Raising children who are faithful to the teachings of the Church is a monumental task for modern parents. Our culture actively works against efforts to instill Christian morality and values. Educators take it upon themselves to school children in gender ideology, to say nothing of presenting sex as nothing more than a smorgasbord of ways to give and receive pleasure. Pornography is pervasive and damaging to young minds. Thanks to smartphones, children are often more connected to their peers than to their parents. And thanks to the reach of the internet, children can be led down rabbit holes that end in pure evil.
Parents’ hands are full, to put it mildly.
But all the world-proofing we do, all the precautions we take, and all the loving, authoritative parenting we demonstrate will be in vain unless we take up our most pivotal role as primary teachers of the faith.
If we send our children to religious education but don’t reinforce those lessons ourselves, why should children think Jesus is any more important than, say, algebra or grammar? The Catholic Church calls the family the “domestic church.” It’s within the context of family that children first have the opportunity to learn who God is, to hear from their parents what God means in their lives, and to observe their parents living out a life of faith.
For those looking for a place to start, prayer seems the obvious choice. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has on its website a page called Tools for Building a Domestic Church. Not surprisingly, prayer features prominently. They suggest praying together as a family, saying grace before meals, nurturing a habit of bedtime prayers with children, praying a family Rosary, and allowing your children to witness you in private prayer.
I remember reading an interview with author and columnist Rebecca Hagelin at Crosswalk.com in which she described the moment when, as a young girl, the sound of someone weeping led her to her parents’ bedroom door. It was open just enough for her to peer in and see her father, a pediatrician, kneeling at his bed crying and praying for a young patient of his. “I stood there in awe of this brilliant man who realized that he needed to go to the Great Physician for help,” she recalled. “That tremendous moment of faith – when he never knew I was watching – impacted me for the rest of my life in terms of where I place my faith.”
A book that was highly recommended to me on the topic of family prayer is A Short Guide to Praying as a Family, written by the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia in Nashville. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia writes this is in the Foreword: “Helping children learn the habit of prayer thus becomes one of the most important lessons a family can share.”
Celebrating the seasons of the liturgical year in our homes is a great way for children to understand that the practice of our faith doesn’t begin and end at the church door. Kendra Tierney’s book, The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life, is all about precisely this. She shares ideas for celebrating Catholic seasons and feasts incorporating foods, activities, stories and decorations. Advent wreaths with candles are a great way to mark the preparation for the coming of Jesus. There are many sources online for Scripture readings and prayers to be said at the lighting of each candle. Advent calendars with Bible verses that tell the story of Christmas are fun for children, and a great teaching tool. A Christmas creche can be a beautiful and memorable reminder of what the holiday is truly all about. I remember reading about a family whose Christmas morning tradition was to pray together around the creche before any gifts were opened.
Lent is another season easily observed in the home by making sacrifices as a family and fasting together. I know one family with four children whose Lenten tradition is to learn, as a family, a new psalm each year, memorizing and reciting it line by line each night.
There’s no question that going to Mass and confession as a family is important. But what may be just as important is explaining to children why we do those things. Children need to understand why it matters, so they don’t dismiss it as merely a habit or family tradition.
In addition, if we want our children to be truly faithful, they need to understand that God isn’t only for Sundays. So follow another suggestion from the USCCB: “Talk freely about the presence of God in the joys and sorrows of your life.”
Remember the instructions Moses gave the Israelites in the Old Testament:
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul . . . And you shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
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Copyright 2019 Marcia Segelstein
About the author: Marcia Segelstein has covered family issues for over 25 years as a producer for CBS News and as a columnist. She has written for FoxNews.com, First Things, World Magazine, and Touchstone. She is a Senior Editor for SALVO magazine and author of the new book Don’t Let the Culture Raise Your Kids, available from Our Sunday Visitor and on Amazon.