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On the Lips of Infants and Babes, You have Found Perfect Praise

On the Lips of Infants and Babes, You have Found Perfect Praise

The other morning after Sophie finished nursing I sat her next to me on the bed while I tried to finish my morning prayers. Bella came in and wanted me to read to her so I distracted her as I often do by reading my psalms out loud so that she felt included and could pray along. After a while she wandered off again. But I continued to pray aloud. Then when I got to the Glory Be at the end of the psalm, I noticed Sophie looking at me and rubbing her hand over her belly in a deliberate way. Was she trying to make the sign of the cross? It seemed likely.

I decided to try an experiment, when I sat her down for breakfast, I moved her hand in the sign of the cross and folded her hands together as I prayed a blessing over the food. She beamed happily at me as we prayed. That night at bedtime I paused before nursing her to pour a little holy water in her palm and again moved her hand through the sign of the cross and then up to bless me and then down to bless baby Benedict in my belly. She laughed joyfully, clearly excited as I helped her to pray. She sat in my lap as I prayed, not anxious as she usually is at that time, crying for milk, but smiling and peaceful. When I finished praying then she was ready to nurse.

The excitement in Sophie’s eyes was almost the same as when I understand her attempts to speak or to sign “more” or “dolly” or “daddy”. But there is something more there as well. A divine spark, dare I say?

When Bella was about this age we began praying night prayers with her. She started to try to make her own prayer gestures, folding her hands, attempts to bless herself. It seems clear to me that children as young as one can have a desire to pray and that by helping them to use their bodies to pray, even if their lips cannot, we do them a great service which they receive with joy and gratitude.

It makes me so angry therefore when I see well-meaning people say we needn’t bring young children to mass because “they don’t get anything out of it anyway.” And this is of children of 4 or 5 years, much older than my girls. They are so wrong. Children who are still unable to speak words may still praise God and yearn for His presence. They can and do express religious yearnings that are not mere imitation but surprise me and go beyond what I expect they are capable of doing or understanding. Bella loves to look at holy images, to kneel and fold her hands and pray, to bless herself with holy water and to genuflect in front of the tabernacle. When I have taught her these things she takes to them eagerly. Not out of a desire to please me and follow my orders but because she is given a language to express what is already in her heart.

So please, take your children to church. Teach them to sing and pray, help them to move their bodies in prayer, pray for them and with them. help them to know and love God. It is never too early for them to learn. And you may be surprised at how much you learn as well.

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26 comments
  • I admit to being afraid of Facebook. There are some people I really don’t want to see again. There are some people I really don’t want to be found by. I guess it just depends on your perspective. I don’t really agree with Father other than to say that anyone can do anything to the extreme and the the detriment of their friendships and familial relations. That is why our Faith teaches us moderation in everything!

  • Charlotte,
    Just so you know, you can set FaceBook settings so that only your accepted friends can see your profile and you can limit the friends you accept as much as you want. I understand that FaceBook is not for everyone. But there are ways to keep it controlled and to use it as you want.

  • I, too, was a Facebook holdout.  I finally decided to join to see what all the hoopla was about.  After I set about a million privacy settings so a potential employer couldn’t find me (not that I would post anything incriminating, anyhow!) I hopped on.  First person I found was my old college roommate!  We’ve exchanged a few emails.  Haven’t seen her in over 20 years; she’s married, 3 kids, and the oldest is a freshman in college!  Have found other long-lost friends on there, too.  It is indeed like a big reunion.  However, it can also be a huge time suck, so I don’t get into the games, the causes, the “fan of”, etc.  I set my preferences so I don’t get an update every time someone changes their profile picture (no lie, I have a friend who does this at least once a day), for example.  I guess you use it the way you are most comfortable using it.

  • God Bless you.  He has certainly picked you as a very articulate writer.  You are a blessing from Him to all of us with your writings. 

