17. Hands Folded in Prayer
Mother is the first one to notice the soul lighting up the small body of the child. She does not look upon her child merely as a small creature that must only be fed to develop into manhood. She realizes that even the smallest child has an immortal soul, destined to glorify God. The child is a gift, and at the same time a messenger. The bright smile of God plays about its innocent lips like the morning sun caressing the white peaks of the mountains. That first bright look of the child is already a yearning for the clear light of God. The time has now come when the mother with much suffering must give rebirth to the child for God.
Curious Eyes Of Childhood
The first inquiring look of her child will arouse great excitement in the soul of mother. When the child views the heavens with astonished eyes, and asks questions, its mother must be prepared to answer.
Even a small child can ask the deepest questions: whence do we come, whither do we go. The child is eager to learn about the Creator of heaven and earth, about Our Father in Heaven, The mother telling about the stars and angels, about God and His glory, is herself overcome with astonishment, and quite naturally she begins to teach the child to pray. These prayers may be short and without special form, but they are prayers nevertheless. In fact, gazing up to heaven in wonder is already a prayer. If our life is to be really deep and remain so, then we must never lose our wonder. For reverential wonder is the beginning of wisdom. To him who is lost in astonishment, still more wonders will be unfolded. He will eventually be permitted to see the face of God.
Faith must not only transfigure the twilight of life, it must also be the first dawn of morning. The praying man is the grandest picture in all creation. It is by prayer alone that man reaches perfection and is worthy of a crown. But among all mankind engaged in prayer, there is no more affecting sight than an innocent child at prayer. The mother, as helper and guide to God, kneels beside the child. There the words of the Lord are fulfilled: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be in the midst of them." The best time to pray is the morning, when the child opens its eyes to a new day; and at night, before it retires to rest.
Clement Brentano relates that his mother never allowed the children to retire for the night without signing them with the sign of the cross on the forehead. When it happened that she returned home rather late, she would quietly tiptoe into the room, and make the sign of the cross on the brows of the sleeping children. In later years all sense of religion may be washed away, but that remembrance of prayer learned in childhood will be again awakened at the opportune moment. The "prodigal son" having learned to pray in childhood, is not yet entirely lost; his early prayers will lead him back to God.
The most sacred duty of mother is to teach her children to pray. She teaches the child to look to heaven whence it should expect all good, all consolation, all help. She teaches the child great reverence for the cross of Christ, and kisses it. In childhood the mother is the personal priestess and teacher.
As the child grows older, it should be taught to take part in the family prayers. The father, mother and children form a small church, and the church is a place of prayer. I look back upon my own childhood days with pleasure. We three children said our prayers with mother. We prayed the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostles' Creed, recited the Ten Commandments and Precepts of the Church. We considered them all as prayers, not realizing that mother had begun to instruct us in religion. Before we started school, we were taught to fast on Ash Wednesday and the feast of the Seven Sorrows, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the vigils of Christmas and Pentecost. Mother was our first catechist. She introduced us to the various ceremonies of the ecclesiastical year. Without knowing it, we were imbibing a great treasure of religious knowledge. It was an understood fact that we should follow the ecclesiastical year, something as natural as breathing in the air, or seeing mother.
What a happy memory our first visit to the church! How I rejoiced, when they said: "Let's go to the house of the Lord." Many of the "devout" Catholics were perhaps disturbed because mother took us to Church at so early an age, but it was a blessing for us. The souls of children cannot be brought under the divine influence too soon.
A child from a good religious family entering the catechism class already has a knowledge of many things which neglected children can only acquire by hard study. It can make the sign of the cross and knows about eternal life. Mother has taught it to have great reverence for God the Creator of heaven and earth. She has entrusted this knowledge to the child as a precious treasure. Before the child is of school age, it knows about Paradise, the serpent, Adam and Eve; it has a knowledge of the Nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem, of the multiplication of loaves and other miracles. It knows about the bitter Passion and Death, the Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. It may well be said that the child of a religious mother knows the fundamentals of faith. The most learned theologian could not add much more to what she has taught. A life built upon so solid a foundation is like a house built upon a rock. Storms and deluges come, but they cannot shake this house. Eotvos said "We may seek God with all our rational powers, but we will find him first through our heart." Mother taught us the need of making a complete sacrifice of our hearts to God.
Wealthy mothers may leave their children a great heritage in material things, but none so valuable as the gift of faith. A poor mother who can give her child no other treasure except the treasure of faith, has richly endowed it. Though the fact may not be realized at first, it will be clear at her death, what a treasure a religious mother is.
It is the experience of pastors and teachers that the soul of a child is more receptive of the supernatural than the minds of adults. This explains the great anxiety of the Lord for the souls of children: "Suffer the little children to come to me, for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a child, shall not enter into it. Whosoever shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. For their angels see the face of my Father in heaven."
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