Sunday, April 24, 2016

Welcoming children

I heard someone say the other day that the reason the Catholic Church is losing members is because we are not a welcoming religion.  In some cases, that can be true.  But I have also known many other religions which are not welcoming either.  Since I am catholic, I can only speak of  my experiences in the Catholic faith. 

I recall a Sunday when the priest, before starting his homily, mentioned that he had been asked by some parishioners to recommend rather strongly that families with small children use the cry room.  Their concern was that any crying, laughing or other noises would be disruptive to people praying and concentrating on God and the Mass.  I was pleased at the priest's answer to this.  He started out by saying that the cry room was not a mandatory place to be used during Mass but an option.  Personally, he had no problem with small children being in the main body of the church.  Small children do not find themselves closed off to the formality of the church instead their "noises" are the
signs of life God has given to each of us.  He believed that these "noises" were gifts of joy to all of the congregation. I like that.  It is important that we welcome children in our faith just as Jesus felt children were the most important to Him.

Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14

For over 20 years, I taught in a Catholic school and one of our main goals was for the children to feel welcome in church.  Where the children go, the parents will follow.  To do this, I felt it important that the children felt that the Church wanted them there.  We talked about prayer and how they are "conversations with God."  They did need to memorize some prayers but it was important for them to understand that God is their friend and like any friend, He wants to talk to you and hear from you all the time about anything you want to share.  It is for this reason, He just wants to have a conversation with you.  No memorized prayers are needed.  We discussed how the music during Mass can uplift us as well as make us feel sad depending on the hymn.  It is okay to sing with gusto and feeling as singing is another form of prayer.  Many times, I have seen a child sway to a joyous hymn and sing out loud with gusto.  On the other hand, I have seen a child almost on the verge of tears when singing about Jesus' crucifixion.  I recall when the Bishop in our parish sent a letter to all of us in the Catholic school stating that at Mass, he considered it disrespectful and inappropriate for students to use sign language, movement or any other displays while participating in the Mass.  Our children, just as we were, were upset about it.  However, the Bishop had the final say and we obeyed him.  One boy in my second grade class came to me shortly after the letter came out and asked me, "when is Jesus happier...when we sit quietly or when we show we are filled with His spirit?'  My answer was to be diplomatic and I said, "He is happy all the time because He always knows we are filled with His spirit whether we are quiet or not."  He looked at me and smiled and said, "If Jesus knows about football games, He would know that the star player always likes to hear the fans filled with joy."

What kind of fan of Jesus are you....the one who sits quietly and focuses on the Mass or the one who joins in with gusto and shows Jesus you are filled with the Spirit?

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