A number of years ago, I had the privilege of teaching 4th grade. I quickly discovered that 4th graders are absolutely beautiful because they are so open to all we try to teach them and it is quite easy to get them excited just about any topic. I also quickly realized that developmentally they think their parents are right about everything because, well they are their parents! However, during the journey through the school year, the children begin to realize that their parents have certain areas where perhaps they aren’t quite so perfect. I watched this happen one year during our religion class, which we had every day.
In this particular case, we were talking about the sacrament of Baptism and in the class was a little girl who had not been baptized. She was a beautiful girl, from a lovely Catholic family, but sadly, Baptism had not been a priority. I suspect that her family’s faith might have died completely. And although they had all been brought up Catholic, there were real questions as to whether God even existed.
During religion class, I would take special note of this girl when we talked about Baptism and original sin and the life of God in our souls; about the Trinity and being a child of God – a daughter of the Church….. her eyes would just light up with such passionate joy.
One day, later in the school year, she approached me and said, “I want to be baptized.”
“Well, why aren’t you?” I asked her in reply.
With slightly downcast eyes she softly replied, “My mom and dad don’t believe in God anymore.”
It was a very sad statement, but she had gained a certain amount of maturity and had come to understand that maybe this was something about which her parents were not right. So, I believe at that point, she began to ask her parents for Baptism.
Soon it was time for the parent-teacher conferences and part of my job as a teacher is to ask about the spiritual growth and the opportunities the children have to practice their faith at home. So the question about how they are receiving their Sacraments and the ways their family prays together are relatively routine questions during these parent conferences, in addition to discussing the students’ grades and behavior and such.
It was in preparation for these conferences that an inspiration came to me. I thought that some parents might be reluctant to really listen to a teacher, even though as a Sister, they do nod affirmatively when asked if they attend Mass. However, parents do listen to their children. But because these children are so young, they might not have the courage to say “I want to go to church” because they don’t want to upset the apple cart with their parents. This is how my idea of having the children write a letter to their parents came to be. I thought that such a letter, included in their report card, might help smoothly pave the way for the children to communicate to their parents their desires in practicing their faith at home more fully.
The next day in class, I made my suggestion to the children, adding that those who came to the parent conference would have a chance to share their letter with their parents. The children were excited and very eager to begin writing down their desires to practice their faith more perfectly at home. They all enthusiastically wrote down everything that was in their heart about actively living out their faith.
Some of them wrote courageous things that I knew would be hard for them to say out loud to their parents. The young lady who desired Baptism ardently wrote several pages, which for a 4th grader is quite a lot. While I did skim the letters prior to including them in the report cards, I can’t say I scrutinized them very closely.
The day for the parent-teacher conferences arrived and the little 4th grade girl was sitting there with her mom and me as we discussed her report card. Her mom was proud of her hard work and we talked about some areas of growth and improvement. Then we pulled out the letter she had written in class and read it aloud.
I was taken aback by what she had written and the courage and conviction with which she wrote about her desires to grow in the faith. She started by addressing her parents saying that during family dinnertime, when talk revolved around how they didn’t believe in God, she boldly stated that she was lying. She wrote, “I do believe in God and I want so much to be baptized because I want to be a child of God and be able to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.”
At the time, I didn’t realize she had been telling her parents that she, too, didn’t believe in God, but here was this 4th grade girl mustering all the courage she possessed to tell her parents that she was taking back those words about not believing in God.
Her mother was silent for several minutes. She clearly saw that her child was very sincere and that what she was asking was coming from her and not from me. The mother took the letter home promising to share it with her dad and the rest of the family. I just prayed for her that her mother would indeed help her get closer to Our Lord.
At the end of that school year, this student and her family had to move, but the little girl and I were so happy because the situation that she was moving into was going to definitely allow her to be baptized and also attend daily Mass. From what I understand, the following year this did in fact happen – she was baptized, she was able to go to a Catholic school and attend daily Mass. As a result, this little girl was so full of joy and so full of peace finally being able to live her faith.
Today, she should be a senior in high school but I haven’t been in contact with her since. One day I hope to find out how her faith blossomed.
This story and many others are found in the Carmelite Sisters’ short-story book called “Moments of Grace”. If you wish to obtain a copy of the book, please visit: https://carmelitesistersocd.com/product/book-moments-of-grace/