Tag Archives: children

Morning Thoughts: Saint Francis for 4-year-olds (and you and me)

 

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“Saint Francis of Assisi”, coloring book page, colored by a “4-year-old”

 

(My wife teaches 4-year-olds in a Catholic elementary school. The school’s patron saint is Saint Francis. They call this week “Saint Francis Week” and hold various events throughout the week to celebrate the feast of this great saint (Oct. 4th). My wife and her co-teacher were looking for a short, simple biography that would be appropriate for their 4-year-old students. They didn’t find anything that seemed to be the right fit. So here’s what I jotted down for their pre-K-4 class. The kids really seemed to enjoy it. Maybe you will too. Let us “become like little children”.)


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Saint Francis, a Knight for God

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There once was a young man. He lived in a land called Italy. He lived a very long time ago. He lived over 800 hundred years ago!

He lived with his family in a small city named Assisi.

The young man was quite silly. He loved to dream and he loved to sing and he loved to dance. He loved to play with his friends all day long.

The young man’s name was Francis.

His father wanted Francis to be more serious. His father wanted Francis to be just like him. He wanted him to sell expensive fabric to people who were very rich. Fabric is what you use to make pretty things like curtains, tablecloths, and clothes.

Francis’ father wanted him to work in the family shop. But Francis was not very interested in that kind of work. Francis wanted to be a great knight!

And one day Francis went off to do just that.

Francis went off to become a knight. He began to travel to another city where he would fight with a sword and a shield. Francis thought that he would become a great hero.

But on his way Francis got very sick. He had to return to his home. His mother took care of him. And while Francis was getting better he began to dream of different adventures.

He began to spend a lot of time walking around the woods and looking at the flowers and at the trees. He began to watch closely all the animals, especially the birds that flew high up into the sky. Francis began to think a lot about God!

Francis began to dream about heaven. He began to wonder about love. He saw that there was another kind of knight!

Francis decided that he would be a knight for God.

Francis wanted Jesus to be his king and for Mary to be his queen.

Francis no longer wanted to use a sword or a shield. No, Francis wanted to teach all the world how to love. Francis wanted to sing and dance and show everyone how be more like Jesus.

He began to live very simply. He had very few things. His only clothing was an old brown robe. He lived almost like a little animal in the forest. Francis was very free. Francis was filled with joy. He was very happy.

And soon many other young men came to join him. They too wanted to be knights for God. They all lived together. They called each other brother. They shared all they had. They were kind to each other. They loved God together.

And one day, even a young lady wanted to join. She brought other ladies and they started a home of their own. They called each other sister. That young lady’s name was Clare.

A new type of family was beginning to grow. A family who lives very much like Jesus. We call them Franciscans.

We now call that young man, Saint Francis. We now call that young lady, Saint Clare.

Saint Francis and Saint Clare are now in heaven with Jesus and Mary and all the holy angels and saints. They live in perfect peace with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. They see us right now. They pray for us too.

Hey, who knows, maybe one day a few of you boys and girls may become knights and ladies of God, like our patron saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare!


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—Howard Hain

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Guardian Angels

Ángel_de_la_Guarda

We usually associate Guardian Angels with children. That’s what Jesus does in the gospel reading for their feast on October 2nd. You can’t get into heaven unless you become like little children whose “angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18,1-5,10)

That’s the way artists, like the above, usually picture Guardian Angels– with children, protecting and guiding them as they go on their way in a dangerous world.

Yet, St. Bernard says that angels are with us all our lives because, whether we know it or not, we’re always children. “They are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father. We are God’s children although it does not seem so, because we are still but small children under guardians and trustees, and for the present little better than slaves.”

However smart or independent or grown-up we are, we’re still little kids, and God, who knows we are always little kids gives us “loyal, prudent, powerful” protectors and guides. “They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray.”

