Saint Teresa of Avila
In this age of specialists and consultants, one could easily call Saint Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) an "expert" on prayer. She would no doubt balk at such a title and also at being declared a "Doctor of the Church." But her name has become synonymous with a life of prayer and her writings still inspire Christians to explore her vision of soul as The Interior Castle, which is also the title of her spiritual classic. As a young girl Teresa enjoyed reading about the saints and martyrs of the church. When she was twelve her mother died and her father placed her with the Augustinian nuns in a nearby convent. After a few years when it was time for her to return home to her father, she decided to become a Carmelite nun. Her life and writings provide insight into how one grows step by step in the art of praying. After many years Teresa received the grace she prayed for and God became her best friend. Saint Teresa's unique gift to Christian adults and children is that she did not talk about God intellectually, but she talked with God personally.
Nurturing a Habit of Praying
Children learn to pray by example. There are many areas in a child's life where the influence of
nature (heredity) is apparent, but a habit of praying is clearly a matter of nurture. A teacher or catechist can usually tell if a young child prays with parents at home or church. Yes, prayer is taught but it is not an area for testing. Exposing children to a wide spectrum of prayer should not confuse but should encourage them to wander with their natural openness through the vast garden of prayer in word and action—with families at meals, alone at bed time, with classmates in school, with friends and strangers in church, through singing, making a sign of the cross and other prayerful gestures, using prayer and/or rosary beads, kneeling, standing, processing or sitting quietly. The Gospels record Jesus praying often—through the day, all night, before he ministered to the sick, in private and on the cross. His prayers were varied and personal.
Remembering Children's Needs
Our traditional Catholic prayers should be part of a child's developing prayer vocabulary just as the parish repertory of songs should be introduced into a child's liturgical diet. But children are still children, and the words to our most sacred prayers can fall strangely on young ears as in "lead us not into creation, but deliver us from eagles." Sometimes children like to dress up in adult clothes, sometimes they want to be included in adult activity, but they are not little adults or preparatory people. They are whole and complete persons. Whether in song, prayer, play or work, a child should be treated as a whole person with immediate needs that are often quite different from those of adults. Fortunate children are those who are taught to pray in many different ways and always with consideration of their age, developmental ability and attention span.
Helping Children in Their Various Prayer Experiences
• Parents can help by remembering that repetition and regularity will create good habits early on. Let the children see the liturgical year unfold in the home as well as the classroom and church. And parents should let their children catch them praying.
• Catechists can help by remembering that religious education with young children is more like Mystagogia than academia. Religious education and prayer experiences are a continuing part of children's initiation into the church of Christ. Teachers can help by punctuating lessons with prayer and song.
• Priests/presiders can help by remembering to follow Directory for Masses with Children (DMC) in choosing and adapting relevant prayers at Masses with children (DMC 50–51). This vital document is available in the publication Liturgy Documentary Series, Volume 12: Masses with Children (OCP 8102).
• Classroom teachers can help by encouraging their students to add liturgical colors and symbols to the classroom environment and by using phrases from the Sunday Gospels and seasonal psalm and hymn refrains for prayers and posters.
Children Pray in the "Here and Now”
Children live in the "here and now" and guiding them in prayer means respecting their needs and learning to be with them in the moment. In The Way of Perfection Saint Teresa wrote:
"We need no wings to go in search of Him but have only . . . to look upon Him present within us"(Ch. 28). On her feast day, October 15, tell your children about the young Spanish girl named Teresa who learned to love God as a child and spent a lifetime in conversation with God as her best friend.
Psalm 139: A Child's Prayer
This psalm offers a beautiful model of a child's relationship to God in prayer. Here are few paraphrases of the psalmist's thoughts and sentiments:
O Lord, you know my heart and everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
Every moment you know where I am. You are always present with me.
Thank you, O Lord, for making me so wonderful in your eyes.
Thank you for thinking about me all the time.
Your blessings are so many I can't even count them.
They outnumber the grains of sand!
When I sleep, you are there,
And when I wake up in the morning, you are still with me!
Thank you, O Lord.
Jack Miffleton is a teacher and musician. His songs are sung in classrooms and churches around the world. He is theological consultant and music director for the I Am Special program published by Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) Publications. He teaches music at Saint Jarlath School in Oakland, California and lives with his wife and son in Martinez, California.
|11192||Music for Children's Liturgy of the Word, Year A 2-CD Set||$25.00||Add to Cart|
- Gospel Talk With Children: Mark's Portrait of Jesus
- Teaching Children To Love All God's Creatures
- A Liturgical Classroom Promotes Christian Values
- Leading Children to Sunday with Angels, Saints and Kings
- Maintaining the Course with Volunteers
- Miracles in the Fall Gospels
- Developing Spirituality Among Children, Part 1: Eucharist
- Coming Closer to Eucharist: Mystagogy on the Text of the Eucharistic Prayer
- The Liturgy of the World: Extraordinary Time