I often buy Catholic books for my grandchildren. When I saw The First Christians: The Acts of Apostles for Children by Marigold Hunt, I snapped it up since Acts is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is also the perfect one for children to begin with because it's such an adventure story describing the apostles travels, persecution, miracles, and shipwrecks. What could capture a child's imagination more easily?
Before I started reading the book, I noticed that it was not a new publication, but was originally published in 1939 by Sheed and Ward, a bastion of orthodoxy in the old days. Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, were in fact, well known for their "soapbox preaching" as members of the Catholic Evidence Guild which presented Catholic teaching in public in an easily understandable style. They were frequent lecturers at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, London.
While my mom was at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. (when it was still Catholic), Sheed once came to her campus and asked to hear some of the students defend the faith. I believe they had a student chapter. My mother was one of the young women selected. When she was finished, Sheed questioned her and concluded by describing her as "damn good!" I can't remember how many times I heard that story; she was so proud of it. Sadly, the guild which once sported dozens of chapters around the world is a lot harder to find today, but they do have a very active New York City chapter.
Now, back to the book. It's delightful! It gives background as well as describing the events in Acts. For example, Hunt explains the difference between the active and contemplative religious orders in a charming way children can understand. She concludes by suggesting Our Lady as a model of prayer:
I am sure the whole baby Church was as much our Lady's care as her own Baby had been and that for the twelve years or so she continued to live in Jerusalem, she spent nearly all her time between praying at home and praying in the Temple, and that only when the Apostles got to Heaven did they realize how much her prayers had to do with their wonderful success.
What really drew me up short, however, was a paragraph in the chapter on the Council of Jerusalem when Hunt discussed the controversy over whether the Gentiles had to keep the Mosaic Law. She began by describing Peter's cowardly behavior in Antioch when he stopped eating with the Gentiles to avoid upsetting the newly-arrived Jews and Paul's bold rebuke:
So up stood Paul and told Peter, in front of everyone, what he thought of such behavior. It took courage to do that, you know, because he was well aware that Peter was the head of the Church, the first Pope. But if the Pope does something wrong, he ought to be told so just like anyone else.And just as that was true in the baby Church of the first century and in the 1939 Church, it is true today. Which is exactly why this blog exists -- to speak the truth in season and out of season, popular or unpopular, embraced or persecuted, no matter who doesn't want to hear it!
I highly recommend this little book to read with your children or to use for a children's Catholic book club. It could even be tied in with direct action -- like praying the rosary outside an abortion mill or collecting food for a local soup kitchen or visiting a nursing home. And, of course, the contemplative life could be lived by making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament or praying the rosary in your own garden. We need to teach our children to be little evangelists who are both active and contemplative. This book can be a stimulus.
St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us. And may God abundantly reward Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward for their life-long witness to the faith!