I was thinking of the “principle of subsidiarity” on the feastday of the Guardian Angels. God spreads  power around. I was also thinking that sometime ago I nearly hit a truck ahead of me but something suddenly stopped me. “Thanks.”

O God, in your infinite providence you deign to send your holy angels to be our guardians. Grant to us who pray to you

that we may be defended by them in this life

and rejoice with them in the next.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

Friday Thoughts: Joy of Minds Made Pure


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The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”

—Revelation 21:5


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There’s a place

Where walls are made of flowers

And petals are made of uncut stones.

Where virtue grows untold

And innocence can simply be itself.

Where earth and water mix

But never make mud.

The rain continually falls,

The sun always shines,

The dew remains sight unseen.

Laughter, joyful laughter

Tills the soil.

Weeds are welcome,

No plant chokes another.

The seasons,

They come and go,

The temperature remains the same.

Innocence. Innocence. Innocence.

The constant refrain.

Such a place exists.

It lowers from the sky

While within a playground

Filled with screaming kids.


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Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

—Revelation 21:1-4


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: Taste and See

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“What does it taste like?”

This is the main question I hear from eight-year-olds who are about to make their First Holy Communion.

At first, I confess, I saw it as quite cute, “childlike” if you will— their little focus on the very obvious—the actual physical experience of eating something—something they have never eaten before.

But once again, the “teacher’ plays the fool. No, not “plays” the fool, in this case the “teacher” is actually the fool.

Grownups can be so busy moving on to the “real” point that they often miss the healthiest part of the meal.

And we think it’s the children who are obsessed with sweets?

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Of course, I was not the one to correct my own error. The only true teacher, Jesus, and the only true guide, The Holy Spirit, once again came to the rescue.

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It was about 8:20 on an ordinary weekday morning. I had just left the pew and got in line to receive Communion. And as I walked toward the altar I found myself quietly asking: “What does it taste like?”

There I was, a full-fledged adult, a “mature” believer, in line with all the eight-year olds of the world—though with one great exception—I was probably the only one who lacked sincerity.

Not that I didn’t really wonder what it tastes like. I did. But my “bigness” wouldn’t leave good enough alone. I quickly translated the simple into the complex: “What does it taste like?” became “What is heaven like?”

Not a bad question, of course. But not the one being asked. Once again, I was rushing right to dessert. But not so the eight-year-old. No, the eight-year-old is much more straightforward, sincere, genuine, and ironically, no nonsense. He and she are much more down-to-earth, which in this case, strangely enough, brings them much closer to heaven.

Their question is simply what it seems. They have no hidden pomposity dressed up as profundity. They are simply asking a quite simple question.

“What does it taste like?”

And if there’s any need for more elaboration concerning such a straightforward question, it should only make their point simpler, not more complex. For example, I guess in order to help us adults see more clearly what they mean, perhaps it’s safe to say that the eight-year-old is literally asking: “What does this thing that I am about to put in my mouth, that you tell me is the real, actual body of Jesus Christ, a man who died almost two-thousand years ago, really taste like?”

Good question.

And to allow the eight-year-old in me to answer, I say, it kind of tastes like cardboard.

Good answer.

It’s dry, bland, you might even say, stale.

Kind of what you’d expect, at best, from something two-thousand-years-old.

Kind of what mankind has tasted on a daily basis since the beginning of time, since the time Adam and Eve were sent forth from the garden to work for their daily bread.

Life can be like cardboard.

It can be dry, bland, you might even say, stale.

It can even be what we come to expect.

At least for us adults, for those of us who only take things at face value.

For, you see, the child in his or her utterly face-value question reveals his or her astounding trust and playfulness within the much deeper mystery of what truly exists but cannot be seen. For there is another question, one that eight-year-olds don’t ask nearly as often when it comes to First Holy Communion.

They hardly ever ask: “How can that be?”

They move right past the “how” to get to the “taste and see.

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No matter the age, what brings sincerity is faith, and what increases faith is sincerity.

