Children and the Catholic ChurchAug 1st, 2011 | By Jeremy Tate | Category: Blog Posts
I first read G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy about seven years ago. Despite the anti-Calvinist rhetoric throughout the book, which at the time greatly reduced Chesterton’s credibility to me, I was deeply struck at his insight into the world of children. Chesterton was never able to have children himself, but nonetheless he seemed to retain in his own life the sense of wonder, awe, and fascination towards the world that is usually to be found only in kids. He saw in children a clue to the nature of pre-fallen man, and a foretaste of man fully redeemed. In this way, children can point us towards good theology. Chesterton writes;
Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children do not need fairly tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is interested by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales – because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him. This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost prenatal leap of interest and amazement.
Much of Chesterton’s writing is imbued with this idea that fallen man, especially in the scientifically explained away modern world, needs to be brought back into the world of wonder, the world of the garden, where we can once again be cast into awe and wonder at the greatness of our Creator and all of His handiwork. So how does this happen as our kids grow up in the faith?
I’ve talked to several Reformed friends who would become Catholic if it were not for their children. They’re in great PCA churches where their kids get top quality Bible instruction. The children’s ministry at the PCA Church I was at before my conversion has an amazing children’s ministry and I myself hesitated over leaving it when I came to the Catholic conclusion. Instead of finding a lack in the ability of the Catholic Church to draw children into the faith, however, I have found that the Catholic Church is something like an amusement park for kids. The Sacramental nature of the Church works in perfect harmony with a child’s hunger for mystery, grandeur, awe, and wonder. As a dad, I believe I am responsible for the faith formation of my kids.
As we have transitioned into the Catholic Church the way we go about this has changed dramatically. We still do “Bible-time,” Catechism, prayers and songs before bed, but much is new. We have Holy Water in our home, which to them is the main selling point when they invite their friends over. My three-year old proudly announces to her friends, “this is how I remember my baptism.” We go on pilgrimages to the Cathedrals where we walk around in awe and wonder and tell the stories of Scripture that are brought to life for us in the vivid images of the Church. We celebrate more feast days than just Christmas and Easter. We have a special birthday cake for the birthday of the Church on Pentecost Sunday and we do sparklers that night for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We tell stories of the saints on their feast day. I am amazed as my children listen in utter fascination to these family members in heaven that they are united to in Christ. In addition, children love the liturgy. Once again, Chesterton understands this well. He writes;
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
For children, the liturgy is not boring monotony, it is the song of the Church. The claim we are making here at Called To Communion, that the Catholic Church is indeed your true home, is true for your children as well. Consider what God has provided for the formation of precious children and consider what they may be missing as they learn the faith apart from the Catholic Church.
I can imagine some readers seeing this post and being shocked. How could somebody have the nerve to call the Catholic Church “an amusement park for kids”? The sexual abuse scandal over the past decade in the Catholic Church has injured young children in one of the worst ways imaginable. For millions of Catholics, however, the reason the sex scandal is such a tragedy is precisely because the experience of those abused contrasts so sharply with what has been articulated in this post. Instead of experiencing the wonder, grandeur, and majesty of God through the Catholic Church they experienced the horrific darkness of sin. Here, we come to our Savior in prayer and ask Him for healing for those abused and that future generations in the Catholic Church would be able to experience nothing but His grace and love in the Catholic Church.