It was a great joy to present some ideas about praying with children, this past Friday (February 16), at the Mid-Atlantic Congress, in Baltimore. It touched my heart very much to be in Maryland (Mary-land!) surrounded by dedicated people of faith.
I want to thank all of you who attended for your warmth, your attention, and most of all for your commitment to bring the Faith to others, no matter how difficult that task may seem. But we know that God is faithful, and what we plant He waters.
Please feel free to ask questions in the com boxes and I’ll add more material, as needed. Here are the bullet points, reading resources, Catechism quotes, Scriptures, and other elements of the talk:
I began by talking about the fact that we are all made for supernatural experiences and interactions. It is natural for us to experience the supernatural! From the beginning of our lives to the moment we enter heaven, we are accompanied by a guardian angel, a pure spirit so unique that it is a separate species from all other spirits (according to Catholic angelologists). This mighty being beholds the face of God in heaven and attends to our souls with perfect dedication and love.
I shared two prayers from my new book, Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days. The first is from Week One and was written for the adult preparing for the school year (there are two weeks of preparation prayers), and the other is from Week Nine of the children’s prayers and provides a prayer lesson on the same topic: Angels!
Here they are:
Holy Angels, you surround us with your prayerful and protective presence at all times, and I thank you. I ask that you watch over our classroom throughout the coming year, filling it with your praises to God and guarding it diligently with your holy presence and your powerful prayers. Draw down from heaven every grace and blessing we need to heal our wounds, repent of our sins, and offer our sufferings in union with the cross of Jesus Christ for the good of souls. Amen. (Week 1: Theme: Strength in Weakness)
Dear Jesus, St. Anselm taught that from the moment we are created in our mother’s womb, God gives us a guardian angel to watch over us. We are precious to God no matter how small we are. Even though we are hidden away for a little while before we were born, God always sees us and loves us! After we are born, God’s angel stays with us throughout our lives and guides us safely to God, when we die. Our angel will not leave us or stop praying for us until we are ready to enter into the joy of heaven! Amen. (Week 9: Theme: The Unborn)
Nothing is more natural than teaching the Faith through prayer. We do this naturally when we are raising our own children. We call out the attributes of God, express our trust in His mercy, and use a language of love that helps each child feel they are a part of something beautiful and true.
Every one of the almost 300 prayers in my book is a short catechetical lesson, as well as a prayer. The collection spans about 10 months of school days, plus special occasion prayers, a glossary of challenge words, and a scriptural reference for each week. The traditional dedications of the days and months, the liturgical seasons, virtues, and mysteries of the Rosary, are also woven into the prayers, so that young children experience them simply and older children and adults have more to interest them.
We ourselves express an amazing nature that will be perfected, in heaven. On earth, we possess five senses that help us to access the intangibles of heaven, and after the Resurrection of the Dead, our glorified senses will be even more amazing! That’s why the Church is so wise about beauty, which is a gateway to truth and goodness–to God Himself.
Body and Soul: One Human Nature: CCC 365
The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.
When Jesus entered into time, He sanctified it. And when He took on human flesh, he sanctified that, too. That means that every moment of our lives is holy and our lives have meaning and purpose from our earliest biological beginnings to the very end of our natural lives. It is all His! Every moment is precious. The world tells us otherwise, discarding the helpless unborn and the elderly, which is the darkest kind of ignorance, masquerading as sophistication.
Note: Those who have been lied to, indoctrinated, pressured, and wounded by these evils (i.e., post-abortive women and families) are tenderly loved by God and need only seek His healing love to be restored and strengthened, to be given new life, and to carry out their true purpose in Him. Check out Rachel’s Vineyard for loving support in finding healing.
Never doubt the dignity of your own soul. God, who contains the entire universe and all of heaven–the angels, saints, holy souls, our beloved who are living and those who have died, the stars and planets, every layer of creation–this God abides tenderly and devotedly in our souls. Within our souls dwells the Holy Spirit, by virtue of our baptism, and each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we become tabernacles of His holy presence. That Presence has an impact on the world around us, as it radiates through us.
