When the early Christians experienced a controversy over whether male converts needed to be circumcised, they concluded that people should be “received with no undue burden.” That attitude from Acts continues in more building blocks for the Christian Initiation of Children:
The process of initiation is all about the child’s falling in love with Jesus. And any relationship needs communication. We call this prayer. For children, the four main types might be:
God, like an eager parent, welcomes the voices of God’s children, no matter how hesitant they may sound. At this stage, learning formulas is less important than encouraging the habit of turning internally to God. So, while children might learn the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary,” they also learn to meditate silently, pray verses from scripture, and make ritual gestures like blessing and the sign of the cross.
Initiation is the work of all the baptized, says the Rite (#9). In other words, it’s not what we give the child but who. In the process of meeting the parish community, the child may make sandwiches for the hungry with the Peace and Justice Committee, learn some songs with the choir, flip pancakes at breakfast sponsored by the youth group, visit the home-bound with those who take them Communion. Most people went into their profession or line of work because of an influential person; this interest in and modeling of parish members is no different.
Lectionary Based Catechesis
If we want to teach effectively, we learn to do it as Jesus did. He didn’t analyze the dysfunctional family; he told the parable of the prodigal son. He didn’t propose the doctrine of divine providence; he painted mental images of wildflowers and sparrows. He didn’t write a dissertation on the problem of evil; he suffered torture and died on Calvary. When he taught, he told a story with a zinger ending. He also gave people images they’d remember longer than any rules: vine and branches, leaven in dough, lost coins, water gushing to eternal life, lamps not hidden under barrels. So the children follow the gospel readings of the liturgical year and become sensitized to the symbols they’ll encounter in full initiation: water, oil, light, bread and wine.
Prayer and scripture flow naturally into action. Otherwise, the church runs the risk of becoming a “feel good,” privatized therapy group. Not that children will solve the problems of climate change, world hunger, refugees or homelessness. But they’ll build an attitude that they can do their small part to help, even if that’s simply turning off the lights, reading to a younger sibling or taking out the trash when mom is exhausted. They also absorb the attitude that the people we really admire aren’t the stars or athletes making millions, but the people who run the addiction treatment center, homeless shelter, soup kitchen and Head Start class.
Dedicated catechists might well ask what the children need to know by the end of their catechumenate or preparation period. The answer is contained at the Rite of Election, when the presider will ask the parents, godparents and assembly:
∞ “Have they shown themselves to be sincere in their desire for baptism, confirmation, and the eucharist?
∞ Have they listened well to the word of God?
∞ Have they tried to live as faithful followers?
∞ Have they taken part in this community’s life of prayer and service?”
A resounding “yes!” and the children are well on their way to a life-long journey deeper and deeper into the mystery of Jesus.
To order My Path to Easter/Mi Camino Hacia La Pascua, initiation journals for children, from Pflaum publishing: https://bayardfaithresources.com/products/my-path-to-easter?_pos=10&_sid=169b1578a&_ss=r