When I read your lovely letter I did not read the words of a lukewarm Catholic mother. On the contrary I felt that I was reading a description of one who is striving to bring the fullness of the faith to her dear children. What a lovely witness for your children that you had brought them to Mass, that you listened with attention to the homily and that your heart was moved to action. You see, we can not experience such grace moments in our life unless we are first docile of spirit and eager to be taught. Jesus uses our desire and brings us to an understanding of what His love means in our life. Zeal for the faith takes many forms but the most beautiful to my heart is that of a mother who longs for her children to know the Lord better. I am particularly moved by the holy witness of steadfast love and devotion exhibited through the prayers of a mother whose child or children have fallen from the faith. Her daily prayers are strength in the Lord. Her love for her children moves her to continue to pray for them when it appears all is lost. Many times zeal for the faith is the picture of quiet, steadfast attention to the spiritual journey of coming closer to the Lord.
My first suggestion would be for you to take just a few moments and thank the Lord for the beautiful children that He has given you to shepherd and lead closer to Him. The Lord has found in you a mother who has a heart for children and a desire to show them the fullness of the faith. Praising God and giving Him all the glory for the wonder of this task is uplifting and opens your heart to receive the teachings the Lord would have you hear. It is as though you are saying to the Lord, "Thank You, Jesus, for entrusting to me the care of Your precious children. I trust in Your desire to help me bring them closer to You. Teach me, Lord, I am listening to Your voice alone."
The first place to begin in my opinion in our instruction of children as we prepare them to receive the great blessing of the Mass, is to speak of the Mass in terms of love and desire. Suppose your children received tickets to a particular show or play whose reputation was wonderful. Suppose even further that the tickets were given at great cost by one whom you barely know yet desired to shower you with such a kindness. Imagine how you would talk to the children of the great privilege and blessing of being so honored. You would gently remind them of the great good fortune they received and that they should pay close attention to all that was performed on stage as this was such a wonderful opportunity. In addition I am certain that the children would find in your example a person who not only spoke about the blessing of such a gift but who behaved accordingly. You would be excited and eager to go to the play and to experience the event with your children. You would take extra care to point out the little nuances of the performance and surroundings that might be missed by their young eyes and hearts. They would see in you a mother who herself was intent and eager for the play to begin.
The Mass is the highest form of prayer. Our participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a prayer whose worth we can never fully appreciate this side of Heaven. We come to this experience with all our sorrows, longings, misfortunes and desires ready to receive the kindest and swiftest of healings. Our dear Lord waits for us, He longs for us and He surrounds us at this time with a foretaste of Heaven. Tell your dear children that during Mass the Lord is eagerly awaiting them and yearns to hear their prayers on behalf of themselves and those they love. Before Mass begins suggest that they kneel quietly and tell the Lord that they are so glad to be there. Suggest that they take a few moments to ask the Lord to enter their hearts and teach them what He wants them to learn that day. If they are confused or irritated about some event that occurred prior to their coming to Mass (perhaps a fuss with each other or you) now is the time to ask the Lord to heal their spirit and help them forget the hurt.
Very young children have a difficult time fully participating in the prayers and readings of the Mass. It is always a good idea to read the scripture readings with them beforehand (perhaps while they eat breakfast before attending Mass or the night before). After reading the scriptures with them explain the scripture in terms they can understand. Ask the Lord to help in this. He will give you the words to say. Do not be concerned if your children do not seem eager to understand or seem quiet while you talk. They are listening and they are taking it in. If you show them a witness that says, 'what I am about to tell you is very important or I wouldn't be taking the time to tell it', they will drink up what you are saying. Be brief but help them to understand the readings.
During the reception of the Eucharist those of your children who have not yet made their 1st Communion, should be encouraged to pray fervently for the sweet Jesus to enter their hearts in such a way that they are able to experience His peace and love for them. Jesus can not refuse such a prayer from a child.
After the Mass is completed spend a few moments in prayer before the Tabernacle. The children and I have the habit of saying 2 Our Fathers and 2 Hail Marys for their brothers and sisters who are away from home. It is a short time but it means so much to us. Encourage your children to spend that quiet time before the Lord in thanksgiving for the wonderful blessing received.
Do not be dismayed if your smallest children seem distracted during Mass. Be gentle in your correction and be loving in your attention to them. A dear friend of mine told me that her earliest memory was that of nestling close to her mom during Mass. She described falling asleep as she leaned upon her mother's shoulder. She said that her mom always seemed so calm and lovingly attentive to the Mass and to her that feeling of security and warmth was very comforting. If your children would find it easier to be quiet during Mass you may bring along an age appropriate religious book that they might enjoy looking at during those times that they are restless. Make certain that you take care to only have the books available for Mass times as they should be reserved for that time in order that they remain interesting. Rotate the material frequently so that the books do not become boring, etc.
When you leave Mass and as you are on the way home, ask your children what they gathered from the homily. Be interested in their remarks and take care to understand what they say.
Learning to fully appreciate the beauty and power of the Mass is a lifelong journey. Understanding this helps us to be ready to accept each level of the journey as we progress along our way. The most important truth with regard to our journey is our desire to know the Lord better and to come closer to Him that we might reap the great joy and benefit of His peace, the peace that passes all human understanding. Through this peace we are better able to receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit whose presence in our life makes it possible to journey to our Heaven home.
I admire you and believe that in you your dear children have a great gift. You are a mother who desires the best food for your children. Your desire that they know Jesus.
Let us pray together a Hail Mary for all those children who are not fed today with the knowledge of the Lord's great love for them. Let us offer our prayers that those who love them will see the necessity of bringing them to the Lord. Let us offer our prayers for all those children whose spirits are wounded through neglect and poverty. Amen.
Sending out a prayer,