Teaching the Love of God
Meaningful preparation begins at home.
The afternoon light lit up the stained glass in the dim church. I knelt in the pew gazing at our Blessed Lord in the monstrance with my heart thumping in prayer as my daughter was in the confessional opening herself up to the grace of the sacrament of penance for the first time. I prayed for this to be the beginning of a lifetime of going to receive this sacrament, one that we all need to receive regularly to grow in the life of virtue.
Over the years, I have learned to approach the care of the souls of each of my children as Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, did. Their daughter Celine, who became Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face, explained that at the birth of each child, which was always followed up within a day or two by the sacrament of baptism, St. Zélie would pray: “Lord, grant me the grace that this child may be consecrated to You, and that nothing may tarnish the purity of its soul. If ever it will be lost, I prefer that You should take it without delay” (The Mother of the Little Flower, p. 6). St. Zélie knew that children going to heaven is the most important thing that can ever happen to them.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that sacramental preparation begins in the home, stating, “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children,” and “Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years” (2223, 2226).
While our children will get the basics of catechism from their religion classes in school, in religious education at church, or in a home-school curriculum, this intellectual knowledge is not enough. To be truly prepared for receiving the sacraments, whether first penance, first Holy Communion or confirmation, children’s hearts must be as full of love and desire for God as their minds are full of theological terminology. And, ultimately, they must know that the “firsts” for sacraments are not just one time, but the beginning of a lifetime of devotion.
Since I became a parent, I have spoken to other families about how they help their children learn to love God. All of them concluded that parents must teach and model the love of God in daily life. One family takes time together each day for a quiet prayer. Each family member gets an age-appropriate prayer book, and they sit in silence for about 10 minutes, each praying at their own level. Another family shows a love of the Mass, the Eucharist and going to reconciliation through reverent example. Another always invites their children to join them when they go to confession. Others shared that they make conversation about God and the sacraments a regular part of their family meals — they are always talking about what the children are learning about the faith — while another has Mass play sets so that the children can experience devotion to the Mass through reverent play-acting. These families also focus on intentionally living the liturgical year in the home, whether it is Advent, Christmastide, Lent, Easter or Ordinary Time.
I have incorporated these ideas into our family in the way that works best for us. We take our children to daily Mass as much as we are able, bring them to adoration, and make going to confession a regular family event. In doing this, the children who are too young to receive the Eucharist and go to confession grow in a desire to fully participate. We prepare our children to deeply desire each Holy Communion by leading them in a prayer for spiritual communion multiple times a day and to be ready for confession by leading them to internally examine their consciences midday at our quiet family prayer time and again with our bedtime prayers. We also include the reading of Scripture as part of our family life, working through the Bible a chapter or two a day and discussing what we read. Open conversations about the faith are foundational to living a sacramental life.
Looking back, I do not think I was considering confirmation-saint possibilities when I filled our home library with books, audio recordings and films about the lives of the saints. I merely wanted my children to know the saints so that they had truly holy people to inspire them in the love of God. But I see now how celebrating favorite feast days by praying novenas, serving a special meal or dessert, and covering our family prayer altar in icons and images of favorite saints, name saints and confirmation saints has prepared our children to choose a saint they have come to know. They have always taken this decision to prayer, and I can see how the saint “fits” my children. For example, my child with asthma felt drawn to St. Bernadette, especially in her struggle with several illnesses in the last few years.
Another important part of sacramental preparation is taking to prayer the choice of godparents and confirmation sponsors: those who are going to give an example of holiness and pray devoutly for our child’s salvation. We have always chosen practicing Catholics, relatives or friends who will be a regular part of our children’s lives. Two of my children have been confirmed, and when choosing a sponsor, it came down to whether the person could travel to the confirmation and how they modeled their faith. Each of our children made the final choice about her sponsor.
Preparing our children for the sacraments can seem overwhelming, but we must remember that the Lord is the one who will take care of our children when we offer them to him. He will show them that he is the only one who can ultimately lead them to true happiness.