Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Sacred Heart for Kids

I met yesterday with Brian Olszewski, the executive editor and general manager of the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Catholic Herald. He interviewed me for a story he's doing on a new booklet we recently published called "Do You Know the Sacred Heart of Jesus?" In the the course of our interview I was reminded of how much Divine Providence played a role in the creation of this booklet.

For years the Apostleship of Prayer had a small, two-color booklet that was designed to introduce children to the Sacred Heart. When our inventory disappeared we had to decide whether to reprint it or completely redo it. We decided to redo it, keeping it simple and inexpensive, but making it more colorful, informative, and fun.

We began working with several authors and artists but nothing seemed to click. In the end, I took my experience of visiting with children in grade schools and at parish missions and wrote a text based on the question and answer format I used with the children. Thus, the children themselves contributed to writing the booklet. For example, in one parish I asked the children where their hearts were. They all put their hands on their chests to feel their hearts. Then I asked them to tell me where Jesus' Heart was in the picture I showed them. What was the difference between Jesus' Heart and theirs? Of course the answer was that their hearts were on the inside and Jesus' Heart was on the outside. Then I asked: "Why do you suppose Jesus' Heart is on the outside of His body? One girl raised her hand and answered: "Maybe He loves us so much He can't keep it inside." All I could think was: "Out of the mouths of children comes wisdom. Thank you, Lord!"

The question and answer format makes the booklet fun. On the right pages of the booklet are questions which children can answer for themselves, and then they turn the page to see the answer on the left side of the booklet. In that way the booklet goes through the imagery of the Heart of Jesus, explaining the symbolism of the crown of thorns, the cross, the fire, and the wound. All of these show us how much Jesus loves us. And knowing such love, our natural reaction should be to want to return love for love, to give Jesus our hearts, to give Him our whole life. Thus the booklet ends by leading the young reader into making a daily offering.

The art work was another challenge we faced. One artist hit a creative block trying to take a sacred subject--the Sacred Heart of Jesus--and presenting it in a way that would be accessible to children. After all, Jesus is, as Pope Benedict likes to say, the human face of God. And Jesus loved to be with children. So we needed images that would not frighten children but draw them close to Jesus and His Heart. Our administrative assistant, Stephanie Schmude, put together a "mock-up" of the images we had in mind to accompany the text, and shared them with her sister Stacey, a graphic arts student, who tried her artistic hand at illustrating the booklet. We worked with her and the results were beyond what we'd hoped for. I'll be honest: some of the simple images very much touch this adult's heart. Maybe it's a booklet not just for kids, but for all those who are young at heart. Remember, Jesus said that the mysteries of God's love are revealed to "the childlike" (Matthew 11: 25) and that unless we "turn and become like children" we "will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18: 3).

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