Those who are regular readers of my blog know that evangelization, the sharing of our faith, is very important to me. The articles I write here, on my website, and the presentations (also available on my website) are all geared to the ongoing evangelization of adults (teens are welcome to join in).
What about children? Their growth in faith is also important to me. In each parish where I am served as the pastor or administrator, there has been a staff member who is in charge of the faith formation programs for children and youth. However, I try never to leave them on their own. I try to support them and support them in teaching the true faith.
Today I would like to reflect on the role of somebody outside the parish staff in the formation of our children, the parents.
Parents have an important role to play in the religious upbringing of their children. I think sometimes parents think their part is to bring their children to Sunday school so that the parish can do the work of educating their children. The parish has a key role to play here but so do the parents.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years” (2226). For example, the parents can read children’s Bible stories to their children in their earliest years. Parents help raise their children in the faith by praying grace together before meals. Parents help form their children in the faith by living the faith.
My writing of this article is prompted by my recent reading of An Evangelizing Catechesis: Teaching from Your Encounter with Christ by James C. Pauley (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. 2020). Pauley writes, “There is no relationship more instrumental in the Catholic life than the one between parent and child” (27). He reminds us that “parenthood is a vocation” (30). He cites studies that show that for practicing Catholic adults, faith was regularly talked about in their homes growing up (31). If parents want their children to be faithful, they need to set the example.
Parents often feel they do not know enough about their faith to do this. I offer two comments here. First, you don’t have to do it alone. The parish is here to help. Helping our children learn and live their faith needs to be a partnership between the parish and the family. The parish can provide the knowledge and begin to show ways to live it out. The parents make it part of the family’s daily life.
The second comment regards the parents not knowing enough. Pauley writes, “I have often heard that a teacher must also be a learner” (33). In fact, sometimes we do our best learning in teaching. Parents can learn from teaching their children. Pauley further writes, “Every time we teach, we are afforded opportunities to grow as disciples, to be transfigured in how we ourselves think and live” (34). This is true for parents. It is true for the catechists who teach. It is even true for me as I offer all that I say and write.
The formation of our children needs to be a partnership because it is not just a matter of teaching knowledge of doctrine. “Clear and unambiguous” teaching is essential but we need more. Pauley reminds of what Pope Francis offered in The Joy of the Gospel concerning the first proclamation that “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (Pauley, 89, interior quote from Evangelli Gaudium, 164).
Pauley writes, “What is being described by Pope Francis is a catechesis that evangelizes” (90, see also 93-95). To catechize is to teach. Our catechesis is most effective when it truly evangelizes, shaping not just what we know but who we are.
For instance, we can offer instructions on what to do at Mass but to open up the treasure that is offered us in the Mass we need to help people understand why we do what we do at Mass (see my video series, Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass).
I hope this helps both parents and catechists think about what it means to teach our children. It involves knowledge like learning the Ten Commandments. However, it is not enough to recite the Ten Commandments. We need to live them. When we fall short, ask the Lord for help and forgiveness. As Pauley writes, “The catechist, then, strives to cooperate with the movement of grace” (174), something we all need to do, cooperate with God.