Husband & Wife Articles


Message On a Bottle

The value of religious objects in the house

By Christopher Menzhuber

At the final meeting of our parish’s Early Catholic Family Life, a program to help parents pass on the faith to their young children, one mother in attendance made the observation that struck a chord with the other parents: “I think the take-away lesson of all this is to actually speak with your child about the faith.”

They were all faith-filled parents who understood their God-given role as primary educators of their children. They all had the desire to share their faith with their children, but they also knew they could be doing more sharing.

Christopher Menzhuber and his wife, Calista, have two young children.

Like many parents perhaps, we may find it difficult to start the conversation. We may not know what to say or how to say it. Or the child may just not be in the mood. I can think of conversations with my children that failed to launch because I was trying to force discussion at an imprudent time. Then there were occasions when they were interested in asking questions, but I was too distracted by something I judged to be more pressing. Or for any number of other reasons, I simply was not present during important moments of spontaneous religious curiosity.

For all of these reasons, we parents need to find ways to encourage faith-based conversations. Religious objects in the home can help us do just that. I had one such experience recently after a trip to a Christian bookstore.

It’s pretty difficult to find anything for kids these days that is not plastered with the images of familiar licensed characters. So when my children and I entered the bookstore, I was hoping to buy something inexpensive that could compete with the ubiquitous mouse.

Fortunately for me, my kids gravitated toward the discount table and we wound up buying small glass holy water bottles and ring rosaries, both adorned with images of St. John Paul II. Later, as I was preparing dinner at home, my 4-year-old daughter asked if I could fill the bottles with holy water. “So I can pray with holy water,” she stated. I explained that holy water was ordinary water blessed by a priest; maybe we could have the priest bless it on Sunday after Mass. “Or we maybe we could ask St. John Paul,” she suggested. “Well, we can’t ask him because he died and he is now in heaven. That’s why we call him a saint,” I explained. “But that’s a good thing because now he can hear our prayers and help us.” She seemed content with our little exchange. I was overjoyed for the opportunity to talk with her about a saint, a conversation that never would have happened without the image on the bottle.

That this grace-filled conversation was precipitated by a “thing” is entirely consistent with our Catholic faith, which is not formless knowledge, but takes on “flesh.” Just as God gave us real physical signs to convey grace in the sacraments, we need visible reminders to help point us to the invisible. This is particularly true for children who have not yet developed the capacity for abstract thought but have an extraordinary capacity for experiencing God first hand.

I have been reluctant to add more clutter to our home, even when it's religious objects. Sometimes it seems my wife and I spend our free time putting back stuff that our children spread across the floor. Yet after experiencing my daughter’s response to John Paul II’s image on a small glass bottle, and the conversation that it prompted, I am now eager to fill our house with images of holy men and women.