Maybe it was Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration of the “Year of Faith” that got us thinking. Or perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction to the frequent attacks upon our faith from an increasingly post-Christian society that put the idea into our heads. Whatever it was, my husband, Dan, and I recently came to the conclusion that sending our children to Catholic schools and saying a few prayers with them before meals and as we tucked them into bed each night wasn’t nearly enough to excite within them a desire to know and love God or to give them the wisdom they need to discern the differences between the truths of the Gospel and the candy-coated lies of this world.
If ever they are going to “own” their faith, internalize the teachings of the Church and live a life of joyful obedience to God they need to hear us, their parents, speaking openly about our own faith. If ever they are going to learn the language of prayer — worship, petition, confession — they need to regularly hear us pray. And if ever our children are going to learn to understand and appreciate the truths and wisdom contained within the Doctrines of the Catholic Church, we must faithfully and lovingly explain them to our children and bear witness to these teachings through our daily conduct. We cannot afford to sit back and allow the secular culture to form our children’s moral understanding — all too often normalizing fundamentally sinful behavior — while we passively wait for our children to instigate conversations regarding their faith. It is our duty to educate them. “The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and spiritual formation…The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2221).
As soon as the decision was made to take a more proactive role in the formation of our children’s faith, we gathered the children into the living room and my husband announced that as a family we needed to do a better job of loving God, praying to Him and understanding His teachings. Dan suggested we begin by talking about the Saints for whom each child was named and why those names were chosen for each child at their birth. Dan turned to our eldest son and said, “Jack, your patron Saint is John the Baptist. Did you know he ate locusts and honey and lived in the wilderness just like…” At this point Jack jumped in and yelled enthusiastically, “a Redneck!”
The next day I shared this story with a group of friends and as we laughed over the fact that I certainly have my work cut out for me. One of the women, a fellow Catholic, scoffed, “I’m impressed that you actually talk with your kids about God. But I guess it’s easy for you. You know, with your background and all.” I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard these words from various Christian men and women. Each time they are said, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to their children when they grow up and leave home. In the face of suffering and temptation will they fall back upon the faith in which they were raised? Recent statistics say most likely ‘no’.
A 2008 report from the Pew Research Center suggests that approximately one third of those who grew up in Catholic families have left the Church. This means that 10% of all Americans are former Catholics. Why did they leave? Numerous polls suggest that most people leave over frustrations with the Church’s teachings on “non-negotiables” (e.g. contraception, cohabitation, homosexual marriage, male-only priesthood) and a perceived irrelevance of the Bible and faith to modern science and everyday life. When religion appears to be nothing more than a heap of old stories and a litany of “thou shalt nots” it is no wonder that people would leave the Church. It is our duty as parents to show our children a radically different understanding of the Church’s teachings, all of which are inherently based upon the merciful love of God.
In November, 1986 Blessed John Paul II said in his homily at the Hippodrome “Belmont” in Perth,
“I appeal to you: do not deprive your children of their rightful human and spiritual heritage. Teach them about God, and tell them about Jesus, about his love and his Gospel. Teach them to love God and respect his commandments in the sure knowledge that they are his children above all. Teach them to pray. Teach them to be mature and responsible human beings, and honest citizens of their country. This is a stupendous privilege, a grave duty, and a wonderful task that you have received from God. By the witness of your own Christian lives, you lead your children to take their rightful place in the Church of Christ.”
In these dark and trying days in which it seems as though everywhere we turn we are confronted by the Culture of Death, we are so desperate to see a transformation in the values of the world around us, but we must realize that our nation and our world will never be changed until we change the way in which we raise our children. As Blessed John Paul II once famously said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
Rebekah Durham Hart is a relatively recent convert to Catholicism. After graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary (a Presbyterian Seminary in Decatur, GA) in 2002 and working within various ministries of the United Methodist Church, she entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2006. She has shared her conversion story with Gus Lloyd on Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel.
Rebekah is currently a stay-at-home mom and, when she is not stepping on her son’s Legos or having tea parties with her two little girls, she blogs at http://instinctivephilosophies.com/.
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