  • Elizabeth,

    I started off being much more likely to friend almost anyone who asked. As time went on and I became overwhelmed with status messages and such, I became much more selective. I think it is a good idea to limit your circle of friends on Facebook.

    Charlotte,

    Definitely not for everyone. But, like Elizabeth said, if you do want to reconnect with a small group, you can set your privacy super high so no one can find you unless you seek them out.

    A good friend and former roommate of mine is a high school teacher and understandably hyper-paranoid about her students finding her online and super concerned about maintaining online privacy. I’d never have found her on Facebook if she hadn’t “friended” me first. Her name doesn’t appear in any searches unless she’s already invited you in.

    mary,

    I agree. I use FB in very limited ways and have ignored many of the time sucking functions. I have a general rule of no games, causes, etc. I do find it can still be a time suck; but that’s a general internet battle for me, not particular to FB.

    suburbancorrespondent,

    Thank you.

    I liked your take on it. You focused more on the SAHM/blog end of things, which I’ve written about before as well. Definitely the internet is a lifesaver to those of us at home with wee ones.

    And I probably spent more time neglecting my kids to get this post written than you did. wink

  • It all boils down to how we use Facebook and other social networking sites.  When used prudently, FB may in fact be one other means of apostolate, bringing people closer to God.  May not be the best, as nothing beats the face-to-face.  And it is not only on FB, but, as you say, a general internet battle.  The internet has been doing wonders for the Christian and Catholic bloggers.  FB can also do a lot for Christendom.

  • I totally agree—I love facebook and it’s been a real blessing to me to find and interact with people I’d lost touch with, or maybe only exchanged Christmas cards with in recent years…as well as people I’m in regular contact with in my daily life. Our family isn’t the best at communicating, but through facebook we’re privy to cool details (like engagements!) that would have formerly taken weeks or months to make it down the pike to us. wink

    Last month a dear friend passed away—an amazing, holy woman who touched thousands of lives through her family and her ministry. Through facebook we were able to get the wake and funeral details out to hundreds of people instantly—what a gift. As with the rest of the Internet…there’s both good and bad…I choose to embrace the good!

  • What an insightful, articulate defense. You must know that your experiences in life and with Facebook are mirrored in many others. Brava.

  • This is a refreshingly smart and insightful piece! I was definitely a Facebook skeptic for a long time, but I’ve since become convinced that social networking sites can be an invaluable resource if they are used appropriately and in moderation.

    My poor opinion of social networking sites changed once I’d actually started using them. I found that many of the objections well-meaning folks had raised about Facebook (and which I was worried would have a negative effect on my spiritual life) turned out to have little to do with my own or most people’s actual experience of the site. I’m not saying the objections are groundless—they are well-founded according to how the site is used by some—but simply that people can shape their own experience of Facebook, making choices that correspond to a Catholic ethos.

    I’m currently an administrator of the Facebook pages for the National Catholic Register and Faith & Family Live, and I’ve seen firsthand how Facebook users actively promote and defend their faith online by joining Catholic groups, supporting causes, sharing information, encouraging other Catholics, and generally following in the footsteps of our missionary forefathers, who braved the Wild Wild West (we’ve got the World Wide Web) to share the Good News. When it comes to spreading the Word, the Church has always been willing to embrace new technologies, new horizons.

    This is what I posted on the wall of the Register’s Facebook page, which I hope is apropos of this conversation:

    “In a recent message for World Communications Day, “New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue, and Friendship,” Pope Benedeict XVI stressed the growing importance of social media online. “When we find ourselves drawn toward other people,” he wrote, “when we want to know more about them and make ourselves known to them, we are responding to God’s call—a call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God.”

    In this way, social networks should facilitate, not replace or trivialize, the paramount importance of authentic human contact. God is a God of communion, of ever-flowing love between a trinity of three persons. The social web is a means, not an end, to allowing the Catholic community to share resources, advice, wisdom and experience on a global platform, while reaching out to others in a spirit of understanding and solidarity. Help us work towards building a Christ-centered civilization of love online!”

