So I’m at Barnes and Nobles with Lucia, with a pretty sizeable gift card but low expectations that I’ll find a good book for my almost 1-year-old nephew/cousin’s (son of my dad’s cousin?) baptism this weekend. (Lucia found plenty of good books. Scattered them all.over.the aisle, in fact.) I’d love to get this for Lucia and hand out more copies like candy to every toddler I know, but I don’t have a spare stash of $10 bills lying around, and I’m pretty sure Barnes and Nobles doesn’t carry products from Liturgy Training Publications, right? Right.
I was pleasantly surprised that the B&N kids section had a couple sets of shelves dedicated to religious (99% Christian, the rest were Jewish or, er, the Beatitudes-applied-to-the-Civil-Rights-movement) books. A good portion were the Veggie Tales/Beginners Bible/Berenstain Bears Discover Christmas variety, but there were also some nice picture books (The Three Trees, You Are Special), board books and collections of Bible stories/prayers for little hands to page through.
Thinking I’d go the Bible story route, I quickly noticed something: rare, and I mean rare, is the children’s Bible that depicts Jesus on the cross, much less even mentions the Crucifixion. I guess I can see how this would be a problem for Veggie Tales, the Bears-who-you’d-think-are-Jewish-anyway, or anything else anthropomorphic or overly cartoon-ish, but of all the varieties I found, only one — the Catholic Book of Bible Stories, from the Protestant publishing house Zondervan — had what I thought was a simple, appropriate (and by that I don’t mean Mel Gibson-gory, I just mean it looks like something any Catholic toddler can recognize from church) illustration of the Crucifixion. (Another book mentioned, almost secondhand, “God’s son giving His life for us, but that’s not the end!” or something along those lines, but the only picture on that page is of Jesus throwing his hands up, touchdown style, in front of the tomb.) All in all, in the Catholic book, the illustrations are lovely; the people look like people, not Far Side characters (the illustrator did the Little House on the Prairie books); and each story is followed by a short summary (“Noah obeyed God. Noah trusted God to take care of him. God provided a second chance for people and for the animals, too.”) and prayer. Simple and sweet.
So I went for that book, but I still have one qualm, and the more I think about it, the more it bothers me. It’s the Last Supper.
The actual story part is good and factual, and the illustrations highlight Jesus’ actions of taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it apart and giving it to the disciples. But here’s the summary and prayer:
Jesus wanted to give his disciples a way to remember him when they gathered together. We receive communion to remember Jesus.
Thank you, God, for giving us the precious Eucharist to remember you. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Oh how subtle….and how lacking, and, ultimately, wrong. The Eucharist is just to remember Jesus? The word’s repeated three times, so that must be what they’re going for. What would’ve been so difficult to replace that second “remember” with “receive”? (For what it’s worth, the book does have an imprimatur). I’m not surprised that such Eucharist-as-memorial-and-only-memorial theology would slip by in what’s ultimately a Protestant publication, but if you’re going out of your way to brand a “Book of Bible Stories” as Catholic, then why not have a Catholic treatment of the central story in all of Scripture?
Interestingly, the book also covers Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in John 6 — also a rarity among children’s Bibles. And again, the story is presented well, but it’s the author’s summary that I wonder about:
God sent his Son to sacrifice himself for our sins so that we could have eternal life. We show Jesus we believe in him when we join together and receive Communion.
If all Communion is is a show of belief (“Yep, Jesus! I’m still a Christian this week!”), then we’re in trouble. Little kids are so literal, they’re probably the one segment of the Church’s population that doesn’t have second thoughts about transubstantiation. You could do it with simple language. When we receive Communion, Jesus gives us his own Body and Blood so we can live with him forever in Heaven. He called himself the Bread of Life, and we eat this bread in the Eucharist.
Minor quibble with what otherwise seems like an excellent, above-par children’s book of Bible stories? Maybe. But if I’m going to give my children (or even distantly related little ones) something beautiful, then I want it to live up to itself. I want it to convey truth…full truth. Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth, in Catholic and non-Catholic publishing alike, of books that do just that.