It’s no easy task to bring up children in faith. Lots of surprises await those who really try!
“Children come into my life with their laughter and their song.
When will I become like them? Teach me Lord to sing along.”
Whenever I sang these lyrics from the song “Living waters flow on” my heart longed for children of my own. As an only child I was always drawn to children and nothing could beat the joy I experienced in their presence. As a matter of fact, I chose the vocation of married life to have the privilege of bearing bubbling bundles of joy.
I remember writing in my diary about the songs I would teach them and the Saint stories I would tell them. I yearned to nurture my little ones in the way of holiness, teaching them to love Jesus and Mama Mary with all their hearts. I even bought a children’s Bible storybook before my wedding. From the very beginning of my first pregnancy, my heart was stirred to surround my little one with prayers and songs of praise to God, as I made numerous sign of the Cross over my womb. Being put on bed rest only doubled my fervor to pray more. I never suspected that God planned to bring my baby into the world at 27 weeks of pregnancy. When I held my first-born daughter in my arms, my joy overflowed into hymns of praise. Even as she spent her first 45 days strapped down in the NICU with needles and cannulae in her body I rejoiced in the gift of my daughter.
I spoke constantly about Jesus to my little Anna. Even though I had only a few minutes with her each day, I never forgot to trace the sign of the Cross wherever I could find her skin free of plaster and tubes, whispering that she was not alone and that Mamma Mary and Jesus were right beside her. Sometimes when I hummed a hymn for her, the nurses sang along and the NICU turned into a house of prayer. When I could finally take my baby home my joy knew no limits.
About three months later, we came to know that our little Anna would be unlike other children. In addition to physical disabilities, her intellect was severely affected. The doctors said her brain was shrunken due to lack of oxygen during birth. I kept praying and singing hymns for her. Strangely, though she never looked me in the eye, there was a joy on her face that was contagious. Whenever I recited the Holy Rosary, all her whimpers and cries turned to peaceful bliss. It felt like we were surrounded by angels who prayed along with us. I never got tired of telling her Saint stories, not knowing if she understood any of it. There were days I wept while praying the Rosary with her, wondering if little Anna ever would be able to pray with me.
Four years went by and three miscarriages added to our pain. The doctors said it would be impossible for me to have healthy babies.
It would take a miracle! In His infinite love and mercy God blessed us with two cherubs, Issa and Aaric—two years apart. Now my little Anna is 6 years old with a little brother and sister to join the ranks of her crying symphony.
After the births of Issa and Aaric I returned to praying and singing just as I had with Anna. But I couldn’t get the spiritual vibe which had been so strong around Anna. When I tried to bless Aaric with the sign of the Cross or tried placing my hand on his head, he would flee like a vampire at the sight of a Cross; Issa would simply stare at me and blink as if to say “Are you serious?”
It was painful to realize that bringing up children in faith is no easy task after all!
You might think it is a joke that I worried about the faith formation of a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old baby. No joke! I seriously began to ask myself, “Am I doing it right? Are they moving away from Jesus rather than toward him? Am I too compulsive in trying to teach them to love God?
One evening, as I pondered these questions while baby Issa was drooling over a teether, Aaric climbed onto the bed, stretched his hand toward a framed scripture quotation hanging on the wall, and then moved his hand to baby Issa’s lips. Suddenly it dawned on me. He gets it! I regularly bring Aaric to our image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, place my hand on the image and then touch his lips. I realized that Aaric was not only imitating my gestures, he understood that what he touched on the wall was no ordinary picture but something Holy. I was reminded of Jeremiah 15:16
Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart;
for I am called by your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.
From that incident I got the clear message that I didn’t have to stress about my children’s faith. In fact, my children would be teaching me about faith.
When the children constantly cry for my attention and won’t let me out of their sight I remember how often I try to get God’s attention and make him look at me. I’m forced to ask myself, “Am I as persistent in trying to be close to Him all day as my children are in getting close to me?
