Want to hear something scary?
The average age at which fallen away Catholics report leaving the faith is 10.
That’s fifth grade, much earlier than most would expect. And the impact isn’t something we can ignore.
Why? Well, a 10-year-old grows up and leaves for college. He navigates uncharted waters without the compass of faith. He makes friends, forges relationships, and meets a life partner.
There’s a wedding (hopefully), a new job, a new house, and a new baby — one they don’t take to Mass.
I am the mother of three children. My kids are 11, seven, and three. I look at their faces and I hug their sweet shoulders and I pray I will not only see them in heaven but their children and their spouses, too.
The truth is, we’re not just dealing in our own eternity. Keeping our kids Catholic is an immense responsibility integral to the survival of their souls. While our children must ultimately choose their own path toward holiness, they’ll have a much better chance at doing so if we equip them in the first place.
Step one in that battle is knowing why they leave.
Why Children Leave the Faith
I live in a townhouse on a closely-knit court. There are about 40 houses and in a quarter of those live former Catholic adults. Many of them are my friends; all of them are kind, generous people who have left the Church. And because I’m the only practicing Catholic in the neighborhood, we’ve had conversations about what led them away from the Church.
There are a number of common threads:
Faith in a Box
Some of my friends saw their faith as compartmentalized. It was something their families did in an isolated way. They went to Mass for an hour on the weekends and then came home again. Catholicism didn’t carry into everyday life.
Faith without Reason
Good answers are important. Answers are important – good answers, even more. A number of my non-practicing friends had questions about the faith, only to be met with partial or unsatisfactory answers. They came away from faith-based discussions feeling ignored or confused.
Faith without Works
Kids are adept at spotting hypocritical behavior. When many of my friends were growing up, they witnessed a discrepancy between what they were taught and the way adults around them behaved. Catholicism, then, became a “Do as I say, not as I do” religion. They wanted no part of that.
The truth is, children are perceptive. As the experiences of my non-practicing friends can attest, there is a tendency to assume our children will not only absorb Catholic teaching by osmosis but accept it without question as well. It’s not a fault of the Church or her teachings as much as it is a failing of the adult mindset. We don’t often stop to ask ourselves a very important question:
- What exactly are our kids absorbing?
- What questions aren’t we answering well?
We’re waking up, though, and that’s a good thing. The last decade’s resurgence of liturgical living practices is proof positive of that. But we don’t have to be Pinterest perfect mamas to raise and encourage Catholic kids. We just have to be willing to make our faith real and at the forefront of our family life. It’s really quite simple to do:
Arming The Next Generation: A Guide for Parents Raising Catholic Kids
Set a Strong Parental Example
Are you familiar with the hymn, “And They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love”? This first goal is essentially the same concept – we are the primary educators of our children and they learn how to live the faith through us.
But here’s the kicker: we have to really be living it. It can’t be compartmentalized as I mentioned up above. Our faith needs to be all-in, open, and authentic. Our children need to see us not only living a Catholic lifestyle but being open to their questions with a willingness to seek true answers – not only sharing with them the Church’s response to our big societal questions but lovingly and truthfully explaining the reasons why.
Additionally, we are all human beings. As such, we are all subject to the consequences of the fall. When we mess up (and we will), our kids need to know that we are sorry and that God’s mercy will always wrap us in open arms.
Embrace a Consistent Family Mission
“Families, become what you are.” – Pope St. John Paul the Great
Who we are is Catholic – it is our cultural identity. A family mission sets out the focus of our beliefs and their practical application, preventing that boxing up of the faith. It begins with the simple breath of prayer. Regular family devotions, religious art, a crucifix in every bedroom – it becomes something so natural that it is a part of our autonomic process. We breathe and we live our Catholicity in everything we do.
Once you’ve discerned your family mission, set it down in an official statement. If you’ve not yet considered writing something of the sort, there are a variety of accessible resources available to guide your mission statement efforts. (In a nutshell, your mission statement should illuminate the true, good, and beautiful aspects of your family constellation, setting forth a consistent tone for how that mission will be lived.)
Provide Solid Catechesis
Our children deserve not only to know the truths of our faith but to know the reasoning behind them. The best way to do this is through solid Catechesis, beginning in an age-appropriate manner as soon as they are able to comprehend. While there are a number of books and programs available for families, I’m quite partial to the Mass Journal I wrote for my own kids. It walks them through the weekly readings with space for discussion and reflection, something they can do on their own or at home with me, too.
Raising saints doesn’t have to be scary. It shouldn’t be, as the battle has already been won. But we must arm ourselves and our children to be ready for the assault this fallen world presents us.
How do you work to raise your children for eternity?
Copyright 2018 Ginny Kochis