- St. Therese of Lisieux said, “How great must a soul be to contain a God.”
- Jesus said, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (Jn 14:23)
- When the Lord is with us, we are empowered to live the adventure of our own lives, to fulfill the unique calling of God to our individual souls!
- God wants to make a masterpiece in our souls.
- Learning and teaching the Faith is a key to that wondrous transformation in Christ.
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
Learning our faith a little at a time draws us closer to God and empowers our mission.
As we move through our lives, studying our faith, we “scratch” at ideas that may be familiar, but perhaps we don’t fully understand, yet. The Liturgical year takes us round and round the treasure map of our faith, and we scratch a little every year, going deeper into the treasury of grace and knowledge that feeds our walk with Christ. If we keep scratching a little at a time, we uncover treasures that change our lives, light our souls on fire, and make it impossible for us to keep our excitement to ourselves.
I absolutely love Dr. Edward Sri’s book, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy. He takes each piece of the Mass, scratches and digs deeply into the origins and biblical connections, and unearths the treasures within. He begins with the very start of the Mass:
“On the one hand, from a Scriptural perspective, the words ‘The Lord be with you’ remind us of the high calling we each have. As God’s children, we each have a particular mission to fulfill in the Father’s plan…each of us has a role that no one else can play…these words also assure us that we have access to a higher power that can support us through the trials and challenges of life and help us be faithful in whatever task God has entrusted to us.” (p. 26)
Dr. Sri goes on to explain that when God says, “I will be with you,” or an angel says, “The Lord is with you,” he is saying that we need not fear anything. He describes some examples: Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Mary. Each is empowered to accomplish the impossible, in friendship with God.
When we hear the priest say, at Mass, “The Lord be with you,” we should hear the voice of the Lord saying to us:
- I will equip you, I will provide for you, I will defend you, and I will give you victory.
- Through the gift of Himself in the Eucharist, Christ strengthens us.
- Our heroes are heroes because they trusted in the power of God.
- Prayer and study change us, opening us up to God’s grace (LIFE).
- When we persevere in prayer and sacramental life, we become radiant witnesses.
Pope Paul VI famously wrote: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
We all want to be radiant witnesses, but I sometimes feel, working with children, that I’m ill-prepared or uninspired, so I pray, “Lord, light me up! You are my wattage!” And He never lets me down. If I walk out of class feeling like a failure, I say, “Lord, I don’t know what I did in there, but I know You did something!”
The amazing Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen always prayed before he taught: “Lord, send me Pentecostal fire!”
But to become Radiant Witnesses, we need sacramental healing and cleansing: confession. Here’s the fun commercial I do at all my talks. When you do this for your own presentations, have fun! Sell it! Make them laugh. It will help them remember.
Feeling tired? Rundown? Discouraged? Feel like Jesus hasn’t been answering your prayers, lately? Well, how would you like to get back in the game so fast it’ll make the enemy’s head spin? Get some religion, get your groove back? Let the light of the Lord shine right through you and out to the world? Well, you’re in luck! Because right now you, my friend, can get back in the race with some sanctifying grace. Discovering the elation of reconciliation. Free at last! Free of charge, at a Catholic parish near you, where a priest is waiting to take your call. Get back in the game. Get back to confession!
Why It is Important to Pray With Children
- Adults humbly approaching the throne of God is a powerful witness.
- Recognizing something greater than ourselves is an important reality check.
- Respecting authority in childhood—leads to exercising healthy authority as adults.
- Praying together gives children a blueprint for prayer—they mimic to learn the language of love.
- They realize they can have a relationship with God, Our Lady, the saints, angels, and the Holy Souls.
- They are reminded that they are made for supernatural encounters.
- Prayer empowers them to enter into the mystery—and the paradoxes of a life lived for God.
