Joshua and the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho! Joshua and the battle of Jericho! And the walls came tumbling down!”
I can still see the scene in my mind’s eye: the cafeteria of St. Mary’s School, surreal to me at night, with an assortment of neighborhood children pressing round a fortress of cardboard milk cartons. The gang of us are singing at the top of our lungs, before bolting forward with a whoop to topple the flimsy firmament at just the right moment. This simple, boisterous game was all part of “Family Night,” an event promoted in those days by a young priest named Father Daly and filed away forever in my treasure chest of joyful childhood memories. I am not sure what I knew about Joshua or Jericho at the time, yet the fun and wild abandon of the game remains with me still.
Then there was Lent at St. Mary’s Church and the 7:30 evening Mass in its dimly lit basement. My mother and our neighbor, Mrs. Maloney, would rarely miss it. Anne Maloney and I could not wait to pile into the car for the novel nightly outing, or better yet walk under the train trestle with its florescent lights and cooing pigeons, pretty sure of a soda at Alexander’s afterward, and, if we were very lucky, a piece of creamy white chocolate to split between us. How I loved those Masses with holy Father Callahan on the altar and Anne beside me. The memory of them brings a pleasing mist to my eyes even now.
Looking back on these early spiritual experiences, I see now that, although they were in some ways less than ethereal, those blessed moments are cloaked in a mantle of simple childish gladness and mirth. To this day, I love the Mass and the Church and the Holy Bible and our parish priests, and, it seems to me, the seeds of Faith and love and loyalty were sown deep, sown in the ready heart of a child and fed and fertilized with soda and smiles, war whoops and white chocolate.
In passing on the Faith to our children, it is a great hope of mine that we will allow them to form many happy associations like these. Armed with a childhood of fond religious memories, they surely will fare far better against the world’s onslaught than those tottery milk cartons in the cafeteria. With this in mind, we have begun a new tradition in our home–First Saturday Outings.
The idea was born over hot chocolates in Starbuck’s back in December. I had taken the four older girls—ages 12 to 7–to do a little Christmas shopping while Daddy watched the toddlers at home. The night was pleasingly temperate, and our spirits were so high that it made me wonder why we rarely go out together in the evening. It happened to be First Saturday, reminding me of the Fatima devotion of Mass, Confession, a Rosary, and a quarter hour’s meditation on the Mysteries for five consecutive months. I suggested we begin this practice, concluding with a pleasant monthly evening out together. The girls were at once taken with the idea and talked about the first Saturday of January for weeks. Even the wonders of Christmas and New Year’s could not dilute their eager anticipation.
First Saturday morning, the children awoke already talking about Mass and Confession and the special trip planned for afterward. January’s outing consisted of omelettes at a local diner with a walk through Border’s Bookstore afterward. Daddy and I decided to spring for a round of hot cocoa at the cafe, but, much to everyone’s dismay, they were all out of (gasp) cocoa powder. Fortuitously, the girl behind the counter offered white chocolate as a substitute, and, you will be glad to learn, the pale variety was accepted by today’s young Catholics as readily as it was by Anne Maloney and Alice O’Brien those many years ago.
We arrived home late and began the usual bustle of tooth brushing, pajama hunting, and laundry rounding (“It’s like herding cats,” quipped Daddy.) The little three were asleep in an instant, when I remembered we had not yet said a Rosary or meditated an extra fifteen minutes on the Mysteries for First Saturday. The four girls were only too happy to stay up a while longer for a cozy, quiet Rosary, and I was just about to remind them of the quarter hour’s meditation, when an idea struck me.
“Get on your coats, girls.”
Eight eyes opened wide, and even Daddy uttered a disbelieving, “Did you say ‘coats’?”
Within two minutes, we were outside under the stars–barely chilly with the spring-like weather we have been having–and singing around our outdoor Nativity scene. Everything but the creche was pitch black, and the children’s voices rose sweetly in the thin night air. Hymn after hymn of their own choosing: “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming,” “Adeste Fideles,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Do You Know What I Know?” “Away in a Manger”–they formed the most agreeable little quartet of carolers you ever heard, inventing harmonies and smiling toward the stable. I listened silently, my heart swelling with hope that these blessed hymns might be their “Joshua and the Battle of Jericho,” with each heartfelt note girding them for adulthood.
As we walked back to the house, I found more than one young hand had made its way into mine, and a couple of the girls walked ahead arm in arm. Nine-year-old Clair turned to me with a face as bright as the moon above our heads and proclaimed, “This was such a fun day!”
More music to my ears.
2009 Alice Gunther