by Yvonne Barzil | Source: Schoenstatt Press
We were talking about the starting place and primacy of prayer for ourselves as educators. BUT how do we fall in love with a God we cannot see? How are our children to fall in love with him? And how can our love be so strong that it shows in a way that can impact the world around us?
(The many questions are intentional, not rhetorical. The Socratic method of asking focused questions always helps me understand a problem more profoundly. Hence, I hope they are helpful. Einstein is quoted as saying that he didn’t have all the right answers, but the right questions.)
I am thinking about the children who grow up, even in Catholic homes where all the trappings of the modern world adorn the walls – entertainment centers, surround sound speakers, home video, art, and stuff, a lot of stuff, and the crucifix or picture of Mary perhaps finds a place as well. (We are Catholic after all.) I am thinking about what it’s like for our children when we take them to the church to pray, but the images are so abstract or the walls altogether bare that there’s no chance to come face to face with mystery, with the sacred, with our Lord, his Mother, or see him in the faces of the many saints who loved him so.
Father Joseph Kentenich, Founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, worked to help us “divinize”* all areas of our life. By this he means that all our waking thoughts, our unconscious/subconscious soul life should be filled with God, God, God who is goodness, and love. The religious and the divine should so penetrate our psyches that all our decisions, actions and reactions are shaped by its reality. Certainly this was so with the saints canonized & not canonized. And while God’s grace can break through any environment, most frequently there is a natural preparation, if you will, a certain predisposition that allows us to experience him and his grace through our environment: our parents, scripture stories, stories of the saints, the liturgy and sacraments, etc.
Fr. Kentenich talks about pre-conditions or what he refers to as the “non-rational preamble to faith” as the normal way. We will talk about it in more depth later, but for now, he is referring to the experiences of faith that one has in childhood that prepare the ground for God’s grace: going to mass in a beautiful & beloved church, family prayer in the home, parents’ example and love…
The saints demonstrate this time and again: Padre Pio grew up in a barren Italian countryside, uncluttered, simple, poor, simple and austere, but filled with the presence of God. The little Flower, immersed in the love of family, soaked in the Catholic faith. Don Bosco had childhood dreams & a deep relationship to his mother. Piety surrounded each of them, they breathed in a religious atmosphere, absorbing it in through the very environment. Even Francis who lived a spoiled and lavish life was surrounded in other ways by a religious culture.And we? – radio blaring, traffic roaring, race to school, sports, piano, dance lessons, get the meal (fast food?), do your homework, watch TV, fill your brain until it’s brimming over and say a (perfunctory? token?) quick prayer at night. And where was the experience of God for the family & for the child, who usually by nature is closer to God and the supernatural?
In Schoenstatt spirituality there’s such a simple answer, it’s like bathing in the Jordan. We call it a home shrine. The home shrine, a picture of the Mother Thrice Admirable, a crucifix, a picture of Fr. Kentenich, and any other beloved symbol is a place of prayer in the home. It is the heart and center and soul of the home, the “portal” of grace.
A Latin teacher once explained to me that in ancient times the Romans had a hearth or fireplace where the father of the family kept the fires burning in honor of the gods. This sacred fire was at the center of the home and was called the focus. Later the word came to refer to any center of activity or attention. In the living rooms of many families today the focus is the TV. All the furnishings center on it, are arranged in relation to it. Happily, in many Schoenstatt families, the focus is not the entertainment center, but the home shrine.
