How do you talk about sacraments with eleven-year-olds? It is a question that Alina and I ask ourselves often, as we prepare catechism classes for the group that is preparing for confirmation in one of our parishes in Rome. One afternoon, while working in the garden, Alina had an intuition: to bring pinecones as beautiful as roses to class in order to explain the gift of knowledge of the Holy Spirit.
At the end of the 10:00 AM Mass that Sunday, at the last note of the Hymn to the Virgin, we raced towards the catechism class, as if at the sound of the starter pistol. Alina gave every student a pinecone, explaining that the gift of knowledge the Holy Spirit helps us to recognize the image of God in the beauty of creation. After the initial surprise, the kids’ next reaction was delusion when they realized that the pinecones weren’t made of chocolate and were, therefore, inedible. Then, they started to break them into tiny pieces and throw them at each other. While Alina continued her explanation, splinters flew in front of us like meteors. I could only see Alina’s eyes, between her mask and veil, a look that said to me: “It’s all gone wrong.”
I saw that a child had his head down, about to cry, and he whispered to me, “They destroyed my pinecone; I was going to give it to Saint Valentine.” I brought to everyone’s attention that the classroom was messy and explained that sin is to treat badly something that was given to us. We went to get a broom and cleaned the room together. We collected all the pieces in the dustpan, one at a time, as if they were our sins that we present with a bit of shame to God, asking him for forgiveness. At the end of the class, Alina gave out a few new pinecones that she had wisely set apart. When God forgives us, we explain, He gives us back things so that we can learn to love as He loves.
When we try to communicate to the children the mysteries of the Spirit and his gifts, we discover that we ourselves are to be the first witnesses of the work of God, that only He has the power to touch their hearts.