    As Peter wrote in his post, “embrace the good!” We can each search our own hearts for how best to use this Lenten season to strengthen our faith, but I would suggest that instead of fasting from Facebook this Lent, we should resolve to read more apologetics (last year marked the centenary of GK Chesterton’s classic “Orthodoxy”—a funny, profound book!), and share what we learn online. A friend of mine has actually been posting Chesterton excerpts on his profile and he’s gotten a wonderful response, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I agree that Facebook is simply a tool—the medium, not the message. The message is up to us!

  • Very well said! I’m not a big Facebook user … haven’t done much more than dip a toe in, and at the moment I’m preferring Twitter, but not because I think there is anything wrong with Facebook per se. I particularly like point about Facebook being a way of transcending the limitations of time and distance.

  • Great post, Melanie! I especially love what you say about the trivialities being a big part of what MAKES friendships friendships. Otherwise, they’re just distant relationships at best, but not friendships.  I think your feminine perspective is what Fr was lacking in his assessment of social networking. 

    God bless you and your family always!

  • I completely agree! If you’d suggested just 9 months ago that I’d be on FaceBook, I would have laughed! I never imagined that I’d ever try it out no less use it. But I first joined out of curiosity, just to see what it was. I didn’t even set up a profile at all. Then I talked to my sister about it. She was starting to use it to share pictures of her kids (especially the then-newborn twins). So that was enough to get me to look into it more. Since then, I’m in touch with several of my cousins (and their growing families). Sure, we might have heard things about each other through our mothers after their phone conversations. But with our family also far-flung (and our last shared grandparent gone), we really would only have 2nd or 3rd hand information about each other. We might send Christmas cards (in a good year), but it’s not the same. Now I see pictures of my cousins’ families and I know who’s going back to school, or starting a new job, or struggling with a problem. I get to know future in-laws a little before the wedding. It has definitely helped me reconnect with cousins. I never did the mass-inviting of every former classmate or co-worker, now will I. But some old friends have found me and that’s been a blessing too.
    I agree that sometimes it’s exactly the little day-to-day things (yes, the trivialities) that help us feel connected and help us to keep sharing our lives.
    I have not accepted invites from everyone who found my name through their email “friend finder.” I have no problem telling anyone who asks that I’m limiting my “friends” it to personal friends and family.
    Yes, it is a completely different story with children and teens, and we’ll eventually have to navigate that passage too. But for me, for my friends and relatives, it has also enhanced our relationships because we do use it to reconnect and to rebuild across the distance.
    Thank you as always, Melanie.
    Elizabeth

  • oops, just noticed a typo! It should have said:
    I never did the mass-inviting of every former classmate or co-worker, NOR will I.

  • Melanie,
    you need to send this to Fr. Berg.  smile  I liked your quote from C.S. Lewis, because one of the first things I thought of when I saw it was an article by Fr. Berg was “What?  He doesn’t even have internet access!”  At least, it would be very surprising if he does – it is very very rare for an LC priest to have any internet access.  So he might not be the best critic. 
    Hope you are feeling well.

  • Eileen,

    Elizabeth Foss called me on this too. And I think the parallels you raise are not apt parallels.

    An unmarried man has still been raised in a family, has observed married couples and talked to them about marriage, has probably read books on the subject, read novels and seen films that portray marriage, etc. In other words he may not have lived experience of what it is to be married; but he has vicarious experience of what marriage is and therefore a pretty good understanding of the spiritual realities of married life.

    No, you don’t have to have voted for Obama to understand the political issues at stake in the recent election or to make a criticism of his policies. But you do have to be well read on the issues and current events and understand the current political climate. Imagine, if you will,  a commenter on the American election who doesn’t live in the US, has never even visited the US, and whose opining seems to reflect that he gets all his news from only one side of the political spectrum. How much should I value his counsel on voting in the election?