A Schoenstatt couple had come to the decision to crown the Blessed Mother in their home shrine in gratitude for her love and protection of the family over many years. The father of the family, being a bit astute on the trick of reverse psychology, tried a little experiment with the children to find out what the home shrine meant to his children and how crowning the Blessed Mother would resonate in their hearts. I had the opportunity to observe the process on several occasions. “Juan,” he would say, “Your mother & I have become tired of the home shrine. We are thinking of removing it.” Inevitably shock and consternation appeared on the face of the child, accompanied with a resounding, “No, you can’t do that.” He would then question, “Why not? Why do you want to keep it?” And then beautiful responses echoed from children’s experiences. “That’s the place we pray as a family. That’s the place we take all our troubles. It’s where we announce happy things, the birth of a child, report cards…” It was evident that the home shrine was the soul of this family. Fortunately, before the shock could sink too far, he quickly would then explain, “Actually, we would like to crown the Blessed Mother in our home shrine, would you like that?” Needless to say, this news was met an enthusiastic “Yes!”. In a short while, the entire family was busy preparing a royal family feast for the Queen of their home.
Conversely, a mother had heard about the home shrine and thought, “Oh, we don’t need such things.” Nonetheless, she did want to teach her child to pray and pray with her child. In the evening, the mother drew the child to herself and talked to her about prayer. In the moment she wanted to begin praying, she suddenly found herself looking for a direction or focal point. She also immediately realized that, in fact, she needed a focal point too.
How crucial it is that we draw our children, but also ourselves into the supernatural world with all of our senses. On a number of occasions I visited an eastern rite Catholic Church with a group of young people or children. Incense had penetrated the very walls. More than once a young person or child commented, “It smells holy here.”
I believe we are united in our fervent hope and desire that our families and young people can find their way to the heart of our Savior and his Mother. One sure facet of creating the culture and atmosphere where that can happen is through the home shrine. I pray that many families discover the home shrine as a portal, opening the flood gates of grace into the home and family.
*Fr. Kentenich uses the word “divinize”, a concept perhaps not so readily understood outside theological circles – but an overwhelmingly beautiful concept nonetheless. It is essentially St. Athanasius of Alexandria’s notion of “theosis”. He says, “The Son of God became man that man might become God.” What he means is that through the incarnation, Jesus took on humanity in order to redeem us and to give us a share in his divine life. We become “…partakers of divine nature.” ( II Peter 1:4. )
Questions for Reflection:
How did I fall in love with God? What are my memories of pictures, statues, music, smells, experiences where if I came in touch with the divine? How do I reinforce that now in my life for myself? For my children? In my apostolate?
How have I passed on my own experiences to my children? Or how do I want to pass them on?
Do my children see and hear me pray? What things are in my home that create an atmosphere of the divine?
What “pre-conditions” am I providing for my children to experience the divine – down to the unconscious soul? How do I envision these things “penetrating into their bones"?
Practical Application: Having considered what things brought you to fall in love with God, discuss with your spouse and/or children or decide for yourself how you can reinforce those primal experiences and enkindle your love. Take at least 7 minutes in your home shrine or place of prayer to focus solely on loving the Redeemer & his Mother.
Resources for further reading/research where interested:
The Child and the Church by E.M. Standing
De Incarnatione, St. Athanasius of Alexandria
For discussion with other educators, friends or family:
If only the other-worldly were as astute at passing on their values as those of this world, e.g. Hollywood…. What is Hollywood (the media) doing that we need to emulate? How does it translate into religious education?
The pyramid of learning says we learn only 5% by hearing – so why do we insist on passing on the faith primarily – often exclusively through talking-sermonizing… ? Our religion classes, and many other classes for that matter, are frequently exact renderings of Charlie Brown’s teacher: waa-wa-wawawawawawawa. What do we need to do differently? How do we collaborate around the world to bring about the combination of best teaching practice and apply it to our faith?
The Gap, a popular, “cool” clothing store hires experts in gothic architechture to design their stores. Bank foyers, shopping malls and apartment offices feature stunning aspects of ecclesial architechture and appear to be the new cathedrals of our modern age. At the same time many churches are emptied of statues, stain glass, and even the tabernacle in an effort to put away all that is not God, so that we can concentrate on being “spiritual”. And yet, we need to “see” God to fall in love with him; we need to see the saints and the richness of Catholicism. How are we raising our children with a sense of beauty that inspires them and helps them to “see” God and fall in love with him?