One of the moments that I love the most during the lessons of catechism is that in which we speak of how each one of us is unique and of how, out of all of His creation, the Lord wanted us above all other things. In order to communicate this, before the children arrive, we place a big package, wrapped and sealed with a bow, on a table; then, we watch to see what happens, writing down the questions they ask as they emerge (who brought it? what’s inside?). It gives us the chance to point out to them that God gave us our intelligence, or, in other words, the desire to discover what is deep down in things. “It is the same way for our lives,” I tell them, “It is a great gift and we want to discover what is within it, who gave it to us: this is the adventure of life and the Lord put us together for this reason!”
One day when we were about to celebrate a First Communion, the church was full of the scent of lilies that the kids had brought as a sign of the dedication of themselves to the Lord. I asked them a question: “What’s different in the church today, according to you all?” After a couple of tries and little bit of help, a girl responded, “The perfume of the flowers!” I asked again, “What does the scent of flowers have to do with your First Communion?” Another girl piped up: “We are the flowers and Jesus, during our First Communion, gives us His scent!” After a bit of silence caused by the surprise of hearing such an answer, I asked them to take out a piece of paper and to write down these words. They do not know this, but it is exactly the same experience that St. Paul wrote about.
Our summer camp is our best catechism, because it is when we can share all of life, from prayer to meals together, from singing to studying to playing together. During a game, a child ventured off from the group and began to pick some flowers, out of which he made a bouquet. He then went to kneel down in front of the statue of Mary and placed the flowers at her feet. He paused a moment to pray and then he got up again and ran back to the other kids. A high school girl had been watching him all the while. In front of a such a simple action, she was profoundly moved, so much so that Friday, during our meeting for the young people that lend a hand, in which we try to make a judgment about the week spent together, she told us this story, and told us that she desired to reconquer that simplicity and that familiarity with the Madonna.
There is another episode that struck me: during a hike in the mountains, we were walking in Indian file. At a certain point, I saw a beautiful lily of St. James, which had the color of the sunset. I stopped and said to the kids, “Look over there! It is a rare flower, which is called the lily of St. James.” I hadn’t yet finished saying this when a boy stepped out of the line and set off the pick the flower, when a chorus of voices was heard: “Nooooo!” the boy stopped and turned back. As we began to walk again, I said to myself: “This is virginity! These kids have understood what virginity is! They have it within them!” Because you possess more, in this distance that lets the flower live. You do not “possess” it more by grabbing on to it, because in this way, it will only wilt in our hands.
Paolo Desandré is pastro of St. Mary of the Rosary at the Martyrs of Portuensi, Rome. Pictured, some kids of the catechism class.