Children, Behold Your Mother

I was speaking with a friend about a topic that we would soon take up in our Catholic men’s group — practical ways of instilling love for Mary in our children. I felt stumped. What book should we discuss? Do we have any tapes on the subject? Should we ask one of our parish priests to stop by?

I know that children learn best by example, especially by what they see their parents doing. But I have also been impressed by anti-drug, anti-alcohol and pro-abstinence sexual-education programs that underline the importance of parents talking to their kids, sharing their beliefs and laying out their expectations.

The future Pope John Paul II learned the importance of prayer as a boy by watching his father kneel every morning and evening. But his prayer life was also shaped by a lay apostle who was a local shopkeeper.

I gave this question about teaching devotion to Our Lady to our children a lot of thought because the Marian devotion of my childhood was not strong.

I grew up in the 1960s without much knowledge or interest in the Blessed Mother, falling prey to the old canard that this devotion is anti-ecumenical, lacks biblical foundation and distracts us from the love of Christ. Then, one summer, I agreed to take part in an evening Rosary a few nights a week with some other young men. The change in my attitude toward Mary did not come overnight, but I did resolve to make the Rosary a part of my life.

After becoming a parent, I didn’t set out to teach my sons the Rosary or even to consciously inculcate a place for the mother of Jesus in their prayers. I just made sure to pray together with them every night and, because I do say the Rosary daily, I almost always have a decade or two left to be prayed at the end of the day. I use a portion of our prayer time to finish.

Needless to say, they know the Rosary prayers by heart and, at ages 5 and 7, they can probably name most of the mysteries. They know about Mary, the important events of her life, and how we need her prayers. They know she is intimately caught up in the life of Jesus and that she is part of all things Catholic. They have never not been aware of her.

When time for the meeting came, the discussion leader took a simple approach. He played a tape of monks singing the “Salve Regina,” handed out photocopies of the most important Marian prayers and told us about his own devotion. He led us in Our Lady’s litany, known as the Litany of Loreto. He taught us devotion to the Virgin Mary with some words, yes, but mostly by leading us in devotion to the Virgin Mary.

The lesson was clear: The best way to teach kids about Mary and to encourage an active love for her is for the parent-teacher to become devoted to — or more devoted to — Our Lady.

If love for her is at work in our lives, we pass it on mostly by simply practicing it. And the Rosary is the best practice. Unlike most other prayers, the Rosary comes with a fascinating, beautiful, tactile thing. Kids go right for those.

If, however, the beads just sit in a drawer, the interest of the child will wane. He’ll see the rosary as a boring knickknack. If they are brought out and held each day, kissed reverently and prayed with love, he’ll see the seeds of a lifelong love.

Joe Cullen works

(and prays the Rosary)

on Wall Street in New York City.