Being able to communicate is an important aspect of being human. Miscommunication or lack of communication has sparked many a battle/war, divorce or chasm at work, home or between friends. When we first adopted our daughter, Faith in 2009, we quickly learned that communication was going to come in a whole new way for us - and even now, nearly 4 years later, our family continues to work on strengthening this aspect of our lives - for us we've chosen American Sign Language as her primary language, and English as her secondary. My daughter Faith is profoundly deaf, it is incredibly fascinating that modern medicine can run a series of tests and reveal the cause of her complete deafness to be genetic.
At nearly 4 years old, when she joined our family she could not speak, read lips, sign, read or write. She had 2 ways of communicating her feelings: 1. Thumbs up; and 2. Snarling. That was it. For attention she would misbehave or just take it upon herself to get what she needed. Although I would consider her a master of communication, subtly and exact meaning, in more instances that I would like, are completely lost. It is not so much frustrating as sad for me because I long for her to always be understood, and I, of course, long for her to know exactly what I am intending to share with her Whether it be a home school lesson, a set of directions, or just how much I lover her. Even the most skilled interpreters, who we were so blessed to have with us in Rio, can through the intricacy of language not always communicate the precise message intended to give. Which I experienced myself when I would either witness exchanges or in my own experiences of trying to share my thoughts or ideas. This was definitely more true for when they were voicing my very imperfect ASL versus interpreting my spoken language into ASL but still I witnessed enough examples of this - among others in our group as well, to know that there is sometimes things that, as they say, are lost in translation.
What fascinated me was the comparison of such a phenomenon of communication break-down to sharing, witnessing or teaching our faith to others. Catholicism has a language of it's very own -- when we through out words, concepts and ideas such as: sacraments, consubstantiation, novenas, indulgences, rosary, liturgy, grace, and scapular - just to name few (very few). There are many people who were ill-prepared to practice their faith, and the saddest part is they don't know, what they don't know. In the misinterpretation of the Church's teachings and beliefs, many of drifted away completely unaware that what they have left doesn't even exist - never have been taught the true Catholic faith. I am a cradle Catholic, which means I have grown up Catholic - it what I relate to culturally and spiritually. However, for 30+ years of being a Catholic, I had many wrong ideas of the faith I claimed as my own. I sometimes laugh at the lack of knowledge I possessed, some of the more comical errors or omissions included not knowing the Readings during the Mass were scripture (aka from the Bible) - I'm not exactly sure where I thought they came from - I guess I just thought Priests got together and wrote all these great stories to use in the liturgy (aka Mass). I also used to say that there was no Hell, that this was our experience of Hell and I was pretty sure we all went to Heaven - I had no concept of God's mercy which does open Heaven's gates BUT ALSO His justice, both of which results of my choice in how I will use my own Free Will.
The beauty is -- that even after only ten days my ASL skills had improved immensely, while I still struggled to understand the language being presented to me, it was improving my leaps and bounds. The more I learned of the structure of the language, saw it used, and practiced these new skills with native users of the language, the better I was getting. This lesson can so easily be transferred to growing in the knowledge, use and practice of our faith. The more time we spend learning of the structure of the Catholic Faith - so carefully constructed by the early Church, and still to this day prayerfully guided. When we witness it used - through participating in the Mass, Catholic events and every day life, and most importantly step out of ourselves to no longer be observers but active participants -- making our mistakes, but yet working hard to acquire a better grasp on the faith. At the core is communication - there will be misunderstanding, but without an effort to communicate at all, there will never be an improvement.
My children love going to Baptisms. Maybe it is because they LOVE babies. Maybe it is because they know there will probably be cake later on. But I think it may be more than that. I will often watch them watch the ritual as the Sacrament is being conferred upon the infant and there is an interest and intensity that speaks of something more that cuteness and confections.
As we homeschool, we talk in depth about the Sacrament of Baptism at least once a year. I describe the physical happenings of claiming the baby for Christ with the Sign of the Cross on the baby’s forehead, the pouring of the water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the anointing with Chrism a symbol of strength for the new Christian, the lighting of the candle as a reminder to carry the Light of Christ within you and entrusted to the parents and Godparents to be kept burning brightly, the clothing with the white garment. They also learn about the spiritual affects of the Sacrament. They love the thought of being an adopted child of God, brother or sister of Christ, heir to the Heavenly Kingdom. They learn about the cleansing of the soul from Original Sin and being made new and pure in Christ. They learn the Matter (pouring of water), Minister (usually a priest or deacon, but anyone in emergencies) and Form (the words “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen). And I am always struck with how much they seem to understand this particular Sacrament.
I think what really makes this Sacrament so special for young children is that they can relate to it. They know from the pictures and the tales that they, too, have gone through this ritual. They understand that when they were tiny babies, they, too, were taken to church, dressed in the long white dress and made clean and new. The purity of heart with which children approach this Sacrament is beautiful and joyful. It seems that they are eager for the new baby to join God’s family. It is as if they understand on some level the special gift that is being given and they are excited to share that. They, perhaps being some of the newest members of the community of faith, wish to welcome wholeheartedly those who come after them.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether my children even know they newly baptized. When we lived in Michigan, our large parish held Baptisms during the 12:15 Mass every week. And although we regularly attended this Mass and the event should have become commonplace for our children, they still watched with rapt attention and still loved it. It served as a reminder to us all that we are participating is the miraculous; the Sacrament of Baptism and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At these moments, Jesus’ words become powerful and real to me. “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:13) And that beats cake any day.