Saturday, August 25, 2007

Emi Takes a Friend to Sunday School

Last weekend both sets of Emi’s grandparents were gathered at her house in preparation for her sister Lianna’s baptism. I had brought an old CD player with me —a purple one, her favorite color alongside pink. Emi was thrilled. We were upstairs in her room (Oy!) listening to the St. Paul’s Children Choir CD and playing doll house while the others were having a good time “visiting”. Emi was singing along. “O Lord, open Thou my lips… Away in a manger… I am Jesus’ little lamb…” The liturgical hymns were familiar and comfortable to her. She was in heaven! She soon designated one part of her room as “church” and the other “room.”

“Grammy,” she asked, “will you come to Sunday School with me? You can be my friend.” I agreed we could work that out. She danced around with joy.

When we finally went downstairs to join her parents and the rest of the grandparents we found they had been making other plans. Sunday School began at 9:30. They wanted to meet at Shoney’s for breakfast at 9. That meant Sunday School would have to take a pass on Lianna’s Baptism Day if that plan stayed as it was.

I put the question to Emi. “Emi, do you want to go get pancakes at Shoney’s, or do you want to go to Sunday School?” She loves her pancakes, and she knows what going to Shoney’s is all about.

Emi didn’t hesitate. “I want to go to Sunday School.”

“Even if it’s blueberry pancakes?”

“No, Grammy. I’m going to Sunday School and you’re going with me. You’re going to be my friend.”

Plans changed. We met at Shoney’s at 8. Emi got her pancakes and then went to Sunday School with Grammy as her friend. Afterward her baby sister Lianna slept through her baptism.

It was a joy to see Emi so eager to go off to Sunday School. I asked her later what she learned. “Jesus,” she replied. Then she busied herself with preparations for her sister’s baptism. I was wearing a pin remembering my own baptism. On it are a crucifix, a shell with my baptismal birthdate, and a crown with crosses. Emi was especially enthralled with the crown, so I explained that she has one, too. It’s the Crown of Life that Jesus gave her in her baptism and will give her one day. Lianna was going to receive hers when the water hit her head and Pr. Peters said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Emi was fascinated. So much so that when the first bit of water hit her sister’s head she gasped. Throughout the service “crown” references continued to come up. If I didn’t catch it to point out to Emi, she pointed it out to me: “He said crown!” Later she asked Pr. Peters, “You know what Lianna has? A crown.”

Emi will be four in November. Catechesis happens when parents and other authorities take the time to see that it rightly does. It’s a part of her life, not an interruption into it, postponing the regularly scheduled daily programming. For Emi, catechesis is her habit of life.

We have found in our school that children who pray the Catechism daily and learn to judge their actions by its teachings also learn to think differently. They not only place their own actions under the Catechism, they evaluate the world around them by the same. For example, when they read books they make assessments of the characters and their values according to the Catechism. This becomes a valuable tool. Padraic Column’s Children’s Homer proves that in war there are noble men among both friend and foe. Yet, when none worships the true God, there are no good deeds at all. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The House in the Big Woods repeatedly demonstrates the deviltry that lurks behind disobeying one’s parents.

Invariably there is an expectation of forgiveness from my students for characters who have erred and repented in their readings. When it is not forthcoming the students immediately notice and are dismayed. On the other hand, the students also recognize that an oft-repeated “apology” for the same offense without the demonstration of a lesson learned means a lack of true repentance.

Even while watching movies one or another will exclaim, “Hey! That’s like what Jesus does for us.” or “They treated him like Judas. They didn’t forgive him.” Sometimes it takes a bit of work to get to what their connection is, but eventually it can be seen.

Because the Catechism is foremost in their minds, it is that which shapes their thoughts. These children begin at the age of four not just memorizing the Catechism, but also applying it to the way they work and play at school.

Two brothers ran down the hallway. One slipped into my classroom through one door and out the other, slamming it behind him. He was playing hide-n-chase with his younger brother. So I called the older one over. He’s my student.

I explained the facts of life to him: I’m nearly 99 years old and already use a cane to get around. His slamming of the door just jars my old arthritic bones even more. Does he want to break them with all that slamming and jostling?

Well, of course he didn’t. He just wanted to hide from his brother. By then the younger one had joined us.

So did he want to slip up and fall and crack his head open? Or did he maybe want to catch his brother’s fingers in the door and hurt them?

Well, of course he didn’t. He just wanted to play with his brother.

Playing with his brother is great, but this wasn’t the place for it. That was for outside, not inside. Inside someone could get hurt, and getting hurt was what commandment?

“You shall not commit adultery,” he replied.

“I don’t think so,” I answered. “You aren’t married yet.”

He nailed it the next time. So he and his brother repeated the Fifth with meaning, and then the Fourth because they’d been told already not to run in school. And then the First, of course.

After the apology came the forgiveness.

This, too, is how Emi is learning to live. Jesus gave her a crown in baptism, and holds it for her forever. Not even when she sins does she lose this crown. We caught her saying “I lost my crown” after she had gotten into trouble. I didn’t make connections until after a while she said, “I got my crown back again.” So I explained to her, “Emi, Jesus holds your crown for you forever. You never lose it, no matter what you do. You are baptized. Jesus holds you as His own. Jesus holds Lianna as His own. You are both His special princesses, and He has your crown forever. Baptism means you never lose your crown.”

We catechize because we baptize. Can’t have one without the other.