When it comes to explaining concepts like Lent and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist to kids, the below reactions are likely to follow:
“Wait, I can’t eat any candy for 40 days?!” and “It still looks like a piece of bread to me, mom.”
Thankfully, if you’re a parent who’s been struggling to help your children understand the beauty of these core teachings of the Catholic faith, local author Claudia Cangilla McAdam recently wrote two children’s books which illustrate these truths in a way that’s relatable for children.
The Real Presence and Louie’s Lent, both published by Ascension Press, are heartwarming stories that seek to help kids better understand the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist and the season of Lent. We chatted with McAdam to learn more about her new books and how parents can walk alongside their children as they grow in their faith.
Denver Catholic: How did you come up with the premise for each book (The Real Presence and Louie’s Lent)?
Claudia Cangilla McAdam: The Real Presence struck me as a story idea when I gave some thought to the words “presents” and “presence,” reflecting on how what Jesus gives us in the Eucharist (his Real Presence) is truly a wonderful, miraculous present. I set this story in the time of Jesus with fictional children who interact with Him, so that my modern-day readers could step into the sandals of first-century kids who are very much like themselves: they compete with each other, they argue, they love Jesus, and they grow in their faith.
Louie’s Lent, on the other hand, is a contemporary story with kids like my readers, who approach “giving something up” for Lent with great zeal or major trepidation. I wanted to explore what Jesus intended when he said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” When the main character, Louie, decides to help his classmates with their resolutions, he shows how the greatest sacrifice we can offer to God is the gift of ourselves.
DC: Why do you think it’s important for children to grasp the concept of the Real Presence in the Eucharist at a young age?
Claudia Cangilla McAdam: The recent Pew Research Survey that shows that up to 70% of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist points to the need to help children embrace the truth of the Real Presence. A quote from author Mary Jo Putney underscores this necessity: “What one loves in childhood stays in the heart forever.” If we want kids (and adults, too, quite frankly) to develop an authentic relationship with Jesus, we need to help them increase devotion to the Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Jesus meant what he said in John 6:54: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” What child wouldn’t want to know and embrace this reality?
DC: How is Lent an opportunity to encourage children to grow deeper in faith?
Claudia Cangilla McAdam: Adults have a unique opportunity to walk alongside the children in their lives during the 40 days of Lent as role models. Perhaps they want to take up the same sacrifice as the children, providing an opportunity to discuss how doing with less can help them become more. Kids can appreciate imitating Jesus in increased prayer, in fasting (appropriate to their age, of course), and almsgiving — which doesn’t always have to involve money. Especially for kids, doing something for others is an ideal way to live out this Lenten practice.
DC: How can a parent or grandparent help young children stay focused on keeping Lenten resolutions for 40 days?
Claudia Cangilla McAdam: It’s always nice if families can add a devotion they aren’t currently practicing. They could pray the Stations of the Cross or a decade of the Sorrowful Mysteries, for example. These are activities in which the children can be actively involved. As a family, they can shop for food that they donate to the food pantry, letting the kids pick out their favorite (nutritious) foods. They can keep each other accountable in their Lenten sacrifices. For example, when I asked my seven-year-old grandson Finn what he was doing for Lent, he told me, “I’m going to stop fussing.” That was something I realized I could do alongside him, and I probably needed it more than he did. I committed to the same resolution, and we are able to keep each other honest about our progress.
DC: Why do you think stories like The Real Presence and Louie’s Lent are effective in teaching children about the faith?
Claudia Cangilla McAdam: I populate my kids’ books with characters who are relatable to my young readers, whether the story is set in present day or 2,000 years ago. I look to the Divine Storyteller Himself for inspiration in engaging my audience. The parables told by Jesus invite his listeners to visualize themselves in the very stories He tells. When Jesus says, “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me’” (Luke 15:11-12), I can only imagine the people in the crowd picturing themselves as the prodigal son, or the disappointed father, or the angry older brother. In my books, if I can open a door for kids to enter into the story, they may well be on the way to learning, loving, and living their Catholic faith. Also, to aid in this process, I offer free Discussion and Activities Guides for my books through my website, www.ClaudiaMcAdam.com.
Purchase Louie’s Lent: Ascensionpress.com/AshWednesday
Purchase The Real Presence: Ascensionpress.com/RealPresence