Castles on the ground - Madonna Magazine

Castles on the ground

Clare Deignan 26 August 2021

Dear Charlotte and Ella, 

‘Let’s go see Jesus!’ shouted Ella as she pulls my hand toward the church’s side door. I thought it was about time to take you, girls, to church since we had not been inside one since March 2020. It was not because indoor Masses had returned. They hadn’t. But, I was a little worried about your familiarity with all things Catholic.

For example, Ella, you, now three years old, would remark on the beautiful ‘castle’ next to Charlotte’s school. Charlotte, now a big student in Prep, would correct Ella, exasperated saying, ‘It’s not a castle. It’s a Church’. But, of course, Ella would not acquiesce, arguing, ‘No, it’s a castle! A beautiful castle’. So the minute the churches opened for socially distanced prayer, I thought I’d better bring you two since there may be more gaps in your religious education than I realise. 


Like many Catholics worldwide, we had not attended an in-person Mass in more than a year. Instead, I watch the Sunday liturgy online while you little ladies run around in the background. As a family, we pray grace before dinner and say prayers before bed. Still, our family’s spiritual life is not the same without in-person Mass. Going to church, even to pray, with my family is where my faith was formed. I want to give the same to you.

So, holding both your hands on a sunny afternoon, we walked into the side entrance of the church. The church was empty except for a Knight of Columbus, whose members take turns sitting in the church while it’s open during the day. I straighten your masks and spray both your hands with the sanitiser from the table blocking the aisle. I turn to bless myself. Yellow caution tape is fastened to the holy water font. It’s empty. There’s no holy water to bless ourselves. A reminder, since COVID-19, things aren’t normal. 

I think to myself, how many times did I take for granted this ritual, dipping my fingers in holy water and making the Sign of the Cross. I had believed it would always be there to mark me entering a holy place, a comfort in tough times. But, things are not normal. 

As a child, my mum, your Mimi, would bring my younger sister and me into Church after we dropped off my big sister at school. Mimi called these short trips to church ‘making a visit’ to Jesus. On these visits, I learned to bless myself, practice genuflecting, respect the altar (meaning no climbing on the altar railing or running up the stairs – no matter how tempting). Mimi also began to introduce the basics of the true presence of Jesus in the tabernacle. On these mornings, your Mimi began to teach your auntie and me what it meant to be Catholic. 


Of course, I was reprimanded for running up the stairs in the sanctuary. I was only three. It took me a while to learn to be quiet, sit still, and get the Sign of the Cross down pat. Is it the left or right hand? What shoulder first? This is all tough stuff for a preschooler, and, genuflecting can be challenging no matter your age. But, what I learned at such a young age is that this place is different. What we do here is special. During these ‘visits’ to Jesus, I started to grasp the idea of holiness and the sacred. 

Just like my mum, I do the same with you two. I teach you to bless yourself. Since there is no Holy Water, we make do and practice with dry hands. I walk around the church teaching you the art of the hushed voice. We bow at the altar, and then I attempt to show you my well-practised genuflecting techniques. I point out the flickering red candle reminding us that Jesus is always present. You girls haven’t been in a Church so long, I’m not sure if Ella remembers what it even looks like inside. Your eyes widen as you soak in the stained-glass windows, absorbing the grandeur.

Passing in front of my favourite statues in this particular church, in a mummy whisper, I tell you a little bit about each one: St Therese of Lisieux, The Sacred Heart of Jesus, and then we reach St Cecilia, the patron saint of music. I remember standing just in this spot many years before as a young woman, making a visit, just as I did as a toddler with my mother. At the time, I was unsure of where my future would take me. Of course, I was impatient, anxious, and overwhelmed with so many wants: independence, travel, romance, education, a career, and of course, a family. Since a relationship had just ended, I was worried I would miss my chance for a family. So, it was there, standing in front of the statue of St Cecilia; I prayed that God would give me a family of my own.

Chills ran down my spine as I remembered this prayer I prayed 20 or so years before. Now, I stood with the two of you, each holding one of my hands. The Old Testament story of Samuel’s mother, Hannah, came to mind. Hannah’s words reverberated in my heart, ‘For this child, I have prayed. And the Lord has granted my request’. (1 Samuel 1:27)


As I held your little hands in mine, I know, of all the things I’ve done in my life, being your mother is my proudest achievement. Sharing my faith with you is my greatest vocation. And, of all the prayers I have prayed and have been answered, the prayer to be your mother is the one for which I am the most grateful.

As the world’s clamouring puts more and more demands on what the young should expect out of life, I hope you remember that to pass on the faith, even if it’s a tiny and fragile seed, is a noble accomplishment. As more doors open to you than were open to my mother, my grandmothers, or even me, may you not forget there is nothing more important than to teach a child to pray, to love Jesus, to follow His Word, and most importantly, to ‘make a visit’ to him in the Blessed Sacrament, spending time in Christ’s castle – his Church. 

Your Mum