Why I’m writing about this: The other day on EWTN I heard Dr. Ray (sometimes I do listen to Catholic radio, if NPR is annoying me) ask the question, “How do I keep my child Catholic?” Because I was in a hurry and had just arrived at my location, I didn’t stick around to hear his answers. But it’s something I’ve been mulling over lately. This is a matter very close to my heart, as it would be with any Catholic parent. But there are so many people in my life & so many reasons, that I deeply care about this topic that I’ve given a lot of thought to how I will raise my children. It’s also why when my husband and I became Catholic, I chose Saint Monica as my patron saint.
But before we start, let’s all agree that the reason we want to keep our kids Catholic is because it’s true, and we want them to know God too. It’s not to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. Or to pat ourselves on the back because we were such awesome parents. Right? Okay, moving on.
Disclaimer: my oldest is 5, so this list represents how I plan to raise them.
Things you can do to keep your child Catholic:
1. Teach them their faith.
A huge danger to faith is ignorance of faith. I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard about people turning away from God because they didn’t know our faith. This is sometimes overcome later, but sometimes not. As parents, it is not just your privilege, but your duty, to educate your children in faith. And this may mean supplementing catechism classes if they are lacking. (I don’t personally know if this is a problem in children’s classes? Maybe more of a problem for RCIA?)
Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it. (Proverbs 22:6, NAB).
Teaching your children also requires you to know your faith. You cannot teach what you do not know, so take advantage of programs at your church or books that deepen your faith.
2. Model an Inquisitive Attitude.
I think it is very important to model for your children what to do if you have questions about the church. Teach them how to both think critically and find the answers! Inevitably, they will question. It is normal and healthy for your children to question what they have been taught. I think without wrestling with their beliefs to some degree, they may never quite become their own. It is easy enough to remain comfortable with the answers you’ve learned by rote, but until you’ve wrestled with the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Eucharist, the scandals that occur within the Church, and even with the moral law as it applies to your personal life, etc. your faith has not been tested.
This inquisitive attitude goes hand in hand with teaching your children. Where teaching them the faith is the “What” of our beliefs, showing them how to find the answers to their questions is the “Why” of our beliefs. 1 Peter 3:15 says:
But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you. (Douay-Rheims, 1899)
You can model this inquisitive attitude by being vocal about it (not hiding it) when you have questions yourself. Let them see you look for the answers and see how you find them. You want them to know that asking questions is not bad, and that you respect them enough as individuals to take those questions seriously and find the answers. Then when they do have questions, they can come to you if they are not sure how to proceed and you can guide them.
If you do not tend to enjoy the study of theology and do not find that you have answers for your children on these topics, point them to a source of help, whether it is your priest, a good book, website, a godparent, etc.
3. Consider Your Witness.
One of the more common reasons for people leaving the faith of their childhood is scandal. This could be scandal in their own church or in their own family. Scandal is caused when a person who professes faith in Christ sins grievously and either does not repent or the community remains silent. No matter the circumstances, the scandal is caused by a disconnect between professed beliefs and the way one lives their life. This requires a lot of humility. When raising our children, it is easy (and may I suggest lazy?) to just keep everyone in line: “no talk-back”, “I’m the boss”, etc. While I do think it’s important to teach our children respect for God-given authorities in their life (parents, priests, elected officials), I also think it’s important for them to know that just because these people are authorities, it does not mean that they are immune to sin or error.
When you send the message to your children that Christians are these awesome, flawless, perfected people….well, they’ll see through that. Don’t you? We are not perfected people – yet. But we sin. People sin. Our kids need to know that so they can separate the message from individual failings. And our kids need to see how we are ourselves striving to live holy lives. They need to know that we sometimes (or oftentimes) fail miserably. They need to know that our church is not full of perfect people. It’s full of sinners who are seeking perfection in Christ. Sooooooo different.
