Forming Children of Faith
“A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon.” What does this have to do with forming children of faith? Let’s see …
According to Gandhi, the fragrance that Christianity emits could be overwhelmingly aromatic, healing and beautiful. However, all too often Christians emit unpleasant scents due to hesitancy, inconsistency, contradictions within their own lives, and prejudice. Unfortunately, these behaviors caused him to say the following to E. Stanley Hones, a Christian missionary, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It is just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
And so the teaching of authentic Christianity really does come back to the person. Are Christians providing a credible witness to Faith, Hope and Love? But even more specifically, how well are parents providing that much needed and credible witness to Faith, Hope and Love within their own families? How can parents form children of faith? These are the big questions to be answered in a small way within this essay.
The Catechism teaches us that one of the primary duties of parents is to be our children’s first heralds! Just as the angels were the first to announce the good news of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, parents are to be the first to announce the Good News about Christ to their children. Furthermore, parents are called to announce Him with confidence and joy! In order to do that, parents have to know Christ, and they have to willingly and knowingly give right praise to God alone! What else matters?
Parents are called to be their children’s primary teacher in matters of faith and morals. Just like the previous calling, parents are to teach faith and morals that are in sync with the Church rather than culturally held belief systems. So, this requires parents to understand what and why the Church teaches what she does. Then, they are capable of passing on the Truth to their children credibly. Each duty listed demands that Christian parents put on the armor of confidence, joy, and conviction in order to become their children’s primary teacher in matters of faith and morals.
Parents’ instructions are most often delivered in silence. What does this mean? It means that our everyday lives broadcast — the loudest and longest and clearest — what we really hold to be true. It is our ways of life that are the most instilled in our children. And so, Christian parents must teach their children that their profession of faith “begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything … Creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works; of all God’s saving plan; the beginning of the history of salvation that culminates in Christ.” [CCC 198, 280] Parents have to be able to talk to their children about the Creation; if we fail to get that part right, or are hesitant and uncertain, we will have much tougher times teaching the moral laws of the Church. In fact, “Catechesis on creation is of major importance. It concerns the very foundations of human and Christian life for it makes explicit the response of the Christian faith to the basic question that men of all times have asked themselves: Where do we come from? Where are we going? What is our origin? What is our end? Where does everything that exists come from and where is it going?” [CCC 282]
Unfortunately, many people - young and old alike - suggest that their spirituality has nothing to do with God. This attitude is a subtle diversion from attending to our primary duty as created persons to get to know love and serve God and to offer all creation back to Him and to offer all creation [including fellow human persons] back to him. [CCC 358] In other words, if we give right praise to God alone [thou shall not have other gods], we will get right our social responsibilities to the rest of His creation including our beloved children and spouses, fellow human beings, the environment, ecosystems, etc.
Taking on these duties is only going to get harder as genuine Catholic parent populations shrink right alongside other genuine Christians. It will seem easier to go along to get along but that is not where faithful parents are to go. We are to parent against the tides of secularism, moral relativism, selfishness, and self-centeredness even as other parents blow with the winds of the times. We need to be grounded in the truth in order to teach it. We can’t teach what we don’t know. We can’t love what we don’t know. We can’t embrace what we don’t love. And, we can’t teach what we don’t believe.
What else are parents called to do? We are called to the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. This means carrying them out within our own homes every day and with genuine love and devotion to those most in need of our immediate attention — our own children. This infuses in our children the credo that we are our brothers’ keepers. The vocation of Christian parenthood demands that we counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently and pray of the living and the dead — always and every day! That should happen every day within the home! Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick and visit the imprisoned. Again, parents are called to do these things every day, every week, every year — consistently, confidently, and with great love — within the home because that is where the most need is. When we get it right at home, our children will also learn to get it right in and outside of the home. When we get it right at home, it will be easier to perform these works among strangers in need outside of the home.
In a previous essay, I wrote that we cannot be perfect parents — and neither will our children be perfect. Let’s all pray that our children will not reject Christ one day because we were too unlike Him. And let’s also pray that we parents recognize when we are unlike Christ in order to ask for forgiveness from God and those we hurt, seek their reconciliation, and strive to restore love authentically. And let’s pray that we emit an aroma that is pleasing to God, to our family and to others — everyday.