When I discipline my son for his mischief, he never wastes a second before coming to hug me and make peace. But when I’ve made a nasty comment or overreacted in some way, how soon do I turn to God to ask forgiveness? God too disciplines us and then waits for us to hug him and make our peace.
If I love these children who contantly create such messes for me to clean up, then how much more must God love us even when we make our own messes?
Sometimes while watching adoration streamed on live TV I glimpse Aaric raising both his arms and baby Issa swaying to the songs of praise. I realize that our children imitate our expressions of faith. I know that no matter how well I speak of Jesus or try to inspire them with stories of Saints, what they look at most is what I do. Am I gentle and humble like Jesus? Do I love those who don’t love me as Jesus instructed? As they grow, children are more aware of what we do than what we say.
I am always fascinated when my little Anna turns up during Holy Mass. She is always peaceful. While at Holy Mass, her usual thrums that turn into her high-pitched glass-breaking screams are completely absent. Such is the vigil she keeps. At the point when the priest says, “And so, with Angels and Archangels… with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts…” little Anna’s big bright eyes dart about as if watching flying objects. She gets excited and her countenance turns so celestial that one look at her would convince you that Heaven is real. The ecstasy on little Anna’s face convinced me that the angels and Saints are with us celebrating Holy Mass like a real party.
My children remind me of the words of Jesus, “…unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Let us then with great simplicity and child-like faith offer our prayers which will pierce the clouds and reach the Heavens.
©Reshma Thomas serves on the Editorial Board of Shalom Tidings. She resides with her family in Kerala, India.
A special message from the Papal Preacher to our readers. Once I assisted at the midnight Christmas Mass presided over by pope St. John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica. The moment arrived for the singing of the Kalenda, that is, the solemn proclamation of the birth of the Savior, present in the ancient Martyrology and reintroduced into the Catholic liturgy after Vatican II: When ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man. When the last words were said, I felt a sudden inner clarity, so that I remember saying to myself: “It is true! Everything they are singing is true! These are not just words; the Eternal actually has entered into time. The last event of the series has broken the series; it has created an irreversible ‘before’ and ‘after’; the computation of time, which took place earlier in relation to different events (the Olympics, such and such a kingdom, and so on), now takes place in relation to a single event, the birth of a baby in a poor village of a despised Roman province!” A sudden emotion shot through my entire person, and I could only say, “Thank you, Most Holy Trinity, and thanks be also to you, Holy Mother of God.” In most people’s lives, there’s an event that divides life into two parts, creating a before and an after. For spouses, this is generally the wedding, and they divide their lives into “before getting married” and “after getting married”; for bishops and priests it’s episcopal consecration or priestly ordination: before ordination or after; for religious it’s their religious profession. St. Paul also divided his life into two parts, but the watershed event was neither marriage nor ordination, but the moment he met personally the risen Lord. The fiery encounter with Christ created in the apostle’s life a kind of “before Christ” and “after Christ,” just as it happened in human history. What prevents that from happening on a smaller scale for us too?