Therefore all questions safely asked from under the umbrella of faith are not questions casting doubt.

No, they are genuine gestures of childlike wonder, that simply ask in one way or another:

“What is this faithful reality going to be like for me?”


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“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

—Psalm 34:9


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: A Grain of Salt

 

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Winslow Homer, “Snap the Whip”, 1872, (The Met)

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Lord, I don’t want to be witty, or smart, or cute.

I don’t want to be clever, or interesting, or different.

I don’t want to be important.

One of a kind.

I don’t want to want to be anything.

You were.

You are.

You will be.

“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

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A few days ago my daughter was eating a piece of toast for breakfast. It was a nice piece of toast, I prepared it my myself. Golden brown. A good amount of very good olive oil, from a little can my sister-in-law gifted us after a trip to Portugal. And I cracked some sea salt. Beautiful little crystals atop virgin oil upon a bed of grain and wheat, all held aloft by a bit of yeast.

She was eating away. Then I heard a shriek. It seems a little stink bug landed on the edge of her plate. Well, that was the end of breakfast.

Like a little dinosaur. I’m pretty sure they’re harmless. Apparently, they’re not from the United States. It seems they’ve recently made their way over from China. They’re immigrants, if you will. Or perhaps ‘missionaries’ is a better way to put it, at least from the stink bug’s perspective.

They’ve got a job after all, like the rest of us. I doubt they complain though. I also doubt that the first little guy to make his way across the great ocean to arrive at our shores had any idea he was discovering a whole new world. The Christopher Columbus of stink bugs. But there’s no statue. No holiday. No day off. No big sale at Macy’s honoring his (or her) accomplishment.

Nonetheless, his relative was in my home the other day and landed on my daughter’s plate, leaving me wondering if she had eaten enough, and also somewhat worried she wouldn’t have enough energy to make it through the first half of the day.

She did. The day went on. The bug was removed. As far as my daughter’s relationship with stink bugs specifically or with insects in general, we’ll just have to wait and see.

———

I don’t know why that little bug is on my mind. I guess I admire him. His obedience.

God created that little bug, both his kind and him individually. I am therefore to love him:

Love God in all His creation. Love all of God’s creation for His sake.

In love with a bug.

Hey, who knows?

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I’m having fun. Life is wonderful. If only we could all just play. All day. No homework. No tests. No goals of earning admittance.

I laugh. I smile. I think again. My little girl. All children. It’s amazing what they say. What the Holy Spirit speaks through living innocence:

“I want to fall into the Sun…and go deep, deep, deep…and the clouds will tickle me…”

———

When parents speak of the little things they’re children say, I imagine most listeners take it with a grain of salt.

But parents know what they’ve heard, spoken or not.

Surely God knows.

After all, He’s a parent too.

And he wants us to play.

Stink bugs and all.


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—Howard Hain

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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/11140

From the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Snap the Whip

Artist: Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine) Date: 1872
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“In the years after America’s brutal Civil War (1861-65), children—as embodiments of innocence and the promise of America’s future—became a popular artistic subject. Snap the Whip, one of Homer’s most beloved works, evoked nostalgia for the nation’s agrarian past as the population shifted to cities, and the little red schoolhouse faded from memory. Released from their lessons, the exuberant bare-footed boys engage in a spirited game of snap the whip, which required teamwork, strength, and calculation—all important skills for a reuniting country…”

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Morning Thoughts: Glory Be To The Father

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Berthe Morisot, “Eugene Manet and His Daughter in the Garden”, 1883


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“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14


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I spent most of the day with my two-year-old daughter. I intended to work on a piece concerning the Garden of Eden. Well, “most of the day” turned into most of the evening, my wife needing to attend a wake for the father of an old friend. So instead I share an innocent blessing.

