We often speak about the failure to transmit the faith to children as entirely the fault of the culture in which we find ourselves. However, this is only part of the challenge. As ministers, teachers and parents we need an aggressive witness from our families and faith communities. First, when it comes to those elements in society that are diametrically opposed to the Gospel, we must be visible signs of contradiction with a decisive and convincing alternative message. We must quite literally become physical and spiritual roadblocks to those who would travel the path to perdition. Further, we must find ways to make the truths of Christ more convincing and enticing than the exotic and sinful lures of the world. It is in this that we become signposts to the proverbial “road less traveled.” While walls against persons and immigrants are controversial; there should be no dispute for barriers against deadly sin.
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
If these poisons find a weakness in our fortifications then they will raid and destroy us from the inside.
Second, whenever possible, we must make serious efforts to either transform or to dilute the negative or neutral elements in society, making them work for us and not against us as believers. This requires quite a bit of creativity. For instance, one critic condemns Harry Potter stories as an introduction to witchcraft and Satanism; another tries to find Christian themes within the metaphors of fantasy. Admittedly, it will never be as effective as THE LORD OF THE RINGS but since it is not going away, is there a way to read these stories and watch these movies within a Christian worldview and sensibility? I remember years ago there was a priest on radio who would play the current musical pop hits while giving mini-sermons on them and sometimes pointing out where the sentiments in the songs reflected Christian themes and/or where they could lead us wrong. Whenever possible, we should seek to further discussions with the young and not rely entirely on the language of prohibition. The latter often appeals to the rebelliousness that is naturally characteristic of teens. We cannot utterly protect our children from what our world holds out; however, we can better empower them to face modernity with knowledge and proper discretion.
Too often the negative attitudes of children and teens are merely mimicked from the patterns they observe in how their parents approach faith. Too many departmentalize the role of religion and its values while others practically dismiss it altogether. Parents and families may not be entirely Sunday Christians and Weekday Devils; but they may lack any fire to take their faith on mission into the world around them. While the image of the soldier and the Church Militant may not be popular today; we should be even more averse to being reduced to passive pawns of a secular and humanistic modernity that is in enmity with Christ’s kingdom. The best of Christian parents have a real struggle on their hands and their offspring will be their “own” people; but those that never worship together at Mass, rarely pray and daily live as if there be no God— they have surrendered the battle for souls before it could even begin. Divine grace may yet save their children, but it will be in spite of them. It would be so much better if they were instruments for God’s gifts of faith and holiness.
Passing on the faith is not simply a head trip, although the importance of facts cannot be eliminated from the equation. However, this process, if we can call it that, must be to energize the dynamic of the domestic church. Parents and older siblings should model faith to the younger ones. All are called to a genuine personal and corporate relationship with Jesus Christ. Too often the weak faith of children is mirrored in the malnourished faith of the parents. Many adults suffer from poor or bad catechesis. Many do not pray as they should or have an impoverished notion as to the importance and meaning of prayer. If the children have their catechetical books, do the parents have theirs? Is daily family prayer a staple of their living? Do families open their bibles so as to create inroads for God’s communication with them? Do families talk about or even list the intentions that they bring to the Sunday liturgy?
What is the first step in trying to form the child in the faith? It begins with a transformation and rededication of parental hearts. Mothers and fathers must acknowledge their privileged vocation as Christian parents and the spiritual role that they should play. If children are to be spiritually fed and guided, then parents must first be nourished and strong in the faith. How many times have I heard parents say that they learned something by looking at their children’s catechism books? This is not bad but it sad when a thirty or forty year old person admits that he or she only has a second grade level understanding of the faith. It is even more bizarre when children come home speaking with enthusiasm about their encounter with Jesus and the parents are befuddled since they are essentially strangers to the Lord. The first step in raising a child in the faith begins with the spiritual life and religious formation of the parents. Their values will become those of the children. Indeed, often the anger parents express toward children when they fail to do religion homework or when they do something sinful is misdirected— they blame children for what is really their own guilt.
Parents need to get themselves in order so that they will be there in an effective manner for the children. I often tell parents to share their walk with the Lord in their faith-talk. Some people, usually those with hardened hearts, argue that asking for forgiveness is a sign of weakness. However, the opposite is true. It takes courage for a person to admit fault and to ask for forgiveness. We are all sinners. One of the greatest witnesses that a parent can give his or her children, especially during the teen years, is the willingness and honesty to admit fault, to fall upon one’s knees, and to trust in the strength and mercy of God. Our children will also make mistakes and take wrong turns. This witness will show them the way back home to the Lord.
Questions for Parents
- Are you witnessing your faith as you should— married in the Church, going to confession, participating at Sunday Mass, leading your family at daily prayer, and involved with charity apostolates in your parish or community?
- Do you truly cherish the gift of your sons and daughters, not only caring for their material needs but insuring their spiritual and sacramental formation?
- Do you really see yourself as a role model of faith for your children and teens, or are you embarrassed by your failure to be a fully committed Christian?
- What is the positive witness you give your children? What negative examples do you show them?
- Given the faith and values you live by now, how do you think your children will remember you?
- How Catholic do you want your children and grandchildren to be? Do you want them to be cafeteria Catholics and part-time Christians or would you have them ignited and on fire for Christ?
- Do you ever faith-talk with your children or is there only silence? How honest are you with your children when it comes to religion? Have your children ever called you out for duplicity or hypocrisy?