Feeling lonely can be detrimental. Here’s 5 ways to overcome loneliness. The Covid19 Pandemic that surged throughout 2020 took everyone out of their comfort zone—rich or poor, young or old, healthy or non-healthy, well-educated or less-educated from every race, culture and religion. The pandemic made people feel isolated—from the outside world, from their loved ones, from their kids, from their spouses, from their houses of worship, from their priests, pastors and rabbis, from their counselors and therapists, from their friends and co-workers, from their parents and grandparents and from building human connections. The pandemic has increased the feeling of loneliness in many people, leading some to desperate measures. Feeling lonely creates a void in our hearts; we long to find someone to help us, to hug us, to care for us and pay attention to us. No one wants to feel lonely! But people can feel lonely even when in a relationship or among friends. Loneliness can come at any moment in our lives and at any age. Loneliness can be triggered by a major event like a break-up or divorce and by lesser events like feeling overwhelmed or feeling out of place. Thinking of a particular event or tragedy can also trigger feelings of loneliness. But with every struggle, God can provide hope, comfort, and strength to anyone who seeks him. Overcoming loneliness is not easy. It is a process that requires constant practice. The best way I have found to overcome loneliness is to place my trust in God. But we know that grace builds on nature and so we must also seek out the many practical strategies that also can help. Here are five positive steps I believe can help you cope with and overcome loneliness. 1.Ask for help when feeling lonely and feeling overwhelmed! Reach out to people who are reliable and trustworthy. 2.Identify and engage in activities that bring you joy, that make you smile and keep you positive mentally, emotionally, and physically. 3.Fill your soul with spirituality—read the Bible, enroll in a Bible study or social weekly fellowship, pray privately or in groups and with family, pray online or on the phone. 4.Practice almsgiving by giving to a cause dear to your heart. Make a positive difference in other people’s lives by volunteering your time and talents. Giving yourself to others will lessen your feelings of loneliness. 5.Distance yourself from negative social media platforms and negative followers. Create a positive public forum to promote healthy spiritual conversations. See a Pastor or Counselor if your loneliness persists despite your efforts to deal with it. Try these steps to deal with your loneliness. Taking action will almost always result in a better mood. But remember that in challenging and uncertain times, trust in God is our best strategy.
Have you experienced the real joy of Christmas? I’ll bet you, it makes your life worth living! It began at Mass that morning. I walked toward the front of the Church where most Catholic Masses still have room. But that Christmas day everyone was packed in. As I squeezed directly in front of a former eighth-grade religious education class student his mouth flew open in wordless surprise. On our way out, he started with, “Mr. Manicone, seeing you made my day!” I said sincerely, “Rob, you made mine!” As I prayed silently after receiving the Eucharist, a man squeezed my shoulder as he passed by with his child. I recognized him, an old friend whose dad died the week before. After mass, I found him outside. “I’m really sorry to hear about your dad—such a great guy. But he must be happy celebrating Christmas with Jesus face to face.” He smiled. Walking down the steps, I saw another former student. He spoke with a glow, “Ya know, Mr. Manicone, I chose visiting nursing homes as part of my Confirmation service project. That’s ‘cause of joining you for Christmas caroling last year.” I felt so proud of him: “That’s super, Gary. Just hearing that makes my Christmas happier.” I headed out to the Care Center to meet this year’s carolers. The residents called out my name and ran to embrace me. Some didn’t want to let me go and hugged me without letting up. They said “Thanks” so wholeheartedly. They kept saying, “I love you,” and I did too. These poor and sick under-loved discarded people have nothing to give except their love. And they so much appreciate us allowing them to love us. As prep in the entryway, I tell my companions, “I encourage you to listen to love a little more—unconditional pure giving love. Value your time spent with a person who has no one but you. That time is priceless, and its treasure is in heaven.” My friend Zeke and I received an instant lesson in love when we happened on two men in their room. One in a wheelchair spoke for the other who could not speak. He gazed at the bedridden man, and asserted, “That one is the most important person in the whole building.” That’s love. Afflictions only seem to heighten love. Down the hallway, we sang. One woman, Millie, could only grunt. She seemed to know and sing every line, glowing as though singing from the mouth of her heart. Singers came and left through the day, and the last part in the evening became more intense. A resident named Terry said his long-time roommate had a stroke and didn’t speak or move. As he lay immobile, we sang four songs around his bed. On the way out, I felt compelled to take the man’s hand and bless him, “Andy, I pray that Jesus will let you know how much He loves you—you’re His special friend. Merry Christmas!” His whole body came to life as he lifted himself up, grasped my hand, and exclaimed loudly, “God bless you! I love you.” Wow—the Christmas spirit brings forth life! Louise at 95 was in excruciating pain when we entered her room. She smiled peacefully as we sang and prayed over her. Mary has lain in her bed staring at the ceiling for years, with no TV or radio--she’s so content. When I asked her what she did with her time, she smiled, “I think.” It made me wonder: If she can be so peaceful, appreciate our singing, and take in our love, could I? What a day filled with the awe and wonder of Christmas—Jesus came to me, and I was privileged to bring Him to others.