What other parental duties are outlined and explained in the Catholic Catechism? They relate to the previous duty to be our children’s primary teachers in matters of faith and morals. They include the following. Parents are to “foster an interior disposition in their children that is a genuine preparation of a living faith and support for that faith for their lifetimes.” We are also to provide “the first school of Christian life and human enrichment.” We are to mold informed consciences. Parents are to associate their children with the life of the church. We are to build upon our children’s generosity, gratitude and other natural virtues. We are to instruct them about errant philosophies of the modern century that denigrate God, His Creation, Love and Life. We are to teach about sins of omission and commission against the Ten Commandments; fraternal love; marital love; the Beatitudes and the Gospel. We are to help encourage vocations proper to each chid. We are to teach our children to subordinate their “material and instinctual dimension to interior and spiritual ones”. We are to pray for our children and assign them saintly names. We are to impress upon our children that holiness in not an option if we want to enter the eternal presence of His Holiness. We are to try and convince our children that God is indeed worth everything. 2 Timothy 2:21 teaches: “If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work!” This list of duties deserves a more in-depth analysis than space allows for here. The good news is that my latest book (Mothers Forever, Fathers Forever) provides more explanations, examples, and derivations for you to consider.
Up to a point, your children will largely adopt your Christian Catholic principles, beliefs and practices. They will bristle at some of your rules, expectations and hopes. They will be obedient about others. Hopefully you will teach them why the virtue of obedience is important and necessary. Hopefully they will learn why a person cannot be both disobedient or obedient by nature. One of the two will naturally hold a stronger sway over someone because of their choices, habits, and character defects. We need to help our children choose virtue over vice every time the latter rears its ugly head.
As they leave our nests; our children’s goodness will be challenged on multiple fronts. For the most part, parents don’t worry that their children will jump into being not good with both feet right after leaving home for the first time. However, parents should caution maturing children about the temptation that being a good enough Christian is good enough for them or anyone else! We cannot compare ourselves to those who adopt the culture-at-large values and principles and credos. This comparison is dangerous because we’re using the wrong models. We notice how the good and the bad play out in this crazy culture. We see serial adultery vs. chastity play out even among Christian lives and families. Similarly, we will observe pride and prejudice; humility and openness; cheating and honesty; faithfulness and faithlessness; hope and despair and shades of all of the above. Not one of us can keep a strong foothold on good while also wanting to dabble in vice. Either we will love virtue and Truth or we will hate them. In the former case, we will have learned to give right praise to God alone. The latter reinforces praise of self and the seeking of self-pleasure, selfishness, and self-centeredness.Those who suggest that we can have it both ways are speaking falsely; these credos prevent us from being genuinely grounded in Christ.
God continues to love all of us despite our choices, actions and inactions. However, it’s us who will grow more and more distant from Him during times of bad choices, actions and decisions. As we grow distant from Him, we begin to think that God isn’t good enough for us! And so we begin to complain against Him and His Church. In turn, we bend the truth about God, His moral laws, His laws of nature and of man.
God calls all parents to step up to our Christian, Catholic duties for love of Him and their children. We are called to give credible witness to Life and Love therefore that requires an authentic search for them. Authentic faith is indeed learned and practiced at home. Love for our neighbors is also instilled at home. Parents have a big job! Will we ever be perfect parents? Never! Will we be able to perfectly mold our children in matters of faith and morals? Never! Are we called to God as He loves? Always! Will we fail to do so? Yes, however, when we fail to love as God loves, we simply have to ask for His forgiveness and mercy. At these times, we will emit a worthy fragrance. And our sermons will be worth saying and hearing. Let’s make a difference one child at a time with God’s grace.
Questions to consider:
What are the spiritual goals for you and your family this year?
Are you an active teacher in the fifth and moral life of your children?
What do you plan to do differently?
Reflect on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; implement your ideas after reflecting on how well you carry these out in and out of the home.
Have a Blessed Easter Season!
Copyright 2016 Linda Kracht
About the Author
Linda is a wife, mother of seven, and grandmother of 23. Linda is founder of Fortifying Families of Faith, LLC and her books include: Daughters Forever, Sons Forever; The Art of Breastfeeding, published by the Couple to Couple League; Mothers Forever, Fathers Forever; Surviving College; Black and White; and A Book for All Seasons.