Leading Children into Jesus' Eucharistic Heart (by Erin Keller)
"That is it, we must dedicate ourselves to the education of youth,
renew in souls the solid foundations of a living faith in the Blessed Sacrament."
St. Madeline Sophie Barat,
foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart
I work with a children's prayer group in our parish, and through this work, and through the example of my own children, I have come to understand the basic need of children for silence. Children are capable of profound, contemplative experiences. As a Catholic, I have also had the privilege of experiencing the healing power of God through Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. I have found that children are especially receptive to encountering Christ in this way. Through witnessing the deep faith of children expressed during Eucharistic Adoration, I am more and more convinced that it is our responsibility as adult Catholics to educate and encourage the youth to enter into the silence of God's heart.
Children welcome silence
Children desire silence. They long for opportunities to simply ‘be’ and enjoy the present moment. In the children’s prayer group mentioned above, the first scripture we pray each year is 1 Kings 19: 9 – 13. This is the story of Elijah going to the cave to hear the voice of God. We talk about how Elijah expected to hear God’s voice in the power of nature, through the storms, earthquakes and fires, but he did not. He heard the voice of God in the quiet whisper. After reading this scripture, I ask them about the noises they have heard that day. They respond with such things as the car radio, the television, voices, video games, computer games, telephones, cars, planes. The list continues. When I ask if they have had any time with no noise in their day, very few hands go up. We discuss that when we gather together it will be an opportunity to listen in the quiet for God’s soft, gentle whisper.
In her book, Real Kids, Real Faith, Karen Marie Yust suggests that “far from being deprived by the intentional creation of silence in their lives, children need times of intentional quietness and stillness to remain in touch with their spirit and the divine force that animates them.” (Real Faith, Real Kids p. 96) As Catholics, we know that divine force to be the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is with us, regardless of age, in our contemplative prayer. “Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery.” (CCC 2724) This experience is not reserved for the adults only. Our children, humble and pure of heart, long to fix their gaze on Jesus, to be attentive to the Word of God and to be still in silent love.
O come, let us adore Him
In the Catholic Church, we are blessed to have Jesus present with us in the Blessed Sacrament. We experience union with Jesus each time we receive Him in the Eucharist. We also have the privilege to worship and adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass, a beautiful opportunity to enter into the silence of God's Heart. Again, there is not an age limit on this type of prayer. In a letter Pope John Paul II wrote in 1996 he urged “priests, religious and lay people to continue and redouble their efforts to teach the younger generations the meaning and value of Eucharistic adoration and devotion. How will young people be able to know the Lord if they are not introduced to the mystery of his presence?” (Children of Hope Website)
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “to adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.” (CCC 2097) This experience of adoration, where we choose to come before God in gratitude regardless of the situations in our lives, makes us His humble, little, spiritual children. It leads us into the posture of a child, the one we are to be like in order to enter the kingdom of God. (MT 18:3)
I have found this to be true with my own children. Five years ago, in the midst of my own healing process, I began to spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament. I experienced Jesus "putting me back together" as I sat in His presence. I frequently brought my four children, ages six to twelve, with me. At fires, they would complain about joining me, but soon they began to ask if they could go to Adoration. They would spend some time completely still and silent and then would pour into their journals the love letters the Trinity was writing on their hearts, both in words and in pictures. It did not take long for my children to realize that in time spent in Jesus's Eucharistic presence, the burden they carried upon entering was lifted and they walked back into their day restored.
Children's ability to grasp the divine presence in Eucharistic Adoration is also evident in the children’s prayer group. All of their activities, which may consist of opening praise and worship, scripture reading, guided meditation, moments of silence, questions to ponder, and prayer for individuals, are meant to continue to draw the children’s focus unto Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. The group meets weekly, and gathers for adoration every few months.
Last year we were preparing the groups for a time of adoration for the following week and leaders decided they would have the 4 - 6 year olds leave after 30 minutes of adoration. So during adoration the leaders of the 4 - 6 year olds told them they were going back to their rooms. Upon returning to their room, the children expressed sorrow that they were not allowed to stay longer with Jesus. They begged to be allowed to to adore Him longer. The next adoration hour, the preschoolers stayed with the older children and youth for the entire 90 minutes ... and loved it!
Raising a multitude of Adorers
St. Madeline Sophie Barat, foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart, desired to invite children to this deep understanding of the gift of the Eucharist. She once wrote, “If we had young pupils whom we formed in the spirit of adoration and reparation, now that would be different!” (Kilroy p. 39) Describing a time of prayer she said, “As I was praying before a lonely tabernacle, I saw hundreds, thousands of adorers before a perfect, universal monstrance raised above the Church, and I said, ‘That is it, we must dedicate ourselves to the education of youth, renew in souls the solid foundations of a living faith in the Blessed Sacrament.” (Kilory p. 39) St. Madeline Sophie Barat recognized the necessity to lead the children and youth into this devotion. She also recognized the power such a prayer would provide for th children's lives and for the world. In the introductory sentence of Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Letter “Door of Faith” he states, “the ‘door of faith’ is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church.” (Porta Fidei, p 1) This door is open to all baptized children of God.
Once we show the children the way to this door, they will not want to close it. At the end of the school year, a group of kindergartners were taken to the adoration chapel to talk to Jesus. They were asked to draw a picture of how they would spend their time with Jesus over the summer. After working diligently on their pictures, their teacher asked them to tell Jesus good bye. As the teacher reached the door she turned around to find children all standing at their pews watching another child standing before the tabernacle, explaining her picture to Jesus. She was pointing out every detail. When she finished, she blew Him a kiss, genuflected and joined her teacher at the door. One by one, the children approached the tabernacle to share their picture with Jesus. There was an elderly woman sitting in the back of the chapel. She asked the teacher in amazement, “Who are these children? Why are they here?” The woman was amazed at the profound simplicity of the children’s faith experienced in their Eucharistic Adoration time, in their purpose-filled silence. Let us pray, that like this woman, we as Church might allow ourselves to be amazed by the Holy Spirit working in the hearts in even the littlest ones among us, and to pray for them as they journey deeper into the heart of God.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, United States Catholic Conference, Washington, D.C., 1992
Children of Hope website,
Kilroy, Phil, Madeline Sophie Barat: A Life, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, 2000
New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition, Catholic Publishing Company, New Jersey, 2010
Pope Benedict XVI. “Apostolic Letter Door of Faith.”
Yust, Karen Marie. Real Kids, Real Faith; Practices for Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Lives. : Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2004