Raising a Child in Faith

The chapel is tiny, but beautiful. Two sets of four stained-glass windows line the walls, and the wooden pews are freshly polished and gleaming. Only two other people are here. One is a middle-aged woman who sits and stares straight ahead of her. Her hands are folded in her lap, and her lips move to a prayer only she can hear. Another is a white-haired man who kneels and holds an open prayer book. In front of us, on the white cloth-draped altar, stands a golden sunburst of a statuette, holding in its center a perfect white circle.

It is so quiet – at least, for the few seconds it takes my two-year-old son to clamor loudly onto the pew we’ve decided on. He takes a few seconds to cock his head back and look around, mouth agape, as if seeing it for the first time, although we have been here many times before.

We’re here for Eucharistic Adoration, a practice in the Roman Catholic Church in which the Blessed Sacrament (the consecrated altar bread Catholics consume) is displayed in a monstrance and venerated. Because Catholics believe that, through Transubstantiation, the Eucharist is the true Body of Christ, it is treated as though Jesus Himself is present, because to us, He is.

And so we go to adore Him there. We come before Him and offer our minds and our prayers to Him, sharing our deepest thoughts and desires. We come to worship Him. People stay for as long as they like, or are able to. Sometimes they stay for an hour, or more. But me? I stay until my son gets restless – which, these days, isn’t more than a quick hello.

Just checking in, Lord. Thank You so much for this day. Thank You for Your grace. Thank You for Your mercy, and for your love.

Thank You for my son.

*

He was named after a saint. When he was born he received numerous holy cards with St. Dominic on them, a robed man standing in religious ecstasy, his eyes gazing heavenward, a scapular dangling from his fingers. They are beautiful cards, but he wasn’t named after that St. Dominic. The one he was named after, St. Dominic Savio, was just a boy when he died. He was a firecracker of a holy child who strode into his school office and demanded that his headmaster, Don Bosco, teach him how to become a saint. If he couldn’t, little Dominic said, he’d go somewhere else until he found out how. That incredible love for God, that insatiable desire for sainthood – those were the traits I wanted my son to be graced with.

That’s all I want for him, even today.

*

Sometimes, my prayers for him are little shouts of desperation thrown toward God: “Oh Lord, give me strength. Give me patience and strength.” “Lord, let him sleep just a little while longer, just an hour longer, Lord.” “Lord, help him to be well-liked by the other kids. Help him find friends. Help him be accepted.”

Other times, they’re wordless bursts of joy my heart feels when he lies in my arms on the recliner in our family room, sleep-heavy and lightly snoring. He’ll turn over, his face rubbery with exhaustion, and all I can think of is how full of gratitude I am for his little life.

*

He hasn’t started to ask “why?” yet, but I’m getting ready for the answers: “Because of chloraphyll.” “Because it’s raining.” “Because that’s how long it takes for the Earth to move around the sun.” One day he’ll ask me why Mommy and Daddy believe in Jesus. He’ll ask us who God is, and why we go to Mass. And I’m getting my answers ready. I’m lining up my reasons – there are so many reasons, all having to do with peace and faithfulness and sacrifice and love – but mostly, it’s so simple. “Do you feel love? I know you do, little one. We love each other because God is love. He showed us how.”

*

Our plan is to send him to Catholic school. He’ll learn about our faith from my husband and I and from his teachers; he’ll attend Mass with his classmates on certain days during the school year and with us every Sunday. These meetings with God and the community he’ll share with our parish will be the slow process by which he’ll be able to fit into the armor of God we’re all called to wear.

But it happens, even so in the Catholic Church in America: Catholic children who go to public school are required to attend weekly catechism classes at their parish in order to receive their Sacraments with their peers. And when they receive the last of the Sacraments they’ll receive as young adults, Confirmation, they are often not seen in church for a very long time. I don’t want my son to “graduate” from Catholicism – to show up on the day of his Confirmation and not see the inside of a church again until he’s married; and after that not until his own children are baptized. I don’t want his faith in God to be reduced to items on a checklist; a “Go” he must pass in order to receive a prize.

*

To tell you the truth, I get worried when I think about the life of faith my son will experience. As is so often the case these days, those who are religious and who seek holiness are on one side – while those who do not are starkly on another. Their religious tendencies are so closely intertwined with their political ideologies, and people are quicker to argue about faith than to discuss it. I wonder if it’ll cause him to become disillusioned. Will he shut others out if what they believe is different than what he believes? Will he remember that Jesus came to us as a poor, Suffering Servant? And if he does, and decides to serve Him, will he realize that the poor and marginalized, the ones crying out for justice – exist where there is no black or white, but only gray?

*

It’s in a mother’s very nature that she would desire the best for her children; and for a religious mother, that best is nothing short of God. St. Monica wanted her wayward son to feel God’s love burning in his heart. (Eventually, he – St. Augustine – did.) St. Rita wanted her vengeful sons to understand that a life of peace was attainable through God’s mercy and goodness alone. (They did, too.)

I pray so fervently that my prayers will be answered, but I know that my son’s relationship with God is his alone. I can tell him about Jesus and about the fervent and fantastic love of God; but in the end, it’s not my armor that Dominic has to somehow squeeze into. His walk with His creator will be his own.

And it will be my privilege to accompany him on his journey as far as I can.

*

Dominic is restless now; we’ve stayed at the chapel too long. We get up to leave and as we exit the chapel doors and walk down the stone pathway to the parking lot, the man who was inside with us catches up to me. He talks with a slight accent, although I can’t place it. He smiless.

“Jesus was once as he was,” he says, pointing to Dominic.  “The challenge now is for your son to become like Him.”

“That’s the goal,” I say with a smile, reaching for Dominic’s hand.

The man smiles back at us and turns to walk away.

 

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