As a parent one of the most important and enduring gifts we can give our children and grandchildren is a faith in Jesus Christ and his saving power. But we should be under no illusion, this is not an easy task or one that we bear the full responsibility for. After all, the real work of winning hearts and minds for Christ lies with God himself, because no-one desires their salvation more than he. God gives to parents the responsibility to partner with him in this task, he does not leave us alone or unaided.
So how then do we go about this task? At this moment in history the world is pedaling many options for our children to choose, some good, some bad and some downright dangerous. We have to navigate through these murky waters to help bring our children safely out the other side of adolescence with a faith that is intact or at least moving in the right direction.
From everything I’ve read, the one thing that seems to be a non-negotiable is our own faith. Children have a unique way of finding out if their parents are “hypocritical.” If we want our children to have a faith they need to see it lived out everyday. They need to know it is important to us. It has to be more than just giving up an hour on Sunday to go and do what we’ve always done. Mass should be the highlight of our week, or each day if that is possible, an absolute obligation. Our sports and activities need to fit in around Mass not the other way around. But it shouldn’t end there.
Our homes should be a place of refuge from the “storms of life.” They should be a place where love is lived out. In fact research shows that the level of faith that a child will keep will be very dependent on the closeness of relationship with the person who is teaching them the faith. In other words if Mum and Dad have a strong bond with their children then their children are more likely to stay faithful to Christ. And interestingly enough it’s not Mum’s faith which is most important but Dad’s. Statistics show that children are more likely to stay practicing the faith if they see their father practicing his faith.
I think so often as Catholics we are embarrassed to be seen to be overtly faithful, as if this is somehow showing a sign of weakness. But many people, especially our men folk, give rise to a powerful witness to their children, especially their sons, when those children see their Father bend his knee in prayer. There is something enduring about a parent who is willing to submit his life to the kingship of Jesus Christ. Parenting throws up many problems, as parents sometimes the only thing we can do is fall to our knees and seek God’s face to help us, we should never be so proud that we are to afraid to acknowledge our own weakness and dependence on God.
Prayer, therefore, is important, establishing our own prayer routine so that we can draw strength from God is an absolute; but so too is praying as a family. I know this can be hard, especially as children get older and schedules more complicated, but that coming together as a family has immense value. Coupled with the reading of Scripture, all this helps to really open our families up to the grace God wants to bestow upon us.
Reading the Scriptures also begins to help the children see that the bible is not just some dusty old book but holds the answers to some of life’s big questions. This is a vital ingredient to building a legacy of faith in our families. If you are still not sure about reading Scripture to your children then read Psalm 78:1-8 where the bible makes it quite clear what we should be doing. See also Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:18-21, Proverbs 4:1-4, 20-21, 2 Timothy 3:16, Isaiah 55:11 and Psalm 119:9-16. There are many more scripture passages which relate to this subject, but you will begin to get the idea. And this does not have to be an arduous task, just take a few minutes each day or if that’s not possible try to schedule certain days when you have some free time to read a small piece of Scripture. When the children are little you can start with familiar bible stories, Noah and the Ark, Daniel and the lions etc. With older children you can follow the daily readings or simply pick out various books of the bible. The four Gospels, Proverbs, Ephesians, James, Philippians, Galatians and the psalms are good places to start.
Never underestimate the need for fellowship with other Catholics. This has been really important to our family. Finding friends who shared our Catholic faith has enriched all our lives. Taking them on retreats where they saw a side of the Catholic Church that you don’t get in most Sunday services was a definite bonus for all the family. Ministries like Youth 2000, the Faith Movement and many others, offer young people the opportunity to gather with other like minded youngsters and hear some great solid Catholic teaching.
Taking children to adoration and confession is another way of helping them open themselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit. Trying to get youngsters to sit still for a period of time is not easy. But if they start young, going to just kneel before Jesus and tell him they love him, blowing kisses and waving goodbye, etc begins to lay down a foundation. As they get older the length of time can be increased.
Once they have made their first confession taking them monthly to confession begins a good habit. This works in two ways. Firstly, quite simply, they get used to going to confession, it becomes second nature. Secondly, when started from an early age it never becomes an arduous task, they know the format. Regular confession helps them be open to the Spirit and his healing power. While we are taking them we should make good use of our time and go as well, children love to imitate as we know, so again our own witness speaks to their hearts. Going to confession once a month can be an opportunity to treat the children, an ice-cream or pizza etc after confession can help,them begin to relate going to confession as a positive thing, because rewards are a powerful motivator in all sorts of areas of life so why not in trying to teach our children their faith.
The fundamental goal of Christian parents is to see their children enjoy eternal life with them in heaven. Spending time as a family is vitally important to developing our relationship with our children. The years go by so quickly. Two decades disappear in a blink of an eye. We have so little time to influence them, that influence can have a lasting legacy, for good, or for bad. Therefore if we want to build a strong legacy of faith in our families then increasing the number of shared activities we do as a family will help. The result of this shared time will be strong familial bonds. The relationships that are built through these activities allow us the opportunity to share our own faith and ideals, this will have a deep and profound effect on our children even though we may not feel we are making any impression children internalize everything their parents do and say. So much of this comes back to our children seeing us live out our faith. That good old adage “practice what you preach” is so true. If we want our children to have a faith that endures let them see us living out our own faith and allow them to walk beside us as we do it.
Parenting is not an easy job in this world, it probably never was. However we don’t do this job alone. God walks beside us each and every day helping us to continue to build his kingdom, so with His help and His grace let us fulfill the task he has placed before us.