Let the little children come to me!
Parents would do well to acquaint themselves with the deep spiritual nature of their children and gently direct them towards faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, the parents' primary task is to foster in their children an awareness of and an openness to God. They need to be discerning enough to recognise how God is alive and active in the lives of their children and dedicated enough to help their children question and explore the spiritual dimensions of their lives.
Active listening is a necessary skill to be acquired. Humility and courage too. It is not easy to recognise God's Spirit at work in the heart of a child; and, spiritual discourse does not come easily to most parents.
Children love stories. They are experienced and attentive listeners. Bible stories are an important element in faith formation. Children can enter into a relationship with the characters of the Bible and come to know God. Telling stories comes easily to most parents and it is a ready made way to help form their children in faith.
Authentic faith comes from accepting that there is a personal God who cares personally for each one of us. Parents can facilitate their child's relationship with this personal God by teaching them to pray. Prayer is the language of relationship with God.
Formal prayer is no longer a routine for many families. It is still a worthwhile discipline. Regular morning and evening prayers can set a lifelong pattern of prayer. Memorised prayers can be a comfort in trials, inspire courage and allow us to participate with others in the worship of God. Young children love the formality and gravity of set prayers that they have learned by heart.
Children, however, are natural and spontaneous "pray-ers". They have their own experience of life's joys and sorrows. They like to bring them before God. They enjoy being in touch with the Presence of God in nature, in events and especially in people. Sensitive parents encourage this prayerful spontaneity in their children.
Reflection is an aid to faith. A child's capacity to reflect needs to be fostered. Our children live in a world of distraction. Silence and stillness do not come easily to them. They need to be taught how to engage their faculty of wonder; to be aware of the otherness of life; to appreciate the positive aspects of their life and to be able to name the less positive ones.
These days, faith does not come easily to children. Those who love the child dearly must nurture it. Faith develops under the guidance of those who are sensitive to the subtle touch of God in the child's spirit. Surely these people are a child's family?
Scripture portrays Jesus as a person who is passionately interested in children and their spirituality. Children, he said, are models to be imitated if we adults are to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew18:2-3). The harshest judgement he ever made was directed against those who led his little ones astray (Matthew18:6).
"Let the little children come to me" (Mark 10:14) is Jesus' demand. It is addressed not only to the first disciples but to modern parents as well.
- By Fr Michael Gilbert, C.Ss.R. Copyright ©, The Redemptorists' Majellan Publications.