is the whole point of this post. Our mission — our “liturgical formation” mission — is far from accomplished.
Our children know how to behave at Mass. That is to say they understand what is physically required of them at Mass. But as we all know, there is much more available to us – to them — than just an hour of quiet punctuated by singing and shifting postures.
Our 5-year-old doesn’t make noise at Mass or fidget too much. But she is 5. Sitting still is not a particular challenge for her at this point. What is challenging is focusing in on what is being read and spoken and making some connections with it.
It is not enough for Joshua and me to take a backseat because we (finally!) get to go to Mass as a family and not be distracted. We need to come up with new ways to help her engage the experience at her level. As our children’s primary teachers of the faith, we now get to create new game plans that help them engage the liturgy at ever more age-appropriate levels.
This was hit home to me this last weekend.
We were riding to Mass and our eldest, Oscar, was reading the day’s lectionary for us in the car. It was Good Shepherd Sunday so there was some especially rich imagery in the Gospel.
Joshua did a great job of taking the opportunity to discuss the readings a bit. He mentioned the imagery about the shepherd, named Jesus as our shepherd, and asked the children to think about how a shepherd shows his sheep his love, how he cares for them.
The first to respond was Simon, who is generally the most quiet and least likely to volunteer a response.
He said, “By laying down his life for them.”
I was blown away. Holy cow! That was not the level of connection I expected from my 7-year-old loving but distractible son.
For me, that experience really upped the ante in appropriating my role as their primary teacher of the faith. I need to invite the children to make connections within the liturgy and engage them thoughtfully about their experiences. The fruit is ripening, it is up to us to help them begin to harvest it.