I cannot think of many things more precious than a child, bowed down, hands clasped in prayer. I love to listen to Joseph praying because his prayers are so sincere, so heartfelt, so spontaneous. He’s never rushed or distracted, like I find myself sometimes. His heart rejoices and he finds peace in his prayers. Oh, how I could learn from him!
I’ve been praying with and for Joseph and William since they were in the womb (and even before as I prayed for the gift of life). While I was pregnant, I did what many faithful Catholics would do: I went to daily Mass and I prayed, often. I prayed the rosary, the chaplet of divine mercy, and with William, I prayed using Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s Prayerfully Expecting. Then upon arrival, I prayed many prayers of thanksgiving for the precious gift God had entrusted to Dax and me. While they were little and nursing, I continued praying. I sang the Hail Mary to fussy babies and offered spontaneous prayers of petition for grace in my mothering journey. I didn’t do it perfectly…in fact some days, I’d get caught up in the midst of mothering and find myself falling asleep as I prayed for my children, but no matter what I did or to what extent, I did it with a heart of faith.
Then as Joseph began to get a little older (before William came along), I realized that not only did I need to pray (and pray often!), I needed to find a way to pass on my faith and the rich culture of the Catholic Church to my children. How do you put your faith into something tangible to present to little ones? How do you teach children to pray? I wasn’t really sure, so I started out by taking Joseph to daily Mass and I prayed the rosary with him while I put him down for a nap. But it still didn’t feel like that was enough. I wanted Joseph to fall in love with the God that I know…a God who is merciful and full of love. I wanted Joseph’s heart to turn to prayer throughout the day…when he was happy; when he was sad; when he just was.
So I did what I always do. I began to read and question. I read The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould and The Religious Potential of the Child by Sofia Cavalletti. I read Guiding your Catholic Preschooler by Kathy Pierce and Lori Rowland. I read blogs of beautiful Catholic moms who had traveled the road on which I found myself. I called friends from my parish that I admired and asked how they did it. And then, equipped with many bits of brilliance, I began to formulate a plan.
Sofia Cavalletti says in her book, “Education to prayer is fundamental to the catechesis of young children.” She goes on to suggest that what adults “can do is to establish the premises that will help prayer to arise.” Hmmm, now how could I establish the premises? For me, the sight of an altar, dressed according to the liturgical season, adorned with candles and flanked by statues of Mary and Jesus always, always inspires me to drop to my knees and pray. So why not have our own prayer altar? A special place that we could visit each day. Using the suggestions in Meredith Gould’s book on setting up a family altar, I dragged my mom with me and the two of us found all sorts of treasures for what would later become adoringly known in our house as the Jesus Box. (In case you’re wondering why it is all kept in a box, rather than in a permanent altar, it’s because I like the idea of allowing Joseph the responsibility of caring for and arranging the altar…some days he pulls out every item in the box; other days, he might focus solely on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Plus it allows us the opportunity to change the altar according to Saints Days and the Liturgical Year.)
What a wonderful treasure chest our Jesus box has become. You’ll always find the basics in our box: candles; prayer cards; flowers; altar cloths; statues of Jesus, Mary, the saints; a crucifix; a children’s Bible. But take a peek throughout the year and you’ll find other treasures. During Advent, we put in an advent calendar and delightful Christmas stories. We add a cloth advent wreath with cloth candles and a clever Advent prayer cube. During Lent we add the story we use with our resurrection eggs (of course the eggs don’t come out until Easter!) and an illustrated guide of the Stations of the Cross. Also, we keep our rosary nearby for praying the Sorrowful mysteries. Ordinary Time allows us the opportunity to learn about the saints…how to pray with them and how to ask for special intercessions.
Each day our experience with the Jesus box is different. Some days we pray a decade of the rosary; some days we pray spontaneously; some days we just set the altar and gaze lovingly upon our Savior. Each day might be something new, but each day is always beautiful.