I have had the privilege to spend a great amount of time the last two years witnessing my child’s growth. One beautiful result is a strong attachment that is quite reciprocal. One practical consequence is many long goodbyes. Francesca can get quite upset to see me leave. I do what I can at the door to be consoling. Ensuring her that I’ll be back, engaging in a series of hugs and kisses, allowing her to flick the light switch on and off a few dozen times—and then, before the hopefully peaceful handoff to my wife, I anoint her little forehead with the Sign of the Cross and quietly say a prayer.

One particular morning a few months back I was running late, and when it came time to leave, Francesca had a particularly tough time letting go. After the regular routine, she continued to cry and cling to my neck. I managed to pry her off and get her to stand on her own, but all the while she continued to point at my head. I confess I was losing composure. I was about to just close the door, though it kills me to leave without feeling that I have ensured her peace. I tried once more to explain that I’d be back. She continued to jump up and down and point toward my brow. I realized that she was identifying the large freckle on my forehead. You need to understand that to Francesca all freckles are “booboos.”

I pacified her by bending over so that her forefinger could touch the dark spot. That didn’t do it. Booboos need to be kissed. So now with little patience, I patronizingly knelt on the foyer side of the door. And Francesca pressed her lips to my forehead. I remained on my knees, feeling the awesome weight of humility.

Here I was concerned about blessing my child, about being the spiritual caretaker, the father in both body and spirit—and yet it is Francesca who blesses me, who anoints my forehead and consecrates my day.

I descended the stairs feeling incredibly foolish, walking out into the world with a renewed awareness of just how little I control.

My daughter and I have the same father.

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“Forgive me Lord, for not being as good a father to her as You are to me. Thank You Lord, for trusting me with such a tremendous responsibility. Praise You Lord, for all the beauty that resides within this precious child. May I serve You Lord, by fulfilling Your will for her as made manifest through me.”

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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: Playing Around

Bruegel, Children's Games, 1560

Bruegel, “Children’s Games”, (1560)

 

…and a little child will lead them.

—Isaiah 11:6

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It’s the simple moments. It’s playing hide-and-seek. It’s pretending that what isn’t is.

Like a game made-up as we go, with only a single rule: It has to make us laugh.

But not the kind of laughter that hurts anyone or anything. No, it has to be true laughter, the kind that comes from and through kindness, through truly wanting to be with one another—so much so that we’ll make up just about any old game, just as long as we wont have to go our separate ways.

“Life” then becomes one big beautiful “excuse” to stay together, and our “actions” take on a tremendously meaningful fashion. They become like soft pieces of colorful clothing gently placed upon our joy-filled affections.

Little children know this through and through. They’re constantly changing and tailoring their “clothes”, adapting and accessorizing as they go, with only one goal in mind: for the “fun” to continue. But the fun they seek is not the kind that you and I normally desire—for little children know what few adults remember. They’re not so easily tricked. They know that fun, true fun, has very little to do with the actual game being played, in and of itself. For little children it’s all about what the game, as a mere instrument, allows them to experience—the freedom to let out love.

That’s why the type of game they play can turn on a dime. It just doesn’t matter.

Rules? Scores? Time-limits?

Who cares about stuff like that?

Are we “laughing”? Are we having “fun”? Are we still “with each other”?

Are we still in love?

These are the only questions that matter to a small child!

And with prayer it is much the same. Saints make up all kinds of “games” in order to “excuse” the time that they want so desperately to spend with God. They play all kinds of little games. They slide beads, they sing little songs, they pretend to be statues while playing hide-and-seek with the Lord, and some—the ones that the world most often calls crazy—even dream up little tales and fanciful stories, imagining along with God what could be if only everyone in the world would join in and play together.

But this is no big secret. All saints in one way or another come to say the same thing: Every technique, every approach, every means of entering into prayer…each and every one…they’re all part of one giant “excuse”, one seemingly never-ending “game”. For at the end of the day, techniques and approaches are at best a mere prelude to divine laughter—that infant-like sound composed of pure joy, that only the Love of God can bring into being.

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He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

—Mark 10: 14-16

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—Howard Hain

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