Good news! The Madonna has been saved – for now at least. Thank you so much, especially to those of you who subscribed to the magazine. The magazine is still in need of subscriptions, so if you’ve been meaning to subscribe, but haven’t got around to it yet, can I ask you a huge favour? Please tell them I sent you! I’d like to get some more gigs with this magazine, so it would be great if they knew that my writing is worth it. Also, I have an enormous ego that needs feeding.
For those of you who missed it on the socials, I’ve finished the first draft of my novel! Watch this space!
And now, here’s another taste of the sort of writing I do for Madonna magazine. This piece was first published in their Autumn edition, 2017.
“So, children, today’s Gospel is about prayer. When do you pray to Jesus?”
“When we say Grace?”
“Very good, Therese! What’s another time we pray?”
“My Daddy has a shed and it has a lawnmower in it.”
“That’s interesting, Patrick, but we’re talking about…”
“We have a lawnmower in our garage!”
“Thank you, Annie. Now, back to…”
“On TV, there’s a lawnmower and his name is Larry.”
“OK, thanks Harry. Can anybody tell me when they pray?”
“Harry, is this about lawnmowers?”
“Is this about prayer?”
“Yes: you can pray on the TOILET!”
I’m on Children’s Liturgy today. Twice a term, I take a group of kids to the church gathering area and try to teach them about God. It’s a fearsome task. The deepest desire of my heart is for my children to carry their faith into their adult lives. But at the moment, it’s hard just to get them to Mass on Sunday.
I would love to just sail into church with four children and two babies all clean and combed and beautifully turned out in their Sunday bests. Most of the time, I seem to turn up late with a rag-tag posse of tangle-haired urchins, some still wearing articles of sleepwear and others with evidence of breakfast on their faces. I do my best, quickly fashioning a messy ‘up do’ for my daughter with a hair-tie I found on the car floor, or buttoning a clean coat over pyjamas. One Sunday, I managed to corner my youngest son halfway through Mass and surreptitiously cleaned his face. Accordingly, the quiet solemnity of the Eucharist was punctuated by a loud shout: “No! That’s MY VEGEMITE, Mummy!”
There are times when I draw on all the power of my teachers’ college theology. Once I took it upon myself to explain the nature of the Easter Triduum to my then-five-year-old daughter, Matilda.
“So Good Friday is not a Mass, you see, even though we have Communion, because there is no Consecration. The Communion we have on Good Friday was consecrated at Holy Thursday Mass.”
I raise my eyebrows impressively at my daughter. I used to get ‘A’s in theology. Matilda wrinkles her small forehead.
“So you’re getting leftovers?”
Still, there are times when you know you’re doing something right. When my eldest boy Christopher was a toddler, he was fascinated with our church’s statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The statue itself is fairly standard-issue. Plaster Jesus stands in floor-length robes looking glum with his hands outstretched. Christopher pointed at Jesus’ arms. “Jesus wants a cuddle, Mummy?”
On another occasion, my mum mentioned that the wooden baby Jesus was missing from their nativity set. Indeed, the young Messiah went AWOL directly after our last visit and Christopher had been playing with the figurines. You can do without a shepherd, perhaps, but a nativity scene really doesn’t work without Jesus. He is one of the key players. Perhaps Christopher might know of his whereabouts?
Accordingly, after Christopher came in from playing in the backyard, Grandma asks “Christopher, do you know where baby Jesus is?”
Christopher says “yes” tremulously. Everyone catches their breath.
“Where’s Jesus, Christopher?”
Christopher pats his breast solemnly, “In my heart, Grandma”
Christopher and Matilda are older now. Both have made their First Communion and are proud altar servers. Once a month, I take them individually to an early weekday Mass (6:45am!) and then we have a cafe breakfast together. It’s a bit sneaky really. I want them to associate warm feelings and special attention from Mum with going to Mass. Isn’t that some form of classical conditioning? But surely nothing but goodness can come from bacon.
It’s time for my Children’s Liturgy group to form the Offertory Procession. There’s whispered squabbling at the back of the church over who gets to carry the cruets and then we’re off. I follow like a mother hen as the children traipse down the aisle, the choir sings “Hosea”, and the children deliver gifts to Father. It is as they are bowing to the altar (one sideways, one backwards and one of them fell over), that it struck me: this is what it’s all about.
In the end, for all my strategies and theologising and indoctrination by bacon, I don’t have the power to bestow faith on these children. That’s not my job. I am but walking beside them at the beginning of their faith life. All I can do is guide them to the altar and try not to get in the way as they meet Jesus. The rest is His job. And perhaps if I am humble enough, I might learn something. After all, someone very wise once taught me, Jesus is waiting for a hug.
We all just need to learn to hug back.