Friendship with Jesus is the best gift you can give your child

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Driving back from St. Louis on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I stopped in Kingdom City for fuel and a Quarter Pounder at McDonald’s.

I refuse to order from the kiosk as a mini-protest against machines replacing people and the cultural trend of minimizing human interaction. It was not crowded. In front of me was a father holding what I guessed to be his 3-year-old son.

The man allowed the little boy to place his own order. The lad was a bit indecisive so it took a while. I grew a bit impatient. I confess for a moment I thought: “Doesn’t this guy know this is a fast food restaurant?” I was even tempted to use the kiosk! So much for my commitment to being a champion for human interaction!

Once I received my order, I chose one of those tall tables and prayed a meal blessing. As it turned out, I was seated not far from the table where the same man, his wife and the little boy were seated.

Before eating, they paused to pray. The boy had his eyes closed with a look of intense concentration. I could not hear the content of the prayer but from his facial expression, it was obviously fervent. You could see the delight in the faces of his parents as their child prayed.

I was deeply touched by what could have been a modern Norman Rockwell scene. I admired the parents for teaching their son from his earliest years the importance of prayer.

This past week, I received a letter from a woman who wrote to follow up on a conversation we had at the “Enflame Our Hearts” convocation. She grew up on a farm in rural Kansas. Her parents were devout Lutherans. When she was around 8 years old, she came home from school brokenhearted because the girl she had considered her best friend had been rude to her.

Her mother consoled her and counseled her that friends will come and go, but there is one friend who will always be faithful: Jesus. She encouraged her daughter to pray and speak to Jesus about whatever was happening in her life. The mother told her daughter to make Jesus her best friend.

Two years later, her parents were in a terrible car accident. Her mother died at the scene of the crash and her father was hospitalized for several months.

As you can imagine, this was a great trauma for this young girl.

Until her father had sufficiently recovered, she and her siblings were cared for by relatives. Eventually, her father remarried, but her relationship with her stepmother was far from ideal. Through all of this, she remembered what her mother had told her. Her friendship with Jesus helped her through some tough times in her childhood and some rocky moments as a young adult.

Through God’s providence, she married a very devout Catholic man who inspired her to enter the church. Her mother-in-law became a true mother figure for her and helped her develop a beautiful devotion to Mary as her spiritual mother.

As she looks back on her life, she is grateful for the advice she received from her mother. Her friendship with Jesus sustained her through difficult times.

The most important gift parents can give to their children is to teach them to pray and to develop a friendship with Jesus. The most effective way to mentor your children is to pray as a family.

Make meal prayers a priority. Resist the temptation for the meal blessing to become just perfunctory. Meal prayers can be a time when family members share with each other what is in their hearts. The intentions that each family member brings to the table help parents catch a glimpse of what is happening in their children’s lives.

Make sure your children know how important prayer is in your own life. Share with them honestly about your friendship with Jesus and how you rely upon Our Lord’s guidance in the decisions you make for the family.

I am edified by families who make a habit of praying the rosary together. The rosary is a tool for meditation. Through pondering the mysteries of the rosary, we contemplate with Mary the central events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The family rosary can be a tool to teach children meditation adapted to their age level.

I am thrilled that some couples have begun the practice of inviting other families to join them in praying the rosary. It is a way of spiritually knitting together neighborhoods. The conversations that occur in this setting are often much deeper and more significant than the normal party small talk. When you ask another person: “What can I pray [about] for you?,” you often find out what is going on in their lives and what is in their hearts. Praying together inevitably deepens the quality of friendships.

Several months ago, Dr. Mike Scherschligt, founder of the Holy Family School of Faith, was told by some business leaders that it was difficult for them to make time in their schedule for daily meditation. They challenged Mike to prepare a podcast of brief daily meditations for the rosary. If you Google “Holy Family School of Faith Daily Rosary Meditations,” you can access Mike’s podcast.

The School Faith Rosary Meditations do not use the traditional mysteries, but provide reflections based on the Bible, the Catechism and other spiritual writers. Mike suggests that individuals pray the rosary with him on their commute to work, while having a morning cup of coffee or as a family.

Last time I checked, more than 3,500 individuals from all over the world, but mostly from Kansas, take advantage of this prayer resource. Mike spends several nights a week recording his podcasts in family homes. His only requirement is that the host couple invites family, friends and neighbors to join them.

Mary uses the rosary to draw us closer to her Son. I am very grateful that I grew up in a home where we prayed the family rosary. Most nights, I conclude my day by calling my 96-year-old mother in St. Louis for conversation and praying the rosary over the phone. What a blessing this shared time of prayer is for both of us.

I am grateful to that couple in the Kingdom City McDonald’s for inspiring this column by praying a meal prayer with their young son. I am grateful that my mother taught me by her example to make Jesus my best friend. She also taught me to draw close to Mary, who will bring you even closer to her Son.

Finally, the famous saying of the late Father Patrick Peyton, a great apostle of the family rosary, is still true today: “The family, who prays together, stays together.”

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