A Sign of the Covenant: Thoughts on Children and Crucifixes

I’m not sure I can ties all these thoughts together; but it seems like somehow all these pieces could fit together to make a bigger picture if only I had the time to sit down and think without interruption. Alas, I don’t have that time, so I’m going to throw them all together like a tossed salad and hopefully they will be somewhat edifying.

This morning Father’s homily was about signs. First he talked about various nonverbal signs that we use: a finger on the lips to signify silence, a referee signalling a touchdown, a friend using a peace sign as a greeting. His jumping off point was, of course, the rainbow as a sign of God’s covenant with Noah. Then he talked about the crucifix as an important sign of God’s continuing love, the new covenant. Father concluded by asking if the children had crucifixes or statues of the saints or rosary beads in their rooms and then reminded parents that children need visible signs and should have a crucifix in their rooms to help remind them of God’s love.

That made me think of two different blog posts:  First, this piece at Permission to Live about a child who is fearful of the crucifixion story:

I do not talk about my God questions with my children. I do not talk about my God questions in front of my children. We read them books of all kinds, they went to Vacation bible school and go to Sunday school every week and each Christmas we read them the Christmas story. I do not try to bias my kids against God.

So I was surprised a few months back when my oldest came up to me with her children’s illustrated bible and told me to give it away to someone else. I asked her why she wanted to give it away, and she told me that she “didn’t like that book because of the sad story where Jesus was killed by the mean people who gave him pokey owies” and she flipped to the story of the crucifixion to show me what she meant. This is a typical child’s bible we are talking about, so it has cartoon drawings. But the sight of Jesus bleeding on the cross was still too disturbing for her. So I reassured her that she did not have to look at that picture if she didn’t want too, and we put the bible up on a shelf.

The kids talked about it some, I could hear them pretending that a stuffed animal was Jesus dying on the cross, and sometimes I heard them talk about how Jesus came back to life. But I thought that was it.

A few weeks ago, Ms Action started crying every single night before bed. She insisted that she had “a bad dream stuck in her head”. I hugged her and tried to get her to talk about what the bad dream was. She told me she was afraid of those bad men that had killed Jesus on the cross. I told her that people don’t die on crosses anymore, and that Jesus had died on the cross a long time ago, and in a very far away place. This did not reassure her. She told me that Jesus could go anywhere, and if he came to Canada, those bad men might come too. And then the bad men might come into our house and kill her.

It breaks my heart mostly because Melissa is so unable to believe that God is truly a God of love. That isn’t what she was taught and thus she doesn’t know how to teach her children. She tries not to bias them against God but she is so full of doubt herself that she can’t reassure them when these fears arise.

I’ve been hesitant to read the children accounts of the crucifixion and other of the more violent Bible stories. I am very concerned to keep them sheltered from anything that would be too intense for them. And yet at the same time I have found that Bella has never shown any anxiety over stories or images in her books and I think that she won’t because I have taken pains to present God always as a God of love and Jesus’ death always as an act of love. /p>

And that in turn made me remember this post by Suzanne Temple in which she talks about teaching her son Micah the name of Jesus by pointing to an icon and telling him that Jesus loves him, and her joy at having that name be among his first words. I used to have Bella kiss her crucifix and have renewed the practice with Ben and Anthony, pointing to the crucifix and icon of the Madonna and child on the wall by my door and telling them that Jesus loves them very much. Come to think of it one of the reasons I love our pastor is that when I go up to communion he always blesses each of the children and tells them, “God loves you very much.” I can’t imagine trying to have a relationship with God without having that bedrock certainty of His unconditional love.

And that finally brings me to this piece that my dad wrote a long time ago when Bella was just a toddler. Dom found it the other day and asked if I remembered it:

I begin to wake to the gentle whimper.  She is awake and I am sure her diaper is very wet.  I hope that she will go back to sleep.  As she sees me get out of bed she begins to talk in happy tones and I begin to tell her it is night and she needs to go back to sleep after she has her diaper changed.  She lies down quietly and I go back to bed.  But not for long as she hears her Daddy getting ready for work.  Daddy go work.  Daddy go work.  So it is time to get up.  I fix her some breakfast and she sits at her little table.  She looks up at me and says “full of grace”.  I think for a second and realize that she wants to pray, to bless the food.  So we make the sign of the cross and bless the food.

While she is eating I get my Liturgy of the Hours sit on the couch and begin to pray Morning Prayer.  Very shortly here she comes into the room and I think that is the end of Morning Prayer.  She walks up to where I am sitting and stares at me.  I begin to read the psalms aloud and she climbs up beside me and sits motionless while I read the prayers.

