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Brother Francis: A New, Faith Building Cartoon Series

In light of the coming holiday, I decided to take a break from my usual, heavy apologetics stuff to provide a review for a Catholic kids cartoon series that I ran across, entitled Brother Francis,  one of which I purchased for my two year old daughter. She is already hooked, and being that she is one who soaks up what she sees on her favorite cartoons like a sponge (she can count  thanks to Mickey Mouse and knows her exotic animals thanks to Dora), I thought that Brother Francis would be a perfect way to help her memorize the prayers and Teachings of the Church, things that I have already begun to teach her on my own.

The biggest Christian cartoon series out there right now is Veggie Tales. My daughter loves Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, just as I did as a kid and still do today. Veggie Tales is a Protestant produced cartoon, but the message is simple and ecumenical, free of denominational specific messages; I have yet to come across anything that the Catholic Church would disagree with in any episode. In fact, in their Christmas special on Saint Nicholas, they indeed depicted him as a bishop and incorporated aspects of the Mass into the episode telling of Saint Nicholas’ life. So Veggie Tales is a hit in this house—but sometimes you really want to drive home those deep, 2,000 year old Truths that the Church has received from the Apostles. Brother Francis delivers in that department.

The main character is young monk wearing a brown robe (hence the “Brother” in his title), sporting blue jeans underneath his robe, sneakers, and a basketball in tow: in other words, a very friendly, down-to-earth guy. But as the theme song says “he ain’t no fuddy-duddy, his faith is strong in every way”. Brother Francis addresses the invisible audience that is the children viewers, explaining classic Catholic prayers and theology in a very simple, childlike way. The DVD I purchased was “The Rosary” and the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Apostles Creed are recited, broken down line by line, and the purpose of each is explained. Brother Francis then throws his basketball to the sky to make it draw a Rosary in the air, and the order of the Rosary is then explained, along with each mystery. There is also an animated portrayal of the Annunciation, showing Mary’s joyful submission to God’s Will.

Other episodes available on DVD include “Let’s Pray!: A Lesson on Prayer”, “The Bread of Life: Celebrating he Eucharist”, “Forgiven: The Blessings of Confession”, “Born into the Kingdom: the Miracle of Baptism”, and coming in Spring 2013, “The Mass”.  The graphics in each are bright, colorful, and three-dimensional, which easily grabs toddler and young children’s attention.

I should be clear that I am not advocating for leaving your toddler’s religious education in the hands of a cartoon DVD series, or that you should ignore you children while they watch television. But for those of us less-than-perfect parents who occasionally use television as a means to catch a mental health break or breathe for a few minutes, then I say you can’t go wrong with a program that teaches them the Faith of the Apostles.

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What our Children can Teach us about Faith

“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15)

This passage from the Gospel of Mark was part of the Sunday Gospel a couple weeks back. I happened to take extra notice of it when I heard it proclaimed and it stayed on my mind as I left church that Sunday. Part of why I think it caught my attention was due to the stories some friends had been sharing about their children and their children’s guardian angels recently. Less than a week before, on October 2, the Church celebrated the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels.

Guardian Angel, German postcard 1900, public domain

Listening to those stories describing the easy, childlike acceptance of the spiritual world really got me thinking about how much more open to the faith children are. When I then heard the Gospel reading that next Sunday, in particular the passage quoted above, I was reminded again of my own need to be more childlike in my faith. Children have such a pure faith. It seems that as we grow older we lose some of that matter-of-fact, childlike acceptance.

As we begin the Year of Faith, I thought this was a good time to remind ourselves of how that childlike acceptance of faith and the spiritual realm really looks. Only through the eyes of children can we do that. Some of my friends graciously agreed to share some of their stories with me. Some are sad, but demonstrate the sensitivity our children have to the spiritual world all around us. Some will stun you with the easy, matter-of-fact nature in which children accept something extraordinary as if it was completely ordinary. And some are just simply amazing.

After several years of infertility followed by a successful pregnancy, a close friend of mine was shocked to find herself pregnant again with very little assistance. Unfortunately, she lost the baby and was understandably devastated. One day we met for coffee so she could talk and I could be her support. During our conversation she revealed that her 1 year old daughter K saw her little sister. I asked what she meant and she described the situation: Her daughter was sitting in a high chair and suddenly got an odd look on her face. She seemed almost transfixed by something my friend could not see. It lasted just a second and then K smiled sweetly like she had a special secret and was back to her old self. My friend is convinced that she was able to see her baby sister for a moment.

Another friend who also lost a child (her fourth) shared that one of her older daughters, 6 at the time of her baby brother’s death, often speaks of seeing him in her dreams. Recently however, her daughter H described him to her as a little blonde toddler. My friend concluded her story by telling me, “None of the kids in our family are blonde; at best they have light brown hair. What startled me is this is exactly how I see him in my dreams, too, yet I’d never told her that.”

Recently I was sharing my own story of pregnancy loss with someone and discovered that he and his family had also experienced a miscarriage some years back. About three years after that loss he was saying goodnight to his then 11 year old daughter when she started crying. Asking her what was wrong she told him about how much she missed the baby that had died too soon. He was amazed that she still carried that grief with her three years later and in her sensitivity to the situation.

Another dear friend shared this amazing story about her little girl: “Tonight, we were saying our normal round of bedtime prayers and after the Guardian Angel prayer, A, who will be three in just a few weeks, out of the blue told me that she has two angels. It caught me so by surprise that I just stood there for a second, trying to remember what prayer we say next and then I had this overwhelming sense that her Guardian Angels are a pair of ‘twin souls,’ one male and one female. I actually got goosebumps, it was so strange! I finally said, ‘Wow A, that is so neat!’ and she was just like, ‘Yeah.’ 😛 Just so matter-of-fact, like she sees them all the time and it’s no big deal. And then she just started praying the Hail Mary. I was still dwelling on it after I kissed them and left the room and I just thought it was so funny and sweet that it was just such a matter-of-fact thing to her.”

