My children often have that bored look on their face at Mass. They learn the parts of the Mass as a way to count what's left until we go. It's frustrating. I hardly get the sense they love being there.
Will They Love God?
Most Catholic parents probably share the same concern in the back of their minds. Looking forward we wonder if our children will root deeply in the faith. Does the seed of our efforts fall on good soil? And if it's rocky? And if the seed takes no root?
My children are little. Oh, do they have needs! And those needs are instant and right now.
Suddenly, I remember, many things about parenting surprise me. Emotions. Why did I think kids would come with their emotions under control? Or, better said, I've been caught off guard of how raw and powerful feelings are at a young age. Moments are felt with such intensity (and...insanity). Thirst dire. Pain overwhelming. Anger consuming. Happiness contagious. Satisfaction and peace fulfilling.
Kids have to learn so many things. They even have to learn to love. An Aristotelean framework provides that love is defined by its object. Our desires have to be oriented towards the good, and our intellect and wills pointed towards it. Children learn slowly and quickly to embrace the world around them. Their intensity of emotion is applied to everything they love. And they seem to love everything.
"I love God more than the whole world," my oldest son likes to say. Yes. You do. But Mass is so boring to him; it sucks all the energy out of him. Even with my promptings, explanations, and examples, the Holy Sacrifice doesn't engage him for long. Before even helping my kids along the path of virtue, there's just a basic training in helping them identify what they feel, know what that means, and understand how to act whenever they are mad, upset, sad, frustrated...you name it!
"And let the children come to me"
The Lord Christ is ironic and with a great sense of humor. He places a child before him and reminds us that unless we love like these little ones, we cannot be counted among the denizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. That's got to be a joke. At our expense.
The Sanctifier has to work through our sense of humor. Good laughter comes because we can appreciate how even serious moments and people have levity to them. If you can't laugh with your boss, get a new job. If your can't crack up with your spouse, fix that ASAP. The work of the Holy Spirit must involve this level of levity in order not to take our piety with too much solemnity. Lord, Paraclete, save us from sour-faced saints!
I love my children greatly. In their joyful and carefree moments, they are a great source of consolation. Scripture says man was alone, and needed a partner. The fruit of this union of Adam and Eve is the family, a daily source of consolation and joy. I don't have to be alone. Ever.
How do we even get to love? Some of it seems so natural. My daughter will go out and collect flowers for my parents and my wife's. My sons remember that our neighbor loves vegetables from our garden and they'll pick them and leave them on her doorstep (well....they'll ring the bell, and since I taught the not to "ding, dong, ditch", they know she'll open the door and offer them a cookie). Breaking this solitude of human existence seems hardwired in us. That isn't yet love.
That's the punchline. I look at most adults, including myself, and I realize that the difference between me and children is one of degree and not kind. We spend our whole lives learning to love. Just because we can say to our children "this is the way" doesn't guarantee we have fully been transformed into whom the Giver of Life wants us to be. It's why we often find ourselves needing to repent and ask for forgiveness from Him and from one another. Not a bad joke to be on me.