‘Let the children come to me’
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, one finds the story of Jesus beckoning children to come to him. He says, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19:14). This scripture passage is serving as the foundation for a growing children’s eucharistic adoration movement within the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese. According to Father Daniel Whelan, parochial vicar at Fort Wayne’s Our Lady of Good Hope Parish and chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital, encouraging children to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is a vital part of spiritual development. “Teaching them how to be before the Lord and training them at an earlier stage of their life is only going to help them develop their prayer life as the years progress,” he said.
At least three parishes within the diocese are now offering times for children to have that experience. Each has its own format.
Father Whelan helped establish a special adoration hour for the religious education program at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Fort Wayne. Offered twice during the school year, it includes songs, incense, scripture, prayerful silence and some teaching time. Students are allowed to move around occasionally, and are not stuck in their seats: To that end, Father Whelan incorporates short moments of laying prostrate before the Lord. “I want them to use all aspects of their body: We are body and spirit. So I want them out of their pews and around me in the sanctuary.”
He also processes through the aisles holding the monstrance with a humeral veil, inviting the children to touch the vestment as he passes. Director of religious education Kelsey Spoltman said, “Students really found that to be a very powerful moment, as they watched Jesus process toward them.”
St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne, is another parish that offers adoration for students in its grade school and religious education program. There is a time for families to attend adoration together with their small children as well.
Debbie Blackburn is the parish’s director of religious education, and said there really is no organized format for the adoration time other than the prayers at the beginning and end. “It’s just an hour when families can come to adore the Blessed Sacrament and not have to worry about interrupting, or feeling like their children are too loud,” she said. The children can read books, draw, and pray silently or out loud. “Some adults say it’s noisy with all the kids in there. For me, I can see Jesus in those children. Seeing those children take part in worshiping him is very spiritually moving,” Blackburn continued.
That sentiment is echoed by Mary McLaughlin, a teacher at Fort Wayne’s Most Precious Blood School. McLaughlin established an adoration elective class for students in sixth through eighth grade. She said a special moment for her is when students choose to kneel before the monstrance. “There’s some children that go up five, six, seven times. Every time they do that, I can’t help but smile. It’s so powerful and moving. Sometimes I’ve cried when I see them go up there.” The adoration time begins with the lighting of a candle and the sharing of prayer intentions, before students take a seat and choose their own way to adore Jesus. This can include writing in their prayer journals, reading their Bibles, kneeling in front of the altar or just sitting in the presence of the Lord. At the end, they stand in a circle around the monstrance and sing Matt Maher’s “Lord, I Need You.”
“This is different than what I know of adult adoration,” McLaughlin said. “There’s more movement, more being free.”
When St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner Maria Victoria discovered the peace and grace of adoration, she wanted to share it with her children. “Why not start eucharistic adoration when they’re young?” she asked herself. “By the time they’re in high school and college, they’re distracted. The world is pulling them in so many different directions. This is just not one of the things they’re going to go for automatically, unless it’s been instilled in them while they’re young.”
She reserved one hour of the parish’s weekly eucharistic adoration time just for families. “I wanted a safe spot where moms could nurse, or if a little one should cry, who cares? We’re all moms. The kids could color or eat Cheerios, or if they needed to walk around to get the wiggles out, they could.” Victoria also said it has proven to be a much-needed respite for parents. “We need that quiet time to just sit before him and give it all to him.”
Amber Miller attends the children’s adoration hour at St. Elizabeth, and noticed that older adults seem to enjoy coming too. “They kind of miss the noise and they get to hear the kids and see them interact with Jesus.” Her 8-year-old daughter Elainna Miller says when she goes to adoration she “talks to Jesus and prays an Our Father and Hail Mary.”
Father Whelan encourages parents to bring their children to adoration even if their parish doesn’t have a special time set aside: “If it’s just a few minutes with your kids, you’re making a lasting impression. They’re seeing what is important in life: that is, to adore the Lord and live for the Lord.”
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