We are going for a walk and she runs to the door whining with anxiety wanting her coat and the stroller.  I dress her warmly and place her in the stroller.  We start down the busy street with many cars passing.  We hear a siren that is getting louder.  She turns in the stroller and says “full of grace”.  We stop and say a prayer for the person in distress.  We are going to the large Catholic cemetery about 10 blocks away.  When we reach the cemetery I take her from the stroller so she can “run, run”.  After about 30 minutes of walking in the cemetery, I hear a car approaching and yell to her that a car is approaching.  She quickly moves from the street to the grass and patiently waits for the car to pass.  Then I tell her the car is gone and we proceed on our walk.  The car stops a short distance in front of us and a woman gets out and walks to a grave covered with a large mound of flowers.  She is almost prostrate on the grave, obviously full of grief.  As we approach close to that grave the little girl turns to me and says “full of grace”.  We stop and pray with the lady full of grief.

When we return to the house I take her into her room to change her diaper.  She looks at the crucifix on the wall and says Jesus.  We go into the living room and she opens the drawer on the coffee table and takes out a number of prayer cards, and names each of them, John Paul, Mary, Jesus.

On Sunday we go to mass.  On entering the church she puts her tiny hand into the holy water and with assistance makes the sign of the cross. At the elevation of the body of Christ she points and says Jesus Christ.  As we leave the church she points the statue and says Mary after kneeling in front of the tabernacle.  After we return home, I am sitting on the couch and she comes and stands in front of me.  I reach down to pick her up and as I do I look into her face and see that she is full of grace, a little baptized child without sin.  She is full of the Holy Spirit which she has repeatedly shown throughout each day.

“Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”

Anthony was very noisy today at Mass and chattered loudly through the Gospel and during prayers and I finally took him to the back of the church right before the consecration because he started fussing. But once we were there he was very quiet and still. Still, I suspected that if I took him back to the pew he would resume loud mode and so I lingered in the vestibule. Soon I was joined by a young mom with a weeks old baby boy and a small toddler girl, about a year and a half old. The little girl was a typical toddler who wanted to run around and touch everything and who could not be quiet but the poor mother seemed to have unrealistic expectations and kept telling her to be quiet and reprimanding her for her constant motion. Poor mom was trying to hold the baby and control the toddler all on her own and, well, I saw myself in her because I was there a few years ago. I wanted to help and yet didn’t know how. I wanted to talk to her but wasn’t sure if she would still be there after Mass. So finally when I was about to go back into the church to receive communion and then to try to take my place with my family again I went over to her to tell her that I thought she was doing a great job. I asked her how old the children were and told her my two oldest are about the same distance apart. I commented on the fact that it is hard and turned to the girl to commiserate with her for a minute: it’s hard not to be the baby any more and not to have your mommy to yourself, I said. I don’t know if my words were comforting or if I was just a strange and annoying and overly pious busybody; but I felt like I had to at least try to make her feel that I was trying to understand and that she wasn’t alone.

When we got home Dom passed on this article about how the church is losing young families because we aren’t making them feel welcome at Mass and we aren’t helping them to have reasonable expectations and experienced parents aren’t reaching out to help the newbies with good advice and suggestions. One thing I love about our parish is that it is a family-friendly place. Our priest goes out of his way to make parents with small children feel welcome and so do other parishioners. I’ve never once received a dirty look when any of our kids got noisy.

And as I suspected I haven’t tied this all together but it’s late and I must get to bed.

 

3 Responses to A Sign of the Covenant: Thoughts on Children and Crucifixes

  1. Katherine February 28, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    She sounds like a wonderful Saint for children. Maybe a petition to de Paola is in order? smile

  2. The Sojourner March 1, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Oh goodness, the playing at going to confession is the cutest thing. (Good practice, too. She’s almost six, right?)

  3. Melanie Bettinelli March 1, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    Yes, Bella will be six in May. In our diocese children typically make First Communion at 7; but I really think Bella is ready. And since we’re homeschooling, I think I’m going to talk to our pastor and see if he’d be willing to let her make her First Confession and First Communion this coming year. I think her play confession shows the she has a definite awareness of right and wrong, that she knows when she’s erred, and that she is capable of feeling contrition. So it seems to me that all that’s left for making her first confession is learning the prayers and the form of the sacrament. Why delay a year when she so clearly gets it?

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