    Likewise, I think a non-user of Facebook might have some misunderstandings and misperceptions about what FB is, how it works, how people use it. The internet is a new technology, we’re just beginning to understand its potential and Facebook is a new interface on the internet. We don’t have the wisdom of the ages to guide us on how to cope with the unique issues that arise from online interactions. We’re all still feeling our way through. It is much hard to understand Facebook just from other people’s descriptions of it without having experienced it yourself. Especially if all the reports you receive on the subject are negative ones. I myself discovered some of those misconceptions when I finally logged on and began to use Facebook. I thought it was one thing and it turned out to be different than my perception from my husband’s descriptions.

    I agree that a non-user might be able to have insights into the pitfalls of Facebook, in the same way a single person can have insights into marriage, but only if they have made an attempt to really understand it and talk to those who are in favor of it as well as those against so as to have a balanced understanding of the medium.

    It’s not so much that Fr is a non-user as that his comments reflect a lack of understanding and insight as to how those who use the social-networking media actually do use it. Many of his objections seemed just… off. As I said, if people use Facebook the way he describes, then I agree that it’s a problem. But I’m not sure the problems he describes are the real issues. The article felt unbalanced, didn’t give a single example of a good use that Facebook has been put to.

    I agree with him that Facebook does create challenges and may present some spiritual dangers (I’m actually planning a blog post that explores some of those questions), but I think his analysis of what those challenges and dangers are is lacking because he doesn’t really seem to understand what Facebook is and how it works for those of us who use it.

  • I won’t weigh in on the merits or lack thereof of Facebook, but I do wonder somewhat if your opening premise—that non-users lack the standing to discern its value or lack thereof—is flawed.

    I suspect that the good Father has also never been married or used birth control; is he therefore not qualified to guide people on those issues?  I hope he’s not a fan of pornography; and I’m quite certain he’s never had an abortion. Does he therefore automatically lack wisdom on these matters?  And, if he didn’t vote for Obama (I have no idea if he did or did not), does that disqualify him from criticizing his policies?

    I think there is a limit to the idea that “criticism is better left to those who enjoy and use” something like Facebook.  Isn’t it equally possible that if you do use it, you could be blinded by its potential dangers?

    I’m not suggesting that this means that your perspective, as you outline it in the rest of your post, is itself flawed; I always appreciate hearing a variety of perspectives, especially on wildly-popular phenomena like Facebook and other social media.  Just an immediate reaction to your obviously well-received article.

  • Eileen,

    I do understand your point and, clearly, there are some cases in which this would apply less (or more) than others.
    But I do think Melanie’s point has a specific relevance here though. Of course there are times that criticism may be applied even to those not “using” the item in question. However, as she pointed out (and as many of us have commented) something like FaceBook can be (and has been) easily misconstrued. Or I should say, branded based on the “worst” uses without recognizing the best. If you only know of FaceBook as a way to promote college parties, to sling jokes or insults back and forth, to “befriend” near complete strangers—your opinion is going to skew that way.
    I don’t think I’m saying this clearly. But there are many good and even faithful ways to use FaceBook and perhaps Father Berg (and many others) don’t even realize that those uses exist. Clearly for many of us, it has helped us reconnect with relatives and true old friends. It lets us share good news and console after bad news. And yes, it has been used to promote adoration, to discuss Lent, to call others to prayer…many truly wonderful uses to share our faith with each other, and maybe even witness to others in our lives (perhaps some of those same relatives and friends) of the value of our faith in our lives.
    Just some thoughts…

  • I have two main problems with social networking sites, which is why I choose not to use them.  My husband uses both Facebook and Twitter, so I’ve gotten to see how both work—this isn’t a case of rejecting something without understanding it.

