The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Garbage in, garbage out. Birds of a feather flock together. What is the commonality of these messages? Our surroundings matter. How we live affects who we are. The responsibility is even more pertinent when young souls are involved. They are little sponges, affected by anything and everything around them; how we live paints a clear picture of how they will live. From the time that a newborn mimics expressions and sounds, on through adulthood, humans are under the influence of their environment.
As parents (or grandparents) the responsibility we carry is monumental. We want to encourage our children to live a life that will set them on a path of righteousness. Eternal salvation is the goal of all humanity and as the first teachers of our young charges, we have a profound effect on their eternal destiny. It has been said that the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality is ineffective in teaching a child and I’d have to agree. So just how do you steer children down a righteous path? For me the answer is as simple as trying my best to be accountable in my own life.
For example, respect for the elderly isn’t just something that you can teach with words. In order to have children fully accept the dignity of all life, they must see and they must do. So visits to a nursing home to see an elderly relative are a prime opportunity for a teaching moment. Children are born without the prejudices that we adults have. They respond to the elderly in an innocent and loving way. The fact that their faces may be wrinkled or that they don’t remember who you are totally escapes a child. All they see is the twinkling eyes and the eager smile of another human being. A recent visit to my husband’s 97 year old grandmother provided just such an opportunity. Our visits are necessarily brief because she doesn’t really recognize us these days and she tires quickly. So after hugging and kissing her, our 2 and 4 year olds simply went from wheelchair to wheelchair dispensing kisses and hugs as they went. The residents glowed under their attention and the innocence of the kids would have shamed many of us with our preconceived notions.
Another opportunity arises when it is our turn to clean our small rural church. As a housewife, I’m not particularly overjoyed to add another ‘household’ to my cleaning duties. Yet the kids are certainly game. They brandish their dust rags, straighten missals, and raise kneelers with gusto. The empty church presents us with a wonderful teachable moment, a chance to explain things to them in an environment that does not disturb others. Why is there a red flame flickering above that golden door? The fact that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament may not be totally comprehendible to them at such a tender age but they dutifully ‘bow to Jesus’
each time they pass by. What’s behind the doors in the sacristy? Here they can see the vestments for priests and servers. We can even discuss liturgical colors. The big book on the side altar – that’s where the prayers are for the priest to read during Mass. They see the lectionary on the lectern, where Papa sometimes stands to read scripture. And the confessional! That really affords a great opportunity. As I explain the purple stole and the screened kneeler, Simon sits in the priest’s seat. Rachel sits in the opposite chair and learns that Jesus listens as we confess our sins to the priest. Ever observant, they point out the crucifix on the wall. It brings a warm smile to my face when, upon exit, Simon announces that he will be a priest some day!
Now back to the cleaning. As I vacuum, Rachel and Simon perform their duties of dusting and straightening. Of course, things are not quite as simple as foreseen and Rachel exuberantly dips her hand into the bowl of water sitting ready for a Baptism on Sunday morning. So down on her knees she goes, wiping the offending droplets from the polished wooden floor. As she finishes I try to enlighten her 2 year old mind that this water is not for playing. I also tell them about their own baptisms. As we put away the cleaning supplies and head for the door, they have the opportunity to practice genuflection and then we’re off to other things.
Our children see so much from us and from the world. We don’t always realize just what they have observed until they become backseat drivers, admonishing someone to stay on their side of the road – using an uncomfortably familiar stern voice. They watch us when we are at our worst and derive a sort of mindset about typical reactions to broken dishes, spilled lemonade or piles of laundry. While we are certainly not always on our best behavior, having children around reminds us to try our best. If we take responsibility for our actions and how they affect the youngest members of our family, we will become more aware. This, combined with regular confession, will help us become better people and will in turn make us a better example for them. It’s a win-win situation really – do yourself, what you want them to do. Hopefully you’ll all attain that eternal reward.