- Memories and habits of prayer, soaked in love, become rich in meaning and take root for a lifetime.
- An intimate relationship with God is an indispensable means to achieving their life’s purpose with clarity.
- The habit of prayer strengthens them to stand against dark influences and live for God.
Working prayer into our lessons and lessons into our prayers
Here, I shared some ideas about the naturalness of prayer as a way to teach, and lessons as a way to incorporate prayer, beginning with the Sign of the Cross–again, based on a lesson from Dr. Sri’s book. I began with this excerpt, however, from an EWTN interview with author and editor, Bert Ghezzi:
Bert Ghezzi (from EWTN interview):
- The sign of the cross is: a confession of faith; a renewal of baptism; a mark of discipleship; an acceptance of suffering; a defense against the devil; and a victory over self-indulgence.
- When you make the sign, you are professing a mini version of the creed — you are professing your belief in the Father, and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit.
- When you say the words and pray in someone’s name you are declaring their presence and coming into their presence— that’s how a name is used in Scripture.
Dr. Sri talked about “signs” in the Bible:
- Exodus 12: Passover: the Israelites were spared because of the lamb’s blood on their doorposts
- Revelations 7:3: the saints in heaven have a seal on their forehead
- Ezekial 9:4: those marked with the TAV were spared the wrath of God.
St. John Chrysostom said this about the Sign of the Cross:
When, then, you make the sign of the cross on the forehead, arm yourself with a saintly boldness, and reinstall your soul in its old liberty; for you are not ignorant that the cross is a prize beyond all price.
Consider what is the price given for your ransom, and you will never more be slave to any man on earth. This reward and ransom is the cross. You should not then, carelessly make the sign on the forehead, but you should impress it on your heart with the love of a fervent faith. Nothing impure will dare to molest you on seeing the weapon, which overcometh all things.
All of this to say that when we “scratch” below the surface and find treasures, we cannot help but share them and that passion ignites a fire in children.
Creating a Prayerful Environment for Children:
- No phones, please. The addictive quality of cell phones and other electronic devices is very real and should be prohibited in class.
- Basic discipline should create a safe environment for the shyest children. Don’t let alpha kids take over. Be forgiving but firm.
- Your own example of faith and reverence is contagious.
- Beauty! As we know, our souls are touched by beauty. Use it as much as you can: sacred art, candles, music, Easter and Christmas cards! God speaks through beauty and touches our hearts when nothing else can.
Meeting Them Where They Are
- Learning styles and developmental issues can be understood easily. Lots of information is available online.
- They remember how you made them feel, so ask Jesus to act through you and speak through you with the love only He can give.
- The grace of forgiveness and second chances: show mercy, while maintaining order.
- Children’s memories and associations: sometimes they surprise us with weird connections. They are making memories, as they connect their own ideas with the new ones. Don’t despair that they don’t seem to understand. They’re working on it.
- Communication and cleaning up messes: be sensitive to the children’s feelings. You don’t know how much you may matter to them or how God may be touching that child by your witness, without your knowledge. If you think you may have done something insensitive, circle back and make amends.
- Prayer Basket keeps the community strong: get the names of all their loved ones on cards that go in a basket for weekly prayer. They stay connected with the community of the classroom that way, even when they are not able to be present.
First Through Third Grade
- A decade of the Rosary takes five minutes! Inviting Our Lady into the classroom makes everything better. And Sister Lucia, one of the seers of Fatima (and many saints) have said, “…there is no problem that cannot be resolved by the recitation of the Holy Rosary.” It is a spiritual weapon par excellence!
- Intentions clarified: make sure the children understand what they are praying for. Invite feedback.
- Marching to hymns of praise gets their wiggles out and provides a liturgical feel as you transition to the next activity.
- Spontaneous prayer is important. If a child brings up a worry or concern, pray on the spot.
- Throwing their prayers up to God. I have them close their eyes and hold out their hands, palms up, giving God everything on their hearts and then making a tossing motion, giving it to him to take care of.
