Children and the Catholic Church

Aug 1st, 2011 | By | 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.


Candlelight procession at Lourdes

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.

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  1. Jeremy,

    Thank you very much. You reminded me of my reading Chesterton when I was making the move to Rome. I found him much more difficult than CS Lewis, and I found myself reading portions of the material two and three times to make sure I got the import of what he was saying. I was edified and my attention was kept, albeit I could only read Chesterton for a time and had to put him down and allow what he had written to soak into me.

    I am on the treadmill again and find myself re-reading Lewis. I expect I’ll be out buying Everlasting Man next, and re-reading that tome.

    Thanks again,

    dt

  2. This is very timely. Many thanks.

  3. Mr. Tate:

    What is wrong with anti-Calvanist rhetoric and how does it reduce Chesterton’s credibility?

  4. David, Mr. Tate’s reaction was quite natural and expected. Let me explain it this way. You believe proposition “Mr Calvin was a faithful Christian”. I regularly say “Mr Calvin was a heretic and by implications anyone who trusts his is also”. This disagreement puts into question anything I say about Christianity with you because it shows your definition of Christianity is different from mine and you’re saying I’m not a Christian.

    Now if I say, “I disagree with Mr Calvin but he was acting in accordance to his conscious”, you might start to give me credibility since I haven’t stated you are not a Christian and that I might be wrong.

    Yes, it is a logical fallacy, but 90% of what keeps people away from the Church isn’t logic. If it were simple a matter of logic, the Great Schism would have been healed ages ago and it might not have happened in the first place.

  5. Someone (not me) has done a very nice reading with slide show on YouTube of the passage about repetition and monotony. Anyone who likes Chesterton would enjoy it very much.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGUKfp5iBb0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  6. Attended my first ever Mass this morning and just wanted to share with you my experience. As some of you may know I am currently a Reformed Protestant in a PCA church. I went to Mass following the advice of several of you here at C2C. This may seem off topic for this post but I promise that when you get to the end you will see why I posted it here.

    The parish I attended is presided over by an FSSP priest. It was a Low Mass at 6:30am this morning and I was there with 5 others. It was entirely in Latin except for the closing Hail Marys and Prayer. We spent most of the 35 minutes on our knees. I did not partake of the Eucharist; I was the only one who didn’t. As I was walking out and around the building on my way to my car the priest poked his head out of a side door and very gently asked if I needed to make a Confession. I’m sure he noticed that I remained seated in the back when everyone else went to take the Eucharist, and his concern for me, enough to make him seek me out (much like Christ does with His people) is much appreciated, and was one of the defining moments for me. I humbly had to say ‘no’ and would have loved to stay and chat with him but I was not sure how long it was going to take me to get to work and was already getting nervous about getting to work on time. I plan to email him later.

    The parish itself was beautiful. If I could describe the whole experience in two words they would be “reverent” and “ancient.” Even now, as I write this several hours afterward, it seems very surreal to me, like it happened so long ago, and yet it was just this morning. I can’t image Mass would have been very different in 1011A.D. as it was just now in 2011A.D. I still have a lot of thoughts and feelings floating around inside and I am waiting to say more until I have had time to process it all. In some ways it felt entirely foreign to me, so utterly unlike what I have always known Christianity to be. This is unsettling. But I can attest by personal experience that sometimes the most defining moments of our lives are highly unsettling. Whether this is one of those moments only time will tell.

    To cap it all off, when I arrived at work I received an email from my wife. She said that after our 2 year old son had finished eating breakfast, he sat down on the couch and began looking through his Jesus storybook bible as he does most mornings. The subject line of her email read “weird” and it read:

    “is it weird that [our son] is saying “come eat jesus”
    he is reading his book and calling jesus to come eat, but all i can think of is the eucharist.”

    Out of the mouth of babes…

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  7. Aaron…

    that is amazing.

  8. Aaron,

    Thanks for sharing that story.

  9. Thank you Aaron. I did not have the original privilege of attending the Latin Mass, but went and saw the old, the young, the black, white, brown and yellow and was struck by the universality of what I was seeing. Catholic means universal and that exactly explains what struck me. Those people weren’t all like me.

    I had one other surprise. The priest was an elderly Jesuit who, when he said, “Body of Christ,” could be heard in the back of the Church. I found I was in awe. The communicants, the body of Christ, were receiving the Body of Christ. In another age I would have described it as a contact high. Catholics describe it as “consolation.” I was consoled at the privilege of being present for this wonder. This privilege has stayed with me for decades although the consolation is no longer present.

    I became a Catholic. I hope the same for you.

    Cordially,
    dt

  10. Aaron,
    Amazing story! I was in a similar situation last summer. My family’s first mass was at the Cathedral of St. Paul here in Minnesota. The only other time I had been there was for a concert of Handel’s Messiah. At that time, as a Postmillenialist, I pictured the Cathedral at some future time being a Reformed church, and the church finally being “one” like Jesus prayed it would be. Now as a Catholic, I realize that God has answered my prayer within my own lifetime! The Church is (and has always been) one! Praise God!

    I hungered for the Eucharist so much that I asked to be recieved into the Church as soon as possible. My priest did a “personal” shortened RCIA for my family and we were able to join last December. My 7 year old daughter was able to recieve her First Confession and Communion this spring. When I thought of what she would be missing if we had stayed at our old PCA Church, I wept. Children need the sacraments just like we need them.

    May the road rise to meet you on your journey Aaron!

    David

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