Some things never end well because they have not begun well, in spite of all of the goodness and pure intent in between. If the first step is slippery, the landing will be painful even if the view is fantastic during those few seconds where the feet leave the ground. And the moment when our children ask ‘why do we go to Mass’ is very much of the same sort, not a first step surely as many suppose, but the indication of a bruised head, the result of a misstep.
Take for example the bride and groom on their wedding day. If they turn to one another asking in all sincerity ‘why they are there’ then there can be little doubt that something fundamental was missing many months prior. Or look at the children visiting the grandparent in the nursing home. If upon arriving, the mood of the place has them whispering (or perhaps ‘speaking freely’) about the sheer nonsense of the young being found in a place that was clearly designed for the old, we do not have a rude child as much as we have a consistent one.
And when a child finds himself in a Church, a place where adults seem to promise the best of themselves and the decor seems to thrust him into a time and place that was never meant for him, the questions a child asks tells us a lot about their first steps.
We have to understand that when a child asks ‘why do we go to Mass?’ it is very seldom the case that they are opening up a new train of thought; rather they are concluding one. You see, they have already been processing the facts that going to God’s house should be engaging, musical, rich with meaning, communal, social, about learning and so on. And while all of this is part of the view, it would be obvious to any ancient Christian that these could never be the reason for showing up.
Love is the first thing. Love is the reason that the man and woman court one another. Love is the reason that the young must reach out to their grandparents; and love is the reason Christians worship.
So long before my children ask the question, I say it to them many times over. “Gabriel, do you know why we go to Church? It is because we love God. Hannah, do you know why we worship at the holy sacrifice of the Mass? Because we love Him who died for us.’
This is not about feelings, but about love. And if we get this first step right, we can enjoy the view with our children, with little fear of falling.
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