Jesus hearing this, saith to them: They that are well have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. For I came not to call the just, but sinners. (Mark 2:17, Douay-Rheims, 1899)
So when you do sin, make sure you confess it to your kids. Admit it when you were wrong. Make sure they know that you did or said something that is not what God would want. And then go to confession, and humbly show them the steps the Christian must regularly take to repent. Otherwise, how will they know, when they fall into sin, what they should do to restore their relationship with God?
4. Forgive Those who Trespass Against You.
Yes. This is probably one of the hardest ones to model (at least it is for me). When someone hurts me, then apologizes before I’m ready to be over it, oh! it is so hard to forgive right then! I just want to be mad for a little longer. Maybe make them hurt like I was hurt. How awful!
I know someone very dear to me whose mother (to this persons recollection), never said she was sorry. But worse, she never uttered the words, “I forgive you.” While I recognize a tendency towards this path in myself, I have always heeded the wise advice of my grandparents on my wedding day and have never let an argument last overnight. My husband is an amazing model of grace and forgiveness in my life. He is always ready to forgive, and then it truly is forgotten. My errors never come back later to haunt me. And I am striving to follow his lead in this.
Then came Peter unto him and said: Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith to him: I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22, Douay-Rheims, 1899.)
Your children will first learn about grace and mercy from you! So make sure you are sending the right messages. Don’t hang on to past hurts and recall them every time there is a conflict. Don’t hold your spouse or your children, or any other person, to a standard that even God does not require. Yes, God desires obedience from us, but he will always forgive! Even if you have been a horribly ungrateful, sinful creature your entire life. If you repent with your last breath, he will forgive you. There’s not a waiting period or a condition of forgiveness (other than repentance). You (and I’m speaking to myself here) are not better than God. If God’s mercy is so abundant, then you should mirror that in your life. If you have received more grace/mercy/forgiveness than you deserve, then you absolutely have to pass this grace/mercy/forgiveness regardless of how many times you’ve had to forgive them for this one thing, or how sorry you think they are, etc.
5. Suffer Gracefully.
Suffering is just part of the human plight. And it also seems to be another cause of children forsaking their faith. And, it’s not so hard to understand. We want to have all the comforts of this world because being comfortable feels good! Who wants to suffer?
But if you look around the world, people are suffering. Some more than others, and the intensity of the suffering of some people can often make the Christian community very uncomfortable. It is hard to suffer when you believe God is powerful enough to lift you right out of your suffering…and if He really loved you, why wouldn’t He?
But Jesus specifically says that we must take up a cross to follow Him:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35, NAB).
If we really truly believe the Gospel, then there is more to us and why we’re here than what the world can offer. It makes sense that if this world is all there is, then you and your interests and your comfort/happiness are all that matters. If there is no Justice, no Truth, no God, no Incarnation, no Death & Resurrection, no Heaven, no Hell…then what does any of it matter? Then your suffering is the only scandal! And doesn’t the world operate this way? In answer to choices to ditch family responsibilities for a new adventure you’ll hear: “Well, if it makes you happy…” Because self-interested happiness is the ultimate virtue of our culture.
But Jesus calls us to something much more radical. He calls us to die to ourselves in order to live for Him, and in turn, to live for others. How absolutely crazy! Something I love about our new Pope Francis is how much he stresses living the gospel in such a radical, leave-your-own-comfort-behind, kind of way! And he actually practices what he preaches! This is what our world needs to see. A Christian living for God and for others. Not just a moralized version of the self-interested, pleasure-seeking, consumerist attitude of this world. And our children need to see this too. They need to see us sacrifice our own comfort, our own things, our food, our money, whatever it is that God is calling us to sacrifice for others. This is what Jesus calls us to do, and our kids need to see what that looks like.
As Christians, we believe every person is created in the image of God. That means that every person possesses the same human dignity. True? Then there are more important things than my comfort, my pleasure, my happiness, or my self. And if there are more important things in this world, then other things will take priority over seeking my own comfort/pleasure/happiness. Sacrifice will be necessary. Recognizing that God may need me for His plan in a way that I didn’t expect or anticipate. So, suffering must be met with a “let it be done unto me.” Jesus also promises in Matthew 11:30 that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light.” We never carry our sufferings alone, and we know that our suffering will not be forever. What’s more, we are able to join our suffering to the sufferings of Christ. In picking up our crosses to follow Him, we join in His redemptive work! (Ah! I could just go on and on!)