My friend E lost her father when she was 3 years old. Her mother recently told her that not long after her father’s death, during Easter weekend, she dreamed that she was snow skiing with her  late-husband, E’s father. The next morning E told her, “Mommy, last night Daddy and I built a snowman!”

Finally, another friend shared an amazing story that I will share here in her own words:

My now 8 yo daughter, M, asked me recently if I’d seen “that big, shining person” in church. She described seeing this “shining person” standing behind one of the young people being confirmed at our parish, with its arms wrapped around the person. What I found interesting is that our family has a devotion to the holy angels. Yet it never occurred to her to describe this being as an angel; she was describing it objectively, as if she wasn’t making the connection with it being a spiritual being. She was just so matter-of-fact about it and was very upset that none of us saw this. Like we were calling her a liar! 😉 We had a talk about it and even the entire time, she kept saying she saw this “shining person” behind the youth and that she couldn’t focus on the Mass because he was so bright.

The “matter-of-fact” way the children in many of these stories accept the spiritual world is amazing. Their unquestioning faith in God and their guardian angels and so much more challenges us to be more open and pure to hearing God in our own lives.

What stories do you have to share?

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Jesus loves the little children




But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14





Recently, I found myself in the midst of an interesting, yet sensitive, conversation among friends.  It was with a group of Catholic Army wives, whom I love dearly and we were discussing a few of their individual feelings of disappointment over the recent decision of the parish priest on post (which my family does not often attend, but many of these particular friends do every week) not to approve childcare services during mass times.  Parish budget reasons aside, Father’s opinion is that the children belong in mass.  And I happen to agree.

To make this particular topic an even more sensitive one, many of these friends currently have husbands that are deployed and the long year of bringing several children to mass alone has worn on them.  My heart aches for them and I can personally relate to their struggles as I have been there before myself.  But I still stand firm in my personal conviction that my children need to be in mass with me.

This lead to a fruitful discussion of “tactics”.   How do you get your kids to behave in mass?  Right now my children are 4 years and 21 months (with our third due to arrive in February) and as I shared my personal strategies, I became aware that depending on age and family size, many different things could (or would not) work for different families.  I love when God blesses me with unexpected conversations such as these, that encourage me and fill me with new ideas and perspective (and a glimpse of what life might be like when my husband and I are finally outnumbered).  So, I thought I would share some of our personal approaches here in the hopes that you dear readers, might do the same.

This is one of our four-year-olds favorite books to bring to mass

1. Quiet distracters.  For my family right now, these are books.  We have a special collection of books for our kids that illustrate the mass or that are filled with photos and stories about the Saints.  Allowing them to choose a few to bring along helps them to sit still and be engaged in something during the parts of mass where we are sitting and listening, especially during the homily.  Our little one (21 months) has a few soft books that we used to bring along when she was more likely to bang them around, but she has been doing better recently with regular books.

2. Practice.  Trying to make it to daily mass at least once during the week is a great way to help familiarize your kids with mass.  Daily masses are usually shorter and in many cases have a smaller, more intimate crowd, which allows us to sit a bit closer to the front so that the kids can really watch what is going on up on the altar.  Even something as simple as kneeling next to bed for nighttime prayers can also be practice for the act of kneeling and praying in mass.

3. Full tummies.  Snacks in mass are a big no-no for my family.  They create noise and mess in mass and although our children are not old enough to receive the Eucharist yet, much less fast, it is still not teaching the regularity of the concept that we are supposed to fast an hour before receiving.  We find it much easier to be sure that everyone has a good meal or at least a good protein-filled snack just before we start dressing for mass.  Avoiding bringing food and drinks along also helps us not to have to make bathroom trips during mass.

4.  Prepare little minds.  When our children know where we are going, how they are expected to behave and what the rewards and consequences of their behavior will be before hand (especially the four-year-old), they are much more likely to be on their best behavior.  The drive to mass always contains a quick “reminder” talk, just so it is fresh in their little minds.  The actual rewards and consequences for our four-year-old change and grow with him and with our family, but they have included things like going for a trip to the frozen yogurt shop as a family after mass full of great behavior or losing access to certain toys or the privilege of watching a movie that night after poor behavior.   Really poor behavior also earns him some quiet time spent with Jesus at the family altar when we return home, asking for forgiveness and saying a few extra prayers. Talking with him about these things before hand and reminding him that it is his choice really takes a burden off of us as parents, because it is easier to remain calm and remind him that he is making poor choices if redirection is needed.

5. Prepare little hearts.  It is equally, if not more important to prepare little hearts for mass.  Talk about what is going on in mass with your kids, explain the beauty of our traditions, prayers, and actions with them at home so that they when they hear them in mass they will be more interested and involved.  Practice saying the Our Father at bedtime each night.  Teach them the sign of the cross.  If possible, hold little ones during the Eucharistic prayers and direct their eyes towards Jesus.  I know it is nice to be able to have personal peace and focus during these prayers, but if you share these moments with your children, they will learn to love Jesus and to cherish Him in the Eucharist as you do.

I know this list sounds quite wonderful and idealistic, but trust me, most masses these days see one of us out pacing in the narthex with our lively 21-month old daughter.  Our strategies don’t always work, but I have confidence that they are still helping our children to learn and grow.  God created the spirit of a child beautifully wild – full of curiosity, adventure and movement and all we can really do is embrace them with love, patience and gratitude to teach them about this faith we so love.

So now it’s your turn to share.  What are some of your thoughts and strategies to encourage good behavior in your children during mass?