It was during prayer time one frozen, February night that my beautiful, devout wife and I told our three kids — ages 11, 9 and 5 — that, in a few weeks, we’d be going on a weekend trip.
We told them we’d be spending two days at a conference, going to Mass, Eucharistic adoration and confession, getting closer to God as a family through prayer, learning more about Jesus and his Church and strengthening our faith. Somehow our kids managed to contain their excitement, as our news was met with three blank stares.
But Grant — the 9-year-old, the rotten one — started stirring. Grant does this thing when he’s deep in thought: His eyes go squinty and roll up and to the left, as if he’s literally trying to watch the hamster turn the wheel in his brain. Then, inevitably, comes the light-bulb moment, when his eyes snap forward and he grins wildly.
“I have a question,” he said, with his hand raised.
Great, I thought. This kid gets it. Being a second-grader, he had been engaged in intense theological study after having gone through his first confession and was, at that point, in deep preparation for his first Communion. So bring on the question about Catholic dogma or Church history or philosophy, about transubstantiation or reconciliation or Trinitarian belief. I was proud, and I was ready.
“So are we going to stay at a hotel?!” Grant asked, grin widening.
Wait. What about our faith, about family bonding through Christ and discipleship?
Before I got a chance to answer, he throws the equally important follow-up at me: “Does it have a swimming pool?!”
So a few weeks later, the first weekend in March, we set off for the Indiana Holy Family Catholic Conference. My wife and I — and our sweet, pious daughter, Olivia — were looking forward to diving into the Faith. Grant and Jacob — the 5-year-old — were looking forward to diving into the pool via cannonballs.
After an opening Mass, it was quite clear why attending this family conference was a brilliant idea: We got rid of our kids.
We simply sat and listened to the speakers without doing any of the following: take one of the boys (Jacob, no doubt) to the bathroom, come back and sit down, only to be told that he also needs a drink; deny somebody a snack, then, two minutes later, deny them a snack again; or repeatedly shush somebody to the point that the shushing itself draws stares.
The speakers were incredible. Tim Staples, senior apologist at Catholic Answers, gave three talks to the adults, and we sat in on a fourth as he allowed Olivia — the 11-year-old — to hear his presentation to the group of teens. A month before giving a similar speech at a Catholic high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, caused controversy, Sister Jane Dominic Laurel was warmly applauded by the audience after her presentation on the inherent differences between men and women. There were several more great, engaging speakers. My wife and I grew closer, no doubt, through prayer and reflection and silence.
And the kids — even the boys — had a great time. In the conference’s Children’s Corner, they made Catholic crafts and Catholic friends and sang Catholic songs. They knelt before the Blessed Sacrament and went to confession. They talked to women religious and priests about vocations.
And, certainly, the hotel pool was fun.
But Sunday night after we got home, we prayed the Rosary. Grant — the rotten one — scurried over to the table and dug through his bag of crafts and pulled out a small, circular box he had made. He opened the top and pulled out a rosary given to him by one of the nuns. He gripped the plastic beads with his skinny little fingers, closed his squinty eyes, and he prayed. And as a family, we all said, “Amen.”
Scott Warden is associate editor of OSV Newsweekly.