The following is my portion of the Parent Retreat presentation – A Special Meal. I show the power point slide I used, and then give the talk portion associated with that slide.
I ask you to close your eyes and remember a recent special meal of your own. Where did you eat? What was served? Who was present? Why was this the meal you remembered? Please take some time to share your story with your table.
Let me share a recent meal for our family. We celebrated in our formal dining room, but with sugary, messy King Cake because it was a Friday during the Mardi Gras season. In my hometown of New Orleans, Friday is the traditional day to gather with friends and family to share this Cake. Each year, our children look forward to those Fridays between Epiphany and Mardi Gras because they know a fresh baked King Cake will be on the counter when they return home from school. They know that they can call friends to come share this cake, and its traditions, with our family. They know we will be connecting with family not present in this moment and at this place, but having the same celebration far away in New Orleans.
Dr. Susan Ross (theologian and professor at Loyola Chicago) defines the sacraments as above. Older Catholics joke about learning the definition of a sacrament as “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” Baltimore Catechism anyone?? Younger Catholics (that means me!) have struggled with that definition. Outward sign because my head is traced with the cross? Because I eat the bread? Because the holy water was used?
In his book Raising Faith Filled Kids, Tom McGrath of Loyola Press presents the idea of sacraments as the way for us to more closely experience and interact with Christ. Most of us will say that what we really desire is to be as close to God as possible. What the sacraments offer us is the truth that Christ/ God is actually ALWAYS close to us. In all of our imperfections, He is accepting at all times. While we strive to become that pinnacle of perfection, He is already thrilled to be by our side. We are still challenged to strive for the pinnacle, but are constantly assured of His love along the way. Essentially these are the same idea, but I find one to be more comforting and more inviting. That’s the experience of Sacrament I want to share with my children.
McGrath states, “The activities of family life well lived are every bit as Spiritually valuable as …the monastery routine. ...we recognize God in our daily joys and tears, as well as in the breaking of the bread at the family table.”
What we are discovering is that our daily table of family meals and interaction are already a sacrament. That is, a preparation for our children’s experience with the ultimate sharing feast we are offered at the Altar.
Our children are more likely to respect and cherish an object or an event when they understand the significance attached to it. For example, my husband and I bought a hand crafted nativity set while on our honeymoon. We lovingly unwrap the pieces each year and laugh about different, poignant memories of that trip. One year, our oldest was about 5 and he accidently broke the head off of the shepherd. My husband glued it back together, but we also took the time to explain to our son why this set was so important and should be cherished. We explained that to each child, in time. Now, they see this set as a sacred object in our home – respected and cherished – and they look forward to more stories about that trip. They also steer clear of handling the pieces like they would Lego bricks.
As parents, we should help our children connect the Eucharistic meal to a cherished memory. The meal served at Mass is an extension of the meals served at our home table – a table where our life stories and experiences are shared and explored. Do we not share and explore Jesus’ life during the Eucharist? By first doing this with them at home, we prepare them for the ultimate sharing – Jesus with us, present in bread and wine.
We know our children will ask, eventually, why the wine and why the bread? How are they made into blood and body? Well, the easy answer is Because Christ Said So at the Last Supper. The bigger answer is because Christ asks us to believe this and do this until his glorious return. He invites our active participation and includes our senses alive and present; tangible objects of His love for us. He knew at that meal that his followers would need to continue the work of the Father without Him. What better way to send them off than to transform them into His church – present with Him?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC#1333) says that “ At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ's Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord's command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion.”
During your childhood, what was your experience with Mass attendance and Eucharist participation? What changes do you see yourself making already as you raise your children? Please take a moment to discuss these ideas with your table.
Children model what they see at home. We all know this to be true! Our two year old recently looked me in the face, with finger raised and pointed, and said “you don’t talk to me that way!” I know she’s heard me saying that to one (or all) of her older siblings. Domestic church life is often messy, isn’t it?
We know they will emulate our attitudes. If we are excited and dedicated to Mass, then they will be also. I have a friend whose family is, like many, involved in several activities – soccer, swimming, various church ministries, and those pesky careers. Well, I have watched them juggle Mass attendance over the last few years. Sometimes they make it all together, sometimes they do the parental divide and conquer, and sometimes we get a call that one of the children will be dropped at the church door and would we please enfold them into our family for that Mass? What their children see – and what those around them see – is a dedication to this nourishment both in word and flesh. The need for Eucharist to continue their work as family and as church.
I invite you to sit back, get comfortable, and close your eyes. Relax as we enter our reflection of the Eucharistic Prayer.
“Jesus took bread in his hands.” How am I taken up into the hands of Jesus?
“He blessed the bread” How am I blessed?
“broke it” How am I broken, wounded, or changed?
“and gave it to them” How do I give myself to others? My family? My friends?
“saying, Take and Eat, this is my body.” How do I become bread for others, nurturing my family, friends, colleagues, even those I don’t know?
“Take this, all of you and drink of it; this is the cup of my blood” Cupped in Jesus’ hands, I become like a chalice for others. How do I give them my unique self and special spirit?
“Whenever you do this, remember me” What is my best memory of Jesus?
Thank you for taking the time to read this very long post. I enjoyed putting the information together and, most especially, sharing it with the other parents. If you're Catholic, I hope you read some information that will make you think about Eucharist a bit differently, maybe, than you have been. If you're not Catholic, I hope you enjoyed a small, brief peek at our celebration. If you have questions, please ask them in the comments and I will be happy to address them.