This past summer my sister-in-law taught a whole class of teenagers who had flunked religion. They came to her summer school class from Catholic high schools across the city. These students had their share of troubles. Many came from crazy family situations; the number living with even one parent was small. “What many of them really need is a social worker,” said my sister-in-law.
One day they discussed the Ten Commandments. Many students, having barely heard of them, declared which commandments they disagreed with (many). My sister-in-law asked if they had any codes of behavior about, for example, stealing. The students’ consensus was that while it was wrong to steal from another person, stealing from a large store (e.g., Target) was OK.
Another time she assigned them to read newspapers or magazines and come in with an item or two showing a situation where God was present.
“What do you mean, where God is present?” asked one young man.
“You know, an article that shows how God is present in the world. Someone doing good for someone else, for example.”
“But the only place you can find God is at church or in heaven,” he said.
My sister-in-law begged to differ, explaining how Catholics believe that God is always at our elbow, in every breath we breathe. The student had never heard anything like this before.
It’s easy to shake our heads and cluck about these young people. Instead, perhaps this tale can jolt us into considering how we’re faring with the responsibility to show our kids that God is present in daily life, whether in a decision about shoplifting or recognizing God in another person: Parent as signpost to God.
Some stories: Movie reviewer Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P. tells of a mom whose high school daughter argued she was mature enough to see R-rated movies. The mother agreed, on two conditions: 1) “I will say yes or no on each individual movie,” and 2) “After you see it, come home and tell me where you found God in the movie, and we’ll talk about that.” Just imagine those discussions.
In Gently Lead (Crossroad 1998) Polly Berrien Berends says when one of her kids faced a problem, before talking it over she would sit quietly with them for a minute “to see what God has to say.” “The idea,” she said, was “that there is something reliable beyond self and other to which we can turn . . . . The important thing is for children and parents to become aware of God as the parent rather than feeling that parents are God.”
“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God,” said Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin. You may have felt joy when you first held your children in your arms, at their Baptisms, on the day they first rode a bike. Tell your kids; ask them about times they’ve experienced God’s presence. Are some of these joyful times?
My daughter leaves me a note typed on the “cool” 1940s typewriter we brought home from my deceased uncle’s apartment. It says simply, “Mom, I love you.” My husband listens when I tell him I am mad at him about something. The presence of God? You bet.
We find God at baseball games, in the mountains, in friends and family, and of course, as the young man in the class said, at Mass and in heaven. God certainly gets around. Our kids ought to hear about that.
by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the archives of At Home with Our Faith newsletter.
Take a look at At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home–read a sample issue. We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides. And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.
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