    My first problem is similar to what Charlotte says above: why on earth would I want to be contacted out of the blue by people I “left behind” a long, long time ago?  The people who are near and dear to me are people I already am in touch with; the others are faces scattered in memory, forever ten or twelve or eighteen to me.  Granted, I moved a lot as a child, and don’t remember the names or faces of most of my classmates; I also did not form many lifelong friendships in school, and can honestly not think of anyone I’d really be delighted to discover suddenly on the Internet.  The reality is that most of us grow, change, and constantly become new people, and I’d find it terribly limiting to be in the virtual presence of people whose last memory of me was when I was an awkward fifteen-year-old or an immature college freshman.  When you remain friends with someone, you grow together, experience maturity together, and the friendship is deeper and richer than it ever could have been in the past—but those people who remain in our past are often there for a reason.

    The second reason I avoid social networking is because I can’t help viewing it a little bit as a homeschooling mom.  We’re always trying to keep our kids from what some call “twaddle,” useless busywork that occupies the time but not the mind, right?  Now, I mean no disrespect for those who have found it possible to engage in deep, meaningful, philosophical exchanges on Facebook or on Twitter, but I know that such exchanges must come about in spite of, not because of, the format.  The formats are geared toward quick, surface-level observations and sharings: what I did today, where I’m going this weekend, what my child said at lunch, etc.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with sharing these things if this is what you LIKE to do, and for those whose Facebook friends or Twitter followers are pretty much all immediate family and close, long-time friends I could see that this would, perhaps, be easier than calling each person individually to discuss daily events or weekend plans, etc.  But for me, personally, to reveal this level of minute detail to people I haven’t spoken to since the fifth grade, or to people who sign up to “follow” me because they once read something somewhere that I wrote, would be an exercise in “twaddle,” that very thing I’m teaching my children to avoid.

    Please note: I’m not saying that social networking = twaddle, or that there’s nothing of value in it for those who did have lots of close high school or college friends with whom they had sadly lost touch and whom they are delighted to have in their lives again.  But I can only look at this as an individual, and knowing myself, and my use of the Internet and my constant struggles to find balance between my real obligations and responsibilities and those interactions which take place online, I know that the last thing I need is the kind of format where several times a day one might see new messages or tweets or wall-writings from dozens of different people who don’t live close enough to drop in, and who won’t see me scrambling at the last minute to get dinner ready because I’ve spent too much time already on the computer for one day.

    Now, how is sharing these small things online different from sharing them face to face, over coffee after Mass perhaps?  To me, the difference is that when we are in a face to face, real time encounter with another human being we have a moment where we are truly present to them, and they are to us; we enter into their time and space, so to speak, and they enter into ours, and that moment of shared “now” becomes a memory for us both, and a chance to grow in our understanding of each other that goes far beyond the mere subject matter of the conversation.  Online conversation can be wonderful for what it is, but ultimately it is limited; how often have arguments broken out over a misunderstanding in tone, or offense taken where none was meant?  Face to face, a thousand different cues put us at our ease: smiles, eyebrow arches, twinkling eyes, friendly laughs, and a quick “I’m sorry!” if one unintentionally offends.  None of that is possible in a message posted for dozens to read, and read by some long after it was written.

    Does this mean that some kinds of online communication are inherently “bad” and others “good,” as some have written?  Not at all.  I agree that any form can be used well or badly, with good intentions or wrong ones, for God’s glory or for our own purposes.  But again, speaking only for myself, the format of social networking with its quick messages and widespread reach would most likely be “bad” for me personally—and I really think that most critics of social networking have said as much, that our problems with it come from an understanding of who we are, and what sort of temptation this type of site could easily become for us.

  • “I wonder if even seasonality doesn’t play a part in it.”

    A great point.

    Just when concern about these things reaches a crescendo, it will all suddenly die down because we’ll all be outside enjoying spring! grin

  • Erin,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. I find it very interesting and helpful to see the very specific reasons why individuals opt out or find that social networking isn’t for them.

