Out of the mouths of babes

A few years ago, I was leading a discussion of the works of mercy for my second-grade faith formation class.  We discussed visiting the sick and how the children had provided care for sick friends and family members.  We discussed clothing the naked and how children and their families donated items for clothing drives.  The discussion continued in a similar vein for feeding the hungry and providing drink to the thirsty.  Along with other churches in the region, the parish provides shelter on a rotation basis for homeless families, so the children and I talked about that program as well.

When we reached the topic of visiting those in prison, the discussion began with a child who informed us that he had an uncle in prison.  I did not anticipate that anyone in the class would have an incarcerated relative; so much for my cultural blinders!  I did anticipate that none of the children had ever visited anyone in jail and on this point, I was correct.  So I shared with the children about my own experience as a social worker, which required now and then that I visit clients who were imprisoned.  The children were very impressed by this news and I fielded question after question. . .about the type and quality of the food the prisoners were given.

With some difficulty, I eventually steered the conversation back to the other lessons for the day.  It was only later that I realized that I missed an opportunity to talk about justice for the imprisoned in the form of food that is adequate in both taste and nutrition.  I also missed the opportunity to talk with the children about what Mass with its sacred food might be like behind bars.

My point here is that I originally considered the children’s questions about prison food to be a distraction from the “important” points of the class.  In fact, however, their questions had deeper implications that I did not recognize.  I wonder if PT readers who have had similar experiences with children’s questions or insights about liturgy would be willing to share them.


  1. If you think about it, children (upper and middle class American children much less so these days than formerly, with MUCH more choice than people who are perhaps over 40 would have had as children) typically share with prisoners the situation of having one’s food decided and provided by someone else.

  2. You’d be surprised by the number of children sitting in classrooms who will say nothing about their experience of visiting a family member in jail or prison. The Annie E. Casey Foundation just published a report on them. Anyone working with kids should read it.

    I see those kids as they come through the jail doors. They are anxious, scared, nervous, bored. They won’t volunteer information. They form their own club and share a knowing look when they recognize a families face away from the jail.

    How could second graders “visit those in prison”? Pray not just for those behind bars, but also for their families, especially the children, who share the sentence.

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