instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, March 07, 2004

That will fix the Manichees!

Last Friday, I spoke to my children's Catholic school classes (one third grade, one first grade) about being a Lay Dominican. The teachers at our parochial school love to have parents come in and speak to the kids, and the kids like the break from learning.

Now, I've been trying to explain what a Lay Dominican is to my wife for about six years, so I didn't have much hope in getting too much across to the eight- and six-year-olds. But I figured that if, after twenty minutes, I left them with the impression that there was some guy named St. Dominic and I am a Dominican which has something to do with prayer and I am not a priest, I would have been successful.

Well, I'm not sure what impression I left them with, but I didn't leave either class in anywhere near twenty minutes. Which, I suppose, says something about being a Lay Dominican in itself. I mentioned in passing to the third grade teacher that, since Dominicans love the Rosary, I'd be happy to come back and talk to her class about the Rosary for two or three hours; she thought that sounded great, but maybe in fifteen minute blocks. After what I'd done to her daily lesson plan, which had me slotted for fifteen minutes, I bet she was picturing me keeping the kids after school just to finish the introduction to the history of meditative Christian prayer.

What I wasn't really expecting was for the kids to apply what I was saying to... well, to anything, honestly, but in particular to their schoolwork. But the third graders are studying saints in the Church, so most of their questions were about saints (and had I given that fact much thought, I wouldn't have handed out the holy cards with twenty-three unidentified Dominican saints on them before I asked if there were any questions). The first graders are studying personal responsibility, so most of their questions were about what happens if you don't follow all the rules in the Rule.

And although what I said was mostly about the history of the Order and the four pillars of Dominican Life (prayer, study, community, and preaching), I did slip in a few traces of preaching. Mostly against Catharism, because you can never be too careful, but also a bit about the efficacy of prayer. ("No, Timmy, not 'iffixy.' Eff ic a cy. 'Efficacy.' It means possessing the power to produce an effect. What do they teach you here?")

I mention all this primarily because I think children can stand to see more examples of people who care about their faith who don't have to. Priests and Catholic school teachers more or less have to talk about faith and prayer and Jesus. The sight of a grown-up who isn't a priest or a teacher or your own parent talking about Who Jesus is and what difference He makes is not something Catholic kids -- or their teachers and parents, for that matter -- see every day. Planting a seed that a living faith can be something we seek out rather than something imposed on us just might bear abundant fruit one day.

You would know better than I whether you have anything to say to kids at a nearby Catholic school, and how to go about arranging the chance to say it. But don't think you can't do it just because you never have. I'd certainly never chanted a Latin hymn to a room full of eight year olds before Friday.