    I especially appreciate the homeschooling mom’s perspective on “Twaddle”. That comparison hadn’t occurred to me; but I can see it. It’s not where I am right now; but like you said it’s very individual.

    I think you hit the nail on the head that it really is an very individual decision about what “works for me”. So much of it seems to come down to personality, temperament, personal history, and even taste. And it helps me in this discussion to understand how each of those is a factor for you.

    Also it seems to me that stage of life is a factor. How many children you have, their ages and dispositions and needs can limit a mother’s opportunities for socializing. Social media might look quite different depending on a variety of external factors.

    I wonder if even seasonality doesn’t play a part in it. Is it a coincidence that this became a hot topic at the end of February? I noticed a huge upsurge in mom bloggers joining Twitter in the past month. Do the February blues, stuck inside while snow piles up around the door, have anything to do with the rush to join?

    I definitely agree that there is no comparison between a face to face encounter and an online exchange. All your points speak of very real limitations that all online exchanges have.

    Still, I must confess that the comparison bugs me a little bit. Of course it’s limited and doesn’t have all those extra dimensions that seeing someone in person has! I exclaim. But online vs face to face is not really the choice I’m making. When I choose to log on to Twitter for a few minutes, I’m not doing it instead of going out to coffee with a friend but because for whatever reason those sort of face to face encounters aren’t an option for me right now. Rather, for me it’s a choice between virtual chatter and virtual isolation and no friends to share those moments with. Sad? Maybe but it’s the situation of the moment and I think I’m not the only stay at home mom who feels isolated.

    I think most of us realize that we’re accepting second best (maybe some people don’t; but that’s a whole different issue) but for whatever reasons the face to face time just doesn’t seem attainable right now.

    This has been especially true for me in the past few months. In November we moved to a new town, a new parish, an hour away from where we used to live, at least half an hour away from any friends or family. Then began a very difficult first trimester and a very hard, cold , snowy winter.

    At home with a nursing infant and a two-year old, with no energy to get out and brave the wintry weather, and no one nearby to see even if I did, no friendly faces at Mass, not even familiar checkers at a familiar grocery store,  I have to admit that Twitter has been a welcome addition to my online communion with the outside world. It has a spontaneity and immediacy that blogs aren’t quite as good at. A sit down for five minutes and have a rapid exchange of pleasantries with a distant friend that gives me a boost to get through the day. Whether it’s the cute thing the baby did, a please pray I’m having a hard day, or hey what’s for dinner at your place. When a phone call isn’t a realistic option, it’s nice to have a lifeline to a real person for a real moment.

    I don’t Twitter with strangers but with real-life friends and family and some online friends I’d already developed a friendship with through emails and longer, deeper discussions on blogs.

    Yep, I completely agree that Twitter et al aren’t for everyone and totally support anyone’s decision to stay away. I can see why what has been a lifeline for me would be twaddle for you. But it works for me right here right now.
     

  • Facebook seems to be driven by the addiction of curiosity!
    Fr Berg looks beyond the social needs to the souls needs.

  • foolforGod,

    It certainly can be driven by curiosity. But is it necessarily so? It can also be driven by a desire to reach out and make a connection with friends and family or to reforge a connection which has fallen away. That isn’t in itself a bad thing.

    Also I agree that in some cases it certainly can be addictive; but many good things done to excess can be addictive. Some people who find Facebook and other media addictive may need to stay away altogether. Where I take exception to Father Berg’s argument is that he doesn’t allow for Facebook to be a good when used in moderation. As Catholics we believe things in themselves are neither good nor bad, the good or bad is in how we use them.

    Isn’t it possible that some individuals may very well benefit from making connections to friends and family via social networking? If Facebook is a tool which helps to organize people into meeting for events like Bible study and Theology on Tap, can’t it then be a tool for ministering to souls? I think it behooves us to seek balance and not throw out the tool merely because it is in some instances misused.

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