CHILDREN AND CHURCH
Today is Sunday. Feliz Domingo. Bon dimanche. Happy Sunday.
I went to the 9 AM Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmen right here in my neighborhood in Panama City, Panama. It’s a neighborhood parish, a Carmelite Parish and a tourist parish all in one beautiful church.
While I am a retired priest here, I do not yet have permission from the local archbishop to celebrate the Church’s Sacraments publicly or privately so I take my place in the pew, which I admit is quite pleasant. I can see a lot of what the Mass is all about from a pew perspective.
The first thing I noticed were parents and their young children. It’s a big chore to bring a family to Mass and so I appreciate the effort. Children find themselves in a big building most often without access to what we adults have, that is a fundamental understanding of where we are. Yet, at the same time, children come into church with a fundamental openness to where they are. They want to see and touch and smell, to learn more about where they are. By contrast, one of the problems of being an adult is that while we are said to understand where we are, we kind of suffer from atrophy of the senses. We see, smell and touch things but not without a sense of discovery.
Case in point. In this church, near the front there is a glass cabinet in which the nativity scene is displayed. I remember looking at it last week and then just walking away thinking that it was interesting to have the nativity on display in August. Today, I saw a mother holding her young daughter in front of the display. The child loved it. Her finger pointed to this and then to that figure. As God did in the incarnation, the girl was making a connection with the real world: animals like sheep and oxen; people carrying things like fruit and lanterns; a baby at the center of attention. Maybe she knew the nativity story, I don’t know. What matters is that she was discovering, opening her mind to what we call the nativity scene and, if she doesn’t later shut her inquisitiveness down, she will enter the mystery of the incarnation of God…which is no small potatoes.
After the Mass ended and people were filing out, one little girl was visibly enamored of the beautiful white flower arrangements that were set at the end of pews. These must have been part of Saturday wedding and left behind. In particular, the girl saw a white long-stemmed rose. The dad took the rose from the arrangement and gave it to his daughter who held it as if it were the only rose in the world. Some might disagree with what the dad did, but all things being equal the flowers were probably going to be thrown away on Monday and adults, as I mentioned earlier, would likely not notice a missing rose.
For those two little girls on this Sunday morning, the church as a place offered gifts to them beyond all imagining. Simple gifts, like bread and wine. I hope the little girls are continually transformed by nativity figures and beautiful white roses.