What makes a great Catholic family? We see so many variants in the pew. In the front row, there’s the pious family with a few children, mostly girls. Then, there are the new parents, loaded down with enough gear to go camping for a week. (You never know what can happen in a single hour at Mass, right?) Next are those families whose toddlers are spewing out cheerios at the 5:00 p.m. Saturday vigil mass which, when found, will be consumed by other children at the next morning’s 10:00 a.m. mass.
Moving on, what are we to say about the two-year-olds sliding under the pew, kicking the people in front of them; or the precocious four-year-old making faces at the people in the pew behind her. And let’s not even go there with the toddlers whose screams are too loud for the cry room to contain. Finally, there is the family with so many children you find yourself unconsciously counting every time they walk in (hey, one’s missing today!).
Ultimately, great Catholic families are the ones who continue to struggle and persevere—even though the parents may be completely disillusioned with what they thought their family would look like when they were dreamy newlyweds.
Perseverance is no small feat in today’s world; raising kids is tough. It’s always been tough, but today it’s probably tougher. The cultural winds outside the Church (and sadly sometimes inside) blow with hurricane force against you.
Yet because the family is the one thing standing between the total collapse of the world and the shreds of sanity that still exist, we persevere. As St. John Paul II famously said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Were the family not important, it would not be under such attack today.
Building strong Catholic families is essential. To help in this gargantuan task, we need good resources for our kids at a level that they can understand because, let’s face it, those preparing for First Holy Communion are not quite ready for The Summa. This is where good kids’ books can help.
Three such books, recently published by Ignatius and Magnificat, are a good place to start: A Missal for Little Ones; Let’s Pray the Rosary; and Catholic Saints for Children.
While these are children’s books, parents might even benefit from them. While our bookish children will certainly sit down and read these titles on their own, all of our kids can benefit from listening to these books if we read them aloud.
A Missal for Little Ones is advertised for ages three and up. It does not go over the prayers of the Mass word-for-word but this doesn’t really matter, since, realistically, most three-year-olds can’t read. If your older child picks it up they will read that at consecration the host “is no longer bread, it is the body of Jesus.” This little book is clear and concise about the Mass, and that is always helpful.
Let’s Pray the Rosary is filled with rich content, and even if you consider yourself an expert on all things Catholic, you may still learn something new from this book. For instance, we talk a great deal about how terrible our public schools are, but have you ever heard of a kid getting slapped for praying the rosary in school? This actually happened to a little seven-year-old boy in Vietnam. My daughter, six, was interested only in this page, and she stared at it for quite some time.
Now, you may be shocked that Catholic children in public elementary schools pray the rosary (unless you have kids in public schools), but my kids have prayed the rosary on the bus and nobody has said anything. They may not do so all the time, but it has happened. They cannot fathom a teacher or administrator who would slap a child for praying. Beyond this story, I would add that my boys were most interested in the battle of Lepanto.
Catholic Saints for Children is a good introduction to saints, which—since it’s a recent publication—includes Blessed Mother Teresa and Pope St. John Paul II. The quotes from the saints, included in this little book, are quite good; and reading the lives of the saints is always inspiring. All times have presented great challenges—some greater than others—and we need reminders that saints—ordinary people like you and me—have risen to meet those challenges in every age.
Our children need to read and hear these stories, too. We need to develop the mindset: Difficult times do not lead us to despair, but rather to live heroically. When we read about ordinary people doing extraordinary things it encourages us, and it changes us. It makes us think that maybe we can do more, be more, if we just open our hearts a little more to Jesus, allowing him to have his way in our life.
Immersing ourselves in Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith through the Mass, the rosary, and the lives of the saints will give us the courage we need to strengthen our families, and these books can be a helpful introduction for our kids.
Theresa Branch is a happy wife who had to get a big van to fit all of her children. When she is not busy changing the world, one diaper at a time, she freelance writes. You can drop a note to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.