I am a product of 14 years of Catholic schooling. My husband, Mark, spent his entire education in public schools. He attended religious-education classes at his parish until the ninth grade, when he says he was the only one who showed up.
Sure, I could tell you all kinds of things about Church history and teaching. But I have to admit that I am amazed daily by the strength of Mark’s faith. And for that, I have to credit his mom and dad, just as I credit my parents with helping me develop my faith.
My point is this: As kids head back to school this month, whether in public or private schools, it’s a good reminder that the bulk of our children’s religious education takes place at home.
The Domestic Church
Vatican II called the family the “domestic church.” And Pope John Paul II has certainly been a proponent of the importance of the family in forming children’s faith lives.
In his 1988 apostolic exhortation, Christifidelis Laici, the pope said that the family “makes up a natural and fundamental school for formation in the faith.” He added, “The more that Christian spouses and parents grow in the awareness that their ‘domestic church’ participates in the life and mission of the universal Church, so much the more will their sons and daughters be able to be formed in a ‘sense of the Church.’”
Helping to Grow In Faith
Because the family plays such an important role in educating a child about the faith, here are some suggestions to help with that challenge:
• Get involved. Mark and I decided last year to teach religious-education classes together on Sunday mornings. Not only is it refreshing our own knowledge of our faith, it is also giving us an opportunity to pass that on to the younger members of our Church, including our own children.
Not everyone can make such a commitment, but you can get involved by talking to your children about what they learned in religion class or Sunday school.
• Take your faith home. The Catholic Church offers many opportunities to practice our faith at home. In our parish, there are often booklets set out in the back of church—especially during Advent and Lent—with various at-home activities. There are also many books containing activities to coincide with events throughout the year, such as Holy Bells and Wonderful Smells: Year-round Activities for Classrooms and Families, by Jeanne Hunt (St. Anthony Messenger Press), Building Catholic Family Traditions, by Paul and Lisa Thigpen (Our Sunday Visitor Books) and Raising Faith-filled Kids, by Tom McGrath (Loyola Press).
• Lead by example. One of the challenges Mark and I have discovered in teaching religious education is that the kids say their families don’t do much to practice their faith, including going to church on Sundays. (Kids can be brutally honest, can’t they?) Make an effort to let your kids see you practicing your faith. And continue to nurture your own faith. For instance, the museum exhibit Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes recently came to Cincinnati. I discovered a number of interesting things there that I had not known before—such as that when a pope died, he used to be struck in the head with a small hammer to confirm his death. The hammer would then be used to smash the jewel in his papal ring.
• Make your faith accessible. Let’s face it; many aspects of our faith are geared toward adults. So it shouldn’t be a big surprise when our kids complain that they’re bored during Mass. Try to find a way to make the Mass or customs of the Church more accessible to your kids. For instance, find them a child’s prayer book they can take to Mass to help them follow along. Or after Mass, go over the readings and what they meant, explaining them in a way they will understand. If you don’t know the answer, ask your parish priest, deacon or someone on the parish staff.
• Find the everyday teaching moments. Recently, my five-year-old daughter, Madison, got a temporary tattoo from the gumball machine at the store. The tattoo was of Our Lady of Guadalupe—an odd thing in itself. Later that evening while my husband’s parents were over, Madison came bounding into the room, lifted her shirt to reveal the tattoo, and said, “Do you want to see her dance?” as she wriggled her belly.
I quickly explained to Madison how inappropriate that was, and then told her the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These weren’t the ideal circumstances to teach her that, but we need to recognize teachable moments whenever—and however—they present themselves.
Next Month: It's All About the Eucharist