Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Parent's Prayer of Abandonment

Well, "Family Prayer Time" didn't go quite as planned again tonight. Andy preferred to read his Bible, Maggie was avidly reading one of the many toy catalogues we've been receiving since, oh, August, and Susie decided to make a game of screaming at increasingly loud levels. After one particularly ear-shattering shriek, I picked her up and moved her into the other room. I could've forced Andy and Maggie to attend to prayer, but somehow it seems counterproductive to a spirit of loving self-giving when you have to use your raised "I AM ABOUT TO LOSE IT" voice.

So, it was down to Marie and me. As we huddled on the couch, I prayed a prayer that I find myself praying all too often: "Help me, God, to be a good parent to these children; give me the wisdom and courage and charity to do what needs to be done. I need your help, because obviously I can't do it on my own!"

Kind of a sad prayer, but Saint Paul reminds us that "boasting" of our weakness to God is our greatest strength: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Romans 8:26) and "I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Cor 12:9).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Praying with St. Anthony

St. Anthony must like kids...or at least my kids, because it seems as though they always find whatever they are praying for. (Not so for me.) Once their aunt called long-distance to ask them to pray for a lost wedding ring. They did, and five minutes later, she called to say she'd found it--in a huge load of laundry.

This morning, 7-year-old Andy couldn't find his coin purse. This was a big deal, since he planned to use his money to buy himself hot lunch. (We're too cheap and too wary of school food to shell out for hot lunches ourselves. $2.50 a day! Back in our day....) He looked and looked, but it was only after praying for help that he found it. (He reports having mashed potatoes and some unspecified meat.)

I am of two minds about praying to find lost items, especially with kids. On one hand, I don't want to inculcate a "magical" understanding of God in my kids--i.e., prayer as a way to magically get what you couldn't get otherwise. Nor do I want them to have an understanding of God as fast-food clerk ("Here to serve you, your way, 24/7!")

On the other hand, God seems to be leading the way here. They pray, God gives them what they want...who am I to interfere? We have been careful to place all of these "lost and found" prayers in context: "You know, we don't always get what we want when we pray. God is not magic or a machine; God is like a friend or a parent. He always gives us whatever is best for us." Sometime in the future God may lead them to a more relational prayer life. But for now, something tells me he delights in their simple faith.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pictures of Heaven

This morning I walked downstairs with dread in my heart. The kids were already up, but it was quiet...too quiet...eerily quiet.... I held my breath as I entered the kitchen, expecting the worst...but Maggie and Andy were only coloring peacefully at the kitchen table. Miracle of miracles.

Not only that, but Maggie announced that she was painting heaven, using water color paints. Naturally I took a look. Here is what she had painted:

Yes, that is white water color paint on black construction paper. As 5-year-old Maggie explained, the large smiling figure in the center is Jesus; the souls of the dead hover on the right side of the paper (those would be the short white lines). The arch above Jesus is a rainbow.

I asked her why she chose black construction paper. "Because heaven is dark," she said. Okay! Never let it be said that my daughter let artistic convention or theological tradition hold her imagination back. (This is the same girl who once imagined a sky full of sunflowers for stars.) Personally, I think this heaven is black because the black construction paper was on top of the pile.

She followed up with this:

Again, we have the central figure of Jesus, under a rainbow. The vertical lines are "the arms and legs of the dead people." Most interestingly, the orange tree in the upper right-hand corner is supposed to be "the Tree of Love." I wonder whether she lifted this from the image of the Tree of Life in the garden of Eden, but I'm not sure.

Andy, seeing all the attention Maggie was getting with her pictures, whipped up the following (exclaiming at one point, "Darn, I messed up God!"):

Yes, it's somewhat derivative: you have the figure of Jesus, the rainbow--but with the ocean at top (represented by the wavy blue lines) and a house to the right. "All the dead people are sleeping. They live fifteen people in each house."

In my past life as an editor of Catholic religious education materials, this is the sort of activity I would see prescribed for older kids--"draw your image of heaven." I'm not sure, but I doubt that you'd get anything near as imaginative from 100 older kids.

Later, during Mass, I smiled to hear that both of the readings were about heaven, including the Gospel:
Jesus said to them,
"The children of this age . . .
can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.
That the dead will rise
even Moses made known in the passage about the bush,
when he called out 'Lord, '
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
and he is not God of the dead, but of the living,
for to him all are alive." (Luke 20:34, 36-38)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Why Do We Eat God?" (Questions Kids Ask #1)

"Why do we want to eat God?" Five-year-old Maggie dropped this question on me after we finished our meal prayer tonight.

My first reaction: What a wonderful expression for the Eucharist, "eating God." It sounds scandalous--a slap across the face waking me to the radical gift of the thing.

To buy time, and to check that I'm understanding her, I ask, "Um, when do we eat God?"

"Well, the bread and wine are Jesus' body."

"We eat God so he forgives our sins," says 7-year-old Andy, who is taking first Reconciliation classes and therefore knows the answers to things.

I nod at him. "Yeah, that's part of it," I say. As I sling slop (aka mac 'n' cheese) into kids' bowls, I decide to go the analogy route: "Well, what happens when you eat food, like a chicken or a carrot?" I get a puzzled look, so I try again. "Where does it go?"

She stands up and silently points to her behind; we've discussed not talking about what comes out of our body during dinner. Good to see the lesson stuck.

"Well, that's what happens to part of it, but the rest becomes part of our body. Otherwise, why would we eat? Why do we eat, do you think?"

" grow."

"Right. And what would happen if you didn't eat?"

"We wouldn't grow."

"You would die!" chimes in Andy.

"So, we eat God in the Eucharist for the same reasons," I say, gesturing with the broccoli. "God helps us grow, and gives us life, and when we eat Jesus' body and blood, he becomes part of us--part of our body, and our spirit."

"Like our eyes," Andy says knowingly, pointing to his eyes. "Jesus makes our eyes see."

Umm...not sure where to go with that, so I take a pass. "Does that makes sense?" I ask Maggie. "Did that answer your question?"

But, as usual, the bell has rung and class is out, 'cause I don't get an answer. "Why did you get D.W. macaroni and cheese, Dad?" she asks.

Feel free to offer your take on how you'd handle that question--or how you answered similar questions from kids. Be merciful, though--figuring out an age-appropriate, theologically correct answer while serving dinner to three kids is no small feat!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Our Catholic Family

So...I created this blog to record our efforts to catechize our three young children (ages 2, 5, and 7) in the Catholic faith. I'm hoping that chronicling those efforts will give other families some practical ideas...and perhaps the inspiration they need simply to persevere in their attempts to become the "domestic church."