- God can make good come out of any bad thing, can bring beauty from ugliness, and hope from despair. Keep weaving this into prayer with them.
- Name saints! I research the children’s names at the start of the year and weave those saints into lesson time.
- Trips to the Church are essential: entering reverently, blessing themselves with holy water, and genuflecting with their eyes on the tabernacle (greeting Jesus silently in their hearts) can be practiced ahead of time, in class. I love to walk through the Stations of the Cross with them, having the boys say one half and the girls the other, and then switching halfway through (We bless thee oh Lord and we praise you; for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world). Talking about the altar as a table for a holy meal, a place of sacrifice (the Lamb of God), and connecting it all to the sacraments gives them more connection to the Mass.
- Sacramentals: have them reverently practice venerating blessed sacramentals: i.e., a crucifix, a sacred image, a relic, a medal.
- Living a moment in Scripture: I act out Bible stories with my kids after I read them aloud, so they get to experience in different ways: they hear the story, see the pictures, and then “live” it for a few short minutes. Every learning style is covered, this way, and it helps them remember. It’s all very easy and loose. For more information, see my booklet, Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children.
Fourth Through Eighth Grade and Beyond
- See above, plus…
- Cultivating silence: their lives are noisy. Give them opportunities to experience silent prayer.
- Spiritual bouquets for the Holy Souls: these powerful allies in purgatory need our prayers and pray for us with great impact when we pray for them. Establish this relationship early. It benefits the Church and many souls.
- Adopting a mission or ministry: choose something where they can receive progress reports and other kinds of feedback, so they see the impact of their prayers and a way to help out when they are old enough.
- Relationships with saints: through their name saints, the liturgical year, and martyr stories, children can be intrigued about the saints and want to know them better and learn from them. Also, namesaintgenerator.com is a great online resource. Have them pray to the Holy Spirit, then click the interface to choose a saint. They should study the saint’s life and pray, “Teach me what you know,” for a set period of time.
- Eucharistic miracles: true accounts abound and are fascinating to tweens and teens: see this website: http://therealpresence.org/
- Incorruptibles: these somewhat strange miraculous occurrences fascinate teens and tweens.
- Adoration: teens often find a personal relationship with Christ in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I even take very young children and tell them that Jesus is waiting for them, His arms loaded with gifts of grace. They should silently tell Him about their day, share their hopes and worries, and pray simply, “Jesus, I adore You!” With older students, we memorize the Anima Christi for after Communion and for Adoration:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
At the hour of my death call me
And bid me come to Thee
That with thy saints I may praise thee
Forever and ever
- Special liturgies that involve them in the planning, reading, and music, help them to understand the Mass and their role as contributing members of the community.
- Conferences can do what we can’t. Chastity, TOB, the Real Presence, Vocations–youth speakers have a powerful calling to reach the hearts and minds of teens and tweens. Do whatever you can to get your middle and high school students to appropriate events.
Remember, what we plant, He waters!
Here’s my resource list! Let me know if you need anything else. I’m happy to help!
Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days, by Lisa Mladinich (Liguori Publications)
Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children, by Lisa Mladinich (in English and Spanish, from Our Sunday Visitor)
Be An Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation, by Lisa Mladinich (in English and Spanish, from Our Sunday Visitor)
A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy, by Edward Sri (Ascension Press)
The Happiness of Heaven: The Joys and Rewards of Eternal Glory, by Fr. J. Boudreau, S.J. (1870) (TAN reprint)
Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon, by Father Donald Calloway (Marian Press)
What Matters Most: Empowering Young Catholics for Life’s Big Decisions, by Leonard J. DeLorenzo (Ave Maria Press)
Prayer for Beginners, by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius Press)
Free Online Resources:
Article on praying with children: http://amazingcatechists.com/2018/02/teach-kids-pray-5-simple-steps/
CatholicMom.com (my puppet scripts)
Fisheaters.com (tour of the church)