Reflection for Sunday – October 30, 2022
Readings: Wisdom 11: 22–12: 2; Second Thessalonians 1: 11–2: 2; Luke 19: 1-10.
Preacher: Jeanne Mooney
Just before the Scripture readings at Sunday Mass, the presider invites children to a special Liturgy of the Word. There they hear, in age-appropriate language, the same verses and prayers as the adults are hearing that day. And they hear a homily applying biblical faith to children’s lives.
After a hiatus caused by the pandemic, Children’s Liturgy of the Word restarted about eight months ago. Choosing when to begin was fraught with uncertainty. We did not know when families would be comfortable returning to Mass or letting their children participate. We wondered how many children would come forward, knowing that at least the children of he leaders would be there. Eventually, we restarted sharing faith at Mass with our little ones.
For the first few months, we looked out at the congregation and tried to count the children. We discovered that the number was frequently underestimated, for the simple reason that we could not see them. Most sat hidden in the pews, surrounded by teens and adults.
Zacchaeus, in this week’s Gospel, like the young children at Mass, was also “short of stature.” I imagine Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was going to be in town and knew he would need assistance to catch a glimpse of him in the crowds known to surround Jesus. Zacchaeus had experience with trying to see over the heads of folks taller than he. In addition, as a tax collector, Zacchaeus was not well-liked. His neighbors were not likely to make room for him and allow him to move to the front of the crowd.
Like Zacchaeus, the young children at Mass need assistance to “see” Jesus. Liturgy of the Word for Children allows them to hear the readings written for their level of understanding and to ask and answer questions. Contributing petitions to the Prayers of the Faithful, the Universal prayer, allows them to pray for the people and events close to their hearts. Liturgy of the Word for Children provides a focused environment for children to become “conscious and active” listeners and responders to God’s Word.
Jesus looked up to see Zacchaeus who had climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. To minister with children as Jesus ministered to Zacchaeus, we first need to see them. We need to notice the young parishioners hearing God’s word without understanding, not able to apply Scripture to their thoughts, words, and actions every day. Looking around carefully with the eyes of Jesus, we can see “the Zacchaeus” near us who we can help to see Jesus. Among those Zacchaeuses are the Spanish-speaking family in need of a Bible in Spanish and bilingual faith formation workbooks for their children. The hearing-impaired need a hearing loop and interpreter. And children will resonate with God’s Word when they hear it in age appropriate language, the homilist tells a story that amplifies and brings home God’s message and raises questions children want to answer and evokes love and joy and hope. With the eyes of Jesus, we can notice those for whom we can make room for active participation, such as the newly retired primary school teacher who is invited, supported and provided with resources and study to fill a leadership position in ministry.
Now each week for Liturgy of the Word for Children, the young disciples hesitantly creep forward by ones and twos as the presider welcomes them in front of the altar to witness the blessing of the catechist and be blessed themselves and sent forth to experience the wonders of scripture forming their lives. The entire congregation sings as fifty or sixty children walk, skip, dance, march and wiggle to an adjacent room where they, like Zacchaeus, discover there is more to faith than catching a glimpse of Jesus. Our children are empowered and inspired to open their hearts, minds, spirits and souls to God’s love, to God’s mercy, to God’s compassion, especially through Jesus’ ways and words.