A Parent’s Perspective
I found an old book on the bookshelf recently that had been a present from my mother to my two eldest sons. In the inside of the publication, Yes! The Life of Blessed Josemaría for Young Readers, I discovered a lovely inscription. It said “To Adam and David, with love from Grandma xxx ooo. This is the story of a little boy like you, who became a saint because he tried his best to do everything very well for God. He always said ‘Yes’ to God.” That was written in September 1995. My mother died a few years later and Blessed Josemaría is now St Josemaría, my two sons are married, but the message about doing everything well for God is still central in their lives. My dear mother always made sure that, in every aspect of family life, God was central and that there was always a place for him at the table. Never a shrinking violet, her children, grandchildren and everyone she met could have had no doubt that she was a woman of great faith. She had that special gift of making Jesus present to people, always wearing her heart on her sleeve with her love of God central to her interactions with others.
I sometimes struggle to put my finger on what exactly my mother did to make faith and religion so attractive. There are so many parents who try hard to pass on the faith and keep the fire burning in their children’s hearts but they sense that they’re failing. One of my mother’s secrets was focused on involvement. Whatever the topic of debate or the faith-related question, there was enthusiastic debate and discussion, often involving the whole family. There was no question of a private, insular Catholicism which didn’t reach out to others. Even when there was eye rolling or sighs, the rosary was said, we’d be invited to attend daily Mass during the school holidays and, during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, there was no question of missing any of the proceedings on television. After an exciting day in the Phoenix Park, every other appearance, in every venue, saw me and my younger siblings squeezed onto the small couch in our sitting-room under my mother’s watchful eye. There was no question of opting out. We didn’t even want to as my mother made the lines of the Catechism sparkle, and that was no mean feat.
After months of not being able to socialise, it’s no surprise that a 14-year-old’s plans for summer are about meet-ups and making friends, with great ideas like gathering to do some work of mercy, having bake sales after Sunday Masses and even setting up a singing group with an evangelisation element. It’s often friendships that lead others to grow closer to God-a little kindness and camaraderie goes a long way. My 14-year-old daughter thought that a Christian movie night was a fantastic idea, choosing films that focus on family, faith or on qualities like resilience, fortitude, love and leadership. At a very vulnerable age, preteens and teenagers are very influenced by what they see and what they listen to. We feed our children’s souls by offering them what is noble and good and true. Let them set themselves some standards and lay out some challenges for themselves and their friends to make summer a great holiday, but definitely not a holiday from God.With summer stretching out ahead of us, I was thinking of how I could emulate my mother’s approach to making sure that faith, and passing on the Faith, is not pushed to the bottom of the holiday agenda. I enlisted the help of some 11- and 14-year-old children to come up with suggestions that focus on sanctity as well as sea, sun and sandy beaches. I was impressed with the range of ideas they generated. My own 11-year-old focused on starting each morning of your holidays well with an “I love you, Jesus” and morning prayers. He also added that going to morning Mass more often would be good too. I could just imagine my mother beaming at that one. I must have done something right as he was also suggesting going to Confession often, visiting the church for Adoration and saying the rosary every day. Even if they can’t do everything, it’s good for children, heading towards their teenage years, to start to be the authors of their own little faith plans. A simple plan of life to encourage a summer prayer-and-faith routine can be designed to suit each child’s level and each family’s unique holiday routine.
A friend of my son’s got involved with the project too with more practical ideas to do with caring for the environment and looking beyond our immediate needs. He mentioned not throwing litter around and being concerned about “our amazing world”. This is a popular theme in school lessons but we can focus on the Christian aspects and on our role as stewards of God’s creation. It’s fun to get involved in community clean-ups or creating colourful flower beds that everyone in an area can enjoy. St Hildegard of Bingen said, “Every creature is a glittering, glistening mirror of humanity” which reminds us to teach our children that even planting seeds or volunteering to foster a sick puppy or kitten is cooperating in God’s plan.