During the course of the school year, my children attend CCE classes and events at our parish to continue to expand their knowledge of Christianity, to fellowship with their peers, and to establish some roots that will support the tentative buds of their youthful faith. As much as I enjoy the families and learning that take place during the course of the year, I have been left feeling like many of the Christian fundamentals that my children are hurriedly receiving are rote, automated reflexive responses to the curriculum. As we sit through mass each Sunday, I can’t help but notice how the eyes of my children all glaze over as they drift away to endure the slow passage of time and the expectations to pass through the rhythm of mass in contemplative silence. I feel like they make little or no connection with the timeless passages spoken aloud from the Old Testament, are unable to feel the lyrical essence of the Psalms, or the powerful view afforded us of Jesus’ life and times through the eyes of the Apostles in the Gospel. They hear little if any of the homily as our priest pulls the common thread of these words into some previously elusive shape that connects to the life we know and understand today. So with the coming of summer, I am going to embark with my kids on some spiritual discovery of our own to give some relevance to these ancient traditions and to breathe new life into these timeworn passages, so that we may establish a few new roots of our own.
I set out with some inspiration a few months back to put into play a few of the tips and strategies I had gleaned from Matthew Kelly’s inspiring book Rediscovering Catholicism. I grabbed some colorful notebooks from the craft store and began trying to have my kids read the Sunday readings earlier in the week at dinner, and as a family we made some of the connections ourselves that link the passages. We also applied the themes and underlying messages to things happening in their lives at the present. Almost immediately I noticed a difference at mass. The kids were thrilled to recognize the readings from the pulpit and even managed to follow along with some of the homily as Father made connections we were able to anticipate.
Taking it one step further, we also began adding to our notebooks reflections as we did our examination of conscience prior to visiting confession. All of us, myself included, found it much easier and less nerve wracking to partake in this beautiful sacrament when walking into the confessional with prepared notes. It reduced the stress of trying to remember each and every transgression, as well as leaving us all feeling satisfied that we had completely cleared our consciences. I will also add that the priests passed along their appreciation as well, because our preparation allowed them to be that much more productive and attentive to our needs and the needs of everyone in line with us that particular day.
So now with the approach of summer beckoning us just a few weeks away, I am excited to add a few other items to our notebooks. It has become a bit of a family tradition to visit nearby or not so nearby parishes during the summer months, as we travel or as an excuse to travel. We began this pilgrimage with my mother a few years ago to reenergize our faith and as an excuse to visit the Little Painted Churches of Texas. We enjoyed visiting the old, quaint churches so much, we continued for the better part of a year to drop in at other parishes all over East Texas. We made a point to stop at each of the churches named for my children’s patron saints, along with architecturally pleasing and historically interesting churches. We visited churches referred to us by friends, colleagues and family. We sought out more well-known parishes in our diocese, as well as a few off-the-beaten-path parishes. My mother and I quickly noticed that at each parish we visited, some aspect of each church touched us or inspired us in some way. It was sometimes as simple as antique stained glass windows and exquisite craftsmanship or sometimes it was as profound as an incredibly eloquent priest or an unbelievably welcoming culturally-diverse parish. So in anticipation of what secrets and surprises that this summer’s expeditions might unveil, I am excited to involve my children in this pilgrimage with notebooks in tow. I am hoping to inspire them to notice some of these idiosyncrasies at each parish we drop by and find the relevance to their lives and faith as well. I am eager to see what each of us notices as individuals about these unfamiliar churches, as well as the impact it has on our appreciation for our own parish.
Next, I am eager to include a page in each of their notebooks studying and remembering the story of their namesake saints. I would like to spend some liberal library hours, digging and researching these fascinating people who so successfully managed to incorporate Christ into their daily lives. We might follow it up with a visit again to the special parish named in their honor, as well as a feast to celebrate the diverse cultures and countries these individuals hail from.
Finally, I also have plans for a summer project to bring the Sacraments that the Catholic Church celebrates back to the forefront of our awareness, as well as to reaffirm for my older children Sacraments yet to come. I would like to create a page for each of them in their notebook describing, remembering and celebrating each of their encounters with Jesus during these milestones. I have plans to dig out some cherished pictures, long tucked away, and help them to rediscover their personal connections to God. I am hopeful that the memories will live on in the pages of their notebooks and reawaken their faith whenever they flip through them. I also want to continue to guide them to anticipate future Sacraments by perhaps creating pages for daydreaming of wedding dresses and bridal bouquets, travel and future homes! For the most part I want to encourage my children to feel, remember and anticipate the moments they encounter Jesus in their lives, to look for those connections with him in their daily lives and in moments of despair to reflect on their roots.