Where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid world? Find it today! Covid Chronicles The word “lockdown” still takes my breath away. Fear is enemy number one. To prepare the battlefield, I placed Divine Mercy images on all my doors. I prayed that the Angel of Death of our times—Covid—would pass over this house. Inside my house, my statues of Jesus and His Mother faced out to protect the whole neighborhood and world. Then I began a notebook journal, my own “Covid Chronicles”. Anxiety, isolation, boredom and depression are relentless stalkers on this battlefield as well. Rereading my journal now, I see how the Lord is continuously helping his little ones to fight them. The Kingdom moments are in plain sight now. Do you recognize them? Your Daily Kingdom Moments Start your day with Power. Raise your heart and mind to the God who waits to hear our prayer. We have a God who, on His redeeming cross, said, “I thirst.” Do you know anyone else who died for you and still wants to help you more? Put all your fears right there at the foot of the cross. Because He is God, He knows them anyway and delights in banishing them. In return for your trust in Him, He gives you peace. Fair warning though: this is not a once and done deal. Every time fear sneaks back, have a battle cry ready. It could be simply, “Jesus, I trust in you.” That is the Divine Mercy prayer. When fear becomes too great for you to stand, kneel. I found that the moments on my knees were profound teaching moments. Humility is so necessary to authentic prayer. The rosary to our Blessed Mother, our great intercessor, is the greatest weapon for our time, according to Padre Pio. Pray it every day for soothing peace. Take in Wisdom. Read from daily devotionals, and religious magazines. The short meditations and scripture readings will say exactly what you need to hear at that time on that day. They will verify God’s presence with you and that is a Kingdom moment. Make Mass the mainstay of your day. I felt so grateful to our priests and to our technology which live streamed the Mass every day. The Word of God and spiritual communion were Kingdom moments delivered right to me. I knew I wasn’t alone. Mass was still a communal meal. Plug into Prayer Groups. I learned to Zoom and connected with an out of state prayer group. I attended many virtual conferences on healing and gifts of the Holy Spirit. My own local Charismatic prayer group conducted weekly meetings through both email and group telephone meetings. Scripture, personal witnessing, petitions for healings, and music were shared. Faith communities nourish the soul and we see that we are a united force connected to a mighty Power who blesses us because we worship and praise Him. Get outside. Life is for the birds, literally. There they were living their uninterrupted lives. They sang their songs, built their nests, fed their young etc. Nature is a Kingdom gift of beauty itself. Talk to positive people. I have smart and grace-filled friends. Connecting with them brings me laughter, and prayer reaffirming visits of the heart. We sympathize, support, and, most importantly, just listen to each other. They are life support during Covid days. If you don’t get a call, make a call. Someone is waiting for a Kingdom moment which you can supply. Set goals each day. At the beginning of Covid-19, I attacked boxes that I had promised myself I would go through years ago. Every day I still set a goal and accomplishing it makes me feel content. A pat on the backwards off depression. Indulge in “me” moments. It sounds contradictory, or even selfish, but doing what you love makes you a happier person. If you live with someone else, they will appreciate that a lot, I suspect. So sing, paint, write, exercise or create by crafting and kingdom moments will be given to others as well as yourself. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11) Always put yourself in the presence of God. Continually look and listen for Him. You will forget, but He will remind you. He is there; your Forever Friend, Savior, and Supplier of all you need. Yes, Covid-19 is a formidable foe, but if we put on the Armor of God we have the best defense. And if God is for us, and He is, the battle is already won. So where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid World? Where it always is—in our innermost being, our spirit.
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