6. Don’t be SO Serious!
If you catch yourself lacking joy, consider the message of the Gospel! Seriously! When you immerse yourself in the knowledge of the love of God, can you really go on so grudgingly? Enjoy your children, and the noble calling of being a parent. For instance, my Nikki just walked up to me and said, “We should say thanks to God, because he made John Benedict so cute!” Yes, we should! ha! Be joyful. Jesus died, He paid for our sins, so that we could be His adopted brothers & sisters…essentially His equals as children of God! Don’t fake it. If you are going through something, deal with it. But remember your blessings too.
There is an amazing woman I know who is barely even able to feed herself. She cannot even go to the bathroom without assistance. But every other word out of her mouth is “Thank you, God.” Why is it that the people who we think have so little are able to see how much they have and rejoice?
Our children need to learn to look at the positives, even when wrestling with the negatives. And they need to see a genuine joy and hope. So have fun with your kids. Rejoice in creation by playing outside with them! Revel in the creative spirit of man by enjoying great music and literature and films with them. Don’t be a fuddy-duddy.
7. Parent out of LOVE, not FEAR.
There are so many things I want to say here, and I think a lot of it is wrapped up in ALL of these things. Remember that we cannot keep our kids Catholic by forcing them. We cannot hide them away from the world and hope that by doing so we’ll have some magic formula to keep them Catholic. (wink wink!) And we cannot fake some kind of Utopian existence as Christians out of fear that the truth will frighten them away. Truth, if it is true, will be able to show itself as true. Don’t lie, hide, or manipulate in order to keep your kids Catholic. It’s not pretty, and they’ll see through it.
This also means NO GUILT TRIPS! Don’t guilt your kids into remaining Catholic! Their faith is not about you. It needs to be theirs. And you have to be okay with them making it theirs. I’m not saying you can’t require church attendance as long as they live in your house. I AM saying, you can’t make them feel bad for asking the questions and wrestling and possibly even checking out other faiths. Trust me, you don’t want them to just go through the motions to make you happy (because you won’t be happy, and it’s not going to “fix” them).
Duh, right? This is by far the most important thing you can do to keep your kids in the faith. Why is that? Because you will be reminding yourself that you can’t keep your kids Catholic or Christian, or whatever. You are powerless in this. So, stop worrying. Turn it over to God. He is the one who is able to win your children’s hearts. And don’t you think He wants to? Pray.
Think of Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine (one of the great converts to the faith). Augustine was a great sinner. He probably seemed quite set in his ways. But his mama always prayed for him. She didn’t trust in herself to turn him around, but prayed him right into the Church. And what a witness he is of God’s mercy, forgiveness, grace! And what an example she is of not worrying, and trusting God.
So remember. You can’t control them. You can’t change them. But you can live your life in such a way that they can see the Truth, see the Grace, the Forgiveness, the Mercy, the Love of God. And then God will do the rest.
Dear Saint Monica, you were once the mournful mother of a prodigal son. Your faithfulness to prayer brought you and your son so close to God that you are now with him in eternity. By your intercession and God’s grace, your son St. Augustine became a great and venerable Saint of the Church. Please take my request to God with the same fervor and persistence with which you prayed for your own son.
(Mention your intentions here)
With your needs, worries and anxieties, you threw yourself on the mercy and providence of God. Through sorrow and pain, you constantly devoted yourself to God. Pray for me that I might join you in such a deep faith in God’s goodness and mercy.
Above all, dear Saint Monica, pray for me that I may, like your son, turn from my sin and become a great saint for the glory of God.
(Find the Original Here: http://www.praymorenovenas.com/st-monica-novena/#ixzz2t3LsDgRT)