This week I’ve been thinking of how I can help my 7 year old boy [who is now preparing for his first confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in Advent and First Holy Communion next year] explore his school religious education theme of seeing the “home” – our family, but also our extended family – as the environment where he is learning to know and appreciate human love as the expression of God’s divine love in his life.
The school have suggested we try and put a collage together of family photos and mementos that illustrates all the loving and life-giving relationships in his life that are helping to shape and form him in to a young disciple of Christ and be sustained in that journey. And it struck me that when we walk into a Catholic church or Eastern Orthodox church we see the beautiful images, statues, icons etc. of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and a whole plethora of countless Saints and angels depicted to inspire us to pray, lift our minds and hearts to God in worship and praise, as well as remind us of the journey to heaven which we are all called to undertake and destined to aim for each and every day.
From time to time, an individual Saint stands out for us and to whom we feel deeply drawn in our personal sentiments and they become for us a ‘patron’ – a friend- in the heavenly realm who is hopefully ‘putting in a good word’ for us where we will one day hope to join them.
Family photo albums are like the amalgam of statues, icons and sacred images adorning our churches and places of worship too. Think of all those deceased and living family members we have so deeply loved and been loved by in the past and those for whom we have immeasurable love for in the here and now; those we see every day and those perhaps only from time to time [but for all we might moan and groan about sometimes] nevertheless, we couldn’t imagine life without them.
All of them [like the saints in heaven] have in some small way brought God’s love in to our lives and hopefully we have reflected it back to them to. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians; “The life and death of each of us has its influence over others.” So when it comes to our influence over others in our family and relations and friends –like the saints- we have to simply try our best to be a positive and wholesome influence.
When I talk to my son over the next few weeks about the centrality of the family and his home life in his relationship with God it will be in the context of helping him see that all those whom he knows and loves intimately now, like the saints we venerate in our churches, are all on the path to heaven and the sacraments he is preparing to receive are indispensable means to help him get there.
Like St. John Chrysostom so beautifully put it when describing children as ‘statues for God.’
“To each of you fathers and mothers I say, just as we see artists fashioning their paintings and statues with great precision, so we must care for these wondrous statues of ours. Painters, when they have set the canvas on the easel, paint on it day by day to accomplish their purpose. Sculptors, too, working in marble, proceed in a similar manner; they remove what is superfluous and add what is lacking. Even so you must proceed. Like the creators of statues, give all your leisure to fashioning these wondrous statues for God.”
Regard the soul of a child like a city which must be governed wisely, he would say; and he likened the five senses to five gates to the city which parents must guard so that nothing evil or harmful enters the city.