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Making a place at the table for our children

My parents are immensely blessed to have 12 grandchildren, from the age of ten to two and a half months. When our entire family gets together, there are eight boys running around and four girls playing a little more calmly. Twins? We have two sets, one identical and one fraternal.

A neighbor once asked my mom if she was running a daycare out of her home, as the sounds of children laughing, crying, or screaming — often some combination of those three — echoes from their backyard. Family gatherings are important, despite the high decibel level.

As our family gathers, like most families, we gather around the kitchen table. The menu is sometimes set a few days before, with trays of egg rolls ordered from a local grocery store or something frozen taken out to thaw. Sometimes, we play the fun game of “what’s in the pantry and let’s figure out what to feed all these kids.”

We gather to celebrate life’s accomplishments and the smaller moments in between. Just a few weekends ago, our family came together for a funeral on Saturday and my youngest niece’s baptism on Sunday. Birthdays are punctuated with my mom, an early childhood educator for over 25 years, leading the kids in a call and repeat: “And thank you God … for John Paul … being born … 11 years ago today.”

In addition to our preparations for Thanksgiving, my family is also getting ready for my only sister to get married on the following Saturday. (Yes, my sister and her fiancé are getting married during the Iron Bowl. We pull for LSU, so Geaux Tigers.) My youngest nephew on my wife’s side of the family will also be baptized over the same weekend.

It’s safe to say that we have a lot going on! Through it all though, our family will make the time for prayer and Sunday Mass. When our entire family gets together, it takes a few pews to fit us all together; with half of the grandchildren age six or younger, there is some restlessness and wiggling that happens during Mass.

I had someone stop me after Mass a few weeks ago after a poor performance from my kids. They felt personally encouraged that we stayed and persisted in our attempts to have our children participate in the Mass. Their children were now young adults, and they wished that they had persevered, to make Mass more of a priority, to help pass along the faith.

It would be very odd and very noticeable if for Thanksgiving, we found a babysitter and did not bring our children to celebrate and to share that special meal with the adults. It might be a tad calmer, but I would argue that it would be less full of life without a little noise from children. My sister, knowing full well how her nephews and nieces can behave, wanted to have all of them in the wedding because what kind of family celebration would it be without the children.

To my fellow parents, bring your children to Mass every Sunday. Yes, family and extracurricular schedules often pose a challenge to get to Mass. Yes, my kids hate getting dressed a little nicer and we can never find our shoes. Yes, it can be difficult to individually pray at times. Yes, there may be some looks if your toddler acts like a toddler and doesn’t use their inside voice. Yes, the post Mass donut is just more sugar that will burn up while they get buckled into the car.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14) As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King and look forward to Advent, it is clear that we have an invitation from our Lord to bring our children and young people closer to Him. Those with a childlike faith and those who foster authentic, missionary discipleship in youth are building the Kingdom here and now.

As Catholics, we celebrate a Thanksgiving each and every time we participate in the Mass, as the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” In can be challenging to live with an attitude of gratitude, but we gather together as God’s family to worship and to give thanks for the immense grace poured out on us. As primary catechists of their children, parents are the first teachers that the Eucharist is a meal, a memorial, and a sacrifice. If we are not in Mass to teach them that, it is harder for them to encounter Jesus on a personal level and to fall in love with the Lord and all that the Church teaches.

By our baptism, we belong to the family of God. Family gatherings are important. The Mass is the primary way for our family to come together and to celebrate a meal together. There is a place at the table for you, and your children have a seat, too. I look forward to seeing you all in the Eucharist.

— Adam Ganucheau is the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile. He may be emailed at aganucheau@mobarch.org

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