With these powerful, emotive and challenging words, Jesus announced quite clearly to his disciples his pastoral focus for building the Kingdom of God. In doing so, he clearly placed on the agenda God’s priorities for caring for the most vulnerable, the innocent, the hungry, those starved of affection and nourishment and those lacking the experience of any kind of tenderness and compassion. Jesus followed the words above with these: ‘And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.’
Such words and gestures from Jesus remind us of the beauty and blessing of children in our lives; they also challenge us to reflect on our relationships with children and the ways in which we support, nurture, protect, celebrate and initiate them into the family of God.
In the context of the family as the mini or domestic Church, it is the parents who give life to their children and provide for, love, sustain, and share the story of their family with their children. This process may perhaps be described as parents initiating their children into the liturgy of family life. All kinds of family celebrations, sharing of stories, giving thanks to God and expressing sorrow for wrong-doing form the fabric of daily life and enable parents to develop very close bonds with their children. In a very real sense, it is the parents, godparents and extended family members who work together to transmit essential meanings of what family life is all about. All of human life is sacred, and we meet God daily in a whole range of human experiences and encounters.
Pope Francis refers to the Church as the great family of God’s children, and he affirms the role of parents as transmitters of the faith to their children. All of us are children of God, and Jesus’ invitation calls us to life within the community that is the Church. The liturgy of the Church builds on the human experiences of family life. When we come together as a believing community, we gather, we call to mind our common story, we pray with glad and generous hearts in praise of God; we celebrate the Eucharist and we go forth at the end of Mass to love and serve the Lord in the poor and needy. Pope Francis describes our rituals and sacraments as opportunities for us to meet Jesus; for people of faith, experiencing these moments takes us to the heart of the matter: a place where we feel ourselves known, loved and cherished by the Lord.
Special considerations have been made for children to access the beauty of the Church’s liturgy. The Directory for Masses with Children has been in place since 1973 and encourages us to provide appropriate ways of initiating children into the liturgy that acknowledge their stage of development while also encouraging the whole community to provide a welcome and ensure that children know they have an honoured place within the community. It takes the whole community of faith to transmit the good news of the gospel to children and to make possible the development of their faith.
In a recent address, when speaking to children, Pope Francis observed that ‘some miracles can only take place if we have a heart like yours’. He went on to affirm the beauty and innocence of children, their sense of awe and wonder, their capacity to love life and to bring joy to others. In doing this, he was also reminding all of us, as God’s children, to be respectful, to show gratitude and forgiveness. To return to the words of Jesus:
‘I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and have revealed them to infants.’
Kathy Horan is liturgy educator with the Office for Worship.
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