By Heidi Comes
The responsibilities of parenting are often overwhelming. It can feel like there is an endless list of things we need to teach our children in order to ensure they become good people, or at a minimum, that we do the job we were called to do as parents.
Most of the lessons we try to teach our kids come from the experiences we’ve had, along with what we learned from our own parents, either through their direct instruction, or the failure to do so. In the home of a Catholic family, the responsibility of passing along the faith should be at the top of our list.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says: “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule” (CCC 2223). How do we do this? What books do we read, what podcasts should we download and what online classes should we sign up for? These can be great resources to help us learn more about our beautiful faith, but none of them are required to start building a legacy of faith within our homes.
It starts at home
For many, catechesis is something that is done at the church. It was that way for us, so it is that way for our children—the old, “it worked for me … didn’t it?” mentality. The problem with this is that the world is not the same place today. Our children are bombarded from many sources, all competing to have a huge influence on their formation, and most of those sources do not promote the values of our faith or values of any sort. Despite that, no one has a bigger impact on your child than you.
What we do and what we fail to do are the primary shapers of their life. While that can sound extraordinarily heavy, it is also an amazing opportunity to give the best of ourselves to our children. With the help of God’s unending grace and unconditional love, we can tackle the toughest parts of parenting, knowing we cannot achieve perfection, but in our imperfection, God will provide all that we need.
Catechesis is a life-long adventure, not a nine months of the year, once-a-week event that seems to wane once the sacrament of confirmation is received. The programs offered through our parishes are meant to supplement a rich faith life within the home, not replace it.
Unfortunately, despite knowing that, many parents struggle with the idea of being the primary teacher of the faith for their kids. Most of us feel inadequate when it comes to teaching. We may know that we love Jesus, and believe in his real presence in the Eucharist, but how do we put that into lesson form to teach our own kids? It’s intimidating and better left to someone who is more comfortable with it. False.
Robyn Bruggeman, a wife, mother, grandmother and enthusiastic follower of Christ, has seen the beauty and fruit of family faith formation work in her life and in families within her parish. “I am a huge believer in parents being the primary educators in faith formation. I have seen it work in my family and others who take that role seriously.”
As a convert to Catholicism, she had a strong desire to understand the “why’s” of the faith while she and her husband, Spike, raised their children. Her own journey began to take deeper root when their oldest child was preparing for first Communion. In a desire to better understand the reasons behind the actions, she became passionate about Living LIT(urgically)—“finding and living out creative ways to pass on our Catholic faith while having fun, bringing the Church year to life in our home/family (domestic church) and life, outside of the church building.”
Keep it simple
No matter the ages of our children, there are always opportunities to learn and grow together in the faith. Robyn emphasizes there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to teaching the faith. Instead, she explains, “the ‘one right way’ for any approach and any way of learning or passing on the faith, at any time and always … is to always seek the truth!”
This presents itself in the most organic times of family life. Gathering together around the table or snuggled up in the living room, we can begin to share our own story with them. As plain and simple as it may seem, authentic faith is the most inspiring.
Maybe we are a cradle Catholic and have never questioned the teachings of the Church, or maybe we are a convert and fell in love with the deep tradition and beauty that is found within her, or maybe we wandered away from our faith and our God for a period of time, and by grace found our way back. Whatever our individual faith journey is, the most impactful thing we can do is share it with our family in whatever age-appropriate way we feel God calling us to do so. It may seem a bit awkward at first, so begin with a prayer together, either a memorized one or spontaneous. Ask God to be present and to bless the conversations shared and make himself known and real to your family.
Once you have established a safe and comfortable place where God’s name is spoken and faith is shared, begin incorporating more into your home day by day. This can be done by reading the daily readings together, saying a morning offering before rushing out to school and work, reading about the saint of the day, or ending the day with an examination of conscience and prayer of gratitude. In time, this sacred space you create within the hearts and home of your family will blossom into a place where you can dig deeper.
The liturgical calendar provides incredible opportunities to live out the Catholic faith together with the universal church while making the bigger picture more intimate within your own family traditions. Through the daily incorporation of faith into family life, teaching the faith becomes less of a chore to complete. Finding ways to normalize being a Catholic Christian within our conversations, our routines and our day-to-day interactions is the greatest tool in passing on the beauty of our religion.
His grace is enough
Most of what we do as parents we do without a great deal of confidence but with hearts full of love and a desire to do the very best we can for our children. When we seek to share our love of Christ, along with our devotion to his Church and teachings, we can rest assured that his grace is sufficient to make up for our shortcomings. It is our dedication, determination and desire that God will honor.
Proverbs 22:6 exhorts us as parents to, “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.” There is not a guarantee that our kids will not question (we should welcome that), seek out answers from others, or even wander away from time to time. But we cannot let this keep us from teaching them while young the way they should go … and trust that God will always bring them back. Robyn encourages, “Please, be not afraid! God loves you and he loves your family. He wants to live in relationship with you and for you to lead your family to him and to heaven.”