Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
It’s a difficult thing to share one’s faith with a stranger. It is more difficult perhaps to share one’s faith with a person who already knows all the ways in which you fall short. It’s hard to be a fully credible witness when someone else knows all your warts. Nevertheless, that’s the purpose of being a parent, to love them through to maturity and beyond, and help them learn to love you forever as well. Part of loving them is revealing more deepl, how to pray, how an adult prays, and inviting them to go deeper and deeper in.
It’s a tall order, taller than my teens who tower over me. Fortunately, there are some built in places to begin to tuck in extra prayer when words may not be the easiest means of communication between you and your high school/college-aged offspring.
(1) Technology is your friend. By putting the Laudate app on my phone, I get to hear the day’s readings while I make lunches. It means my teens get to hear today’s readings as they ferret through the closets for their shoes, socks, what have you. It’s my way of giving them a daily dose of the gospel… and yes, I’m not above putting it on a second time so I can listen deeper, and make sure the perpetually tardy teenager gets the same opportunity as the early bird. There’s also an app that lets you do the Divine Office if you’re so inclined, and podcasts from Catholic radio you can play while you’re making dinner or folding the laundry or working out. I admit, it’s not subliminal, it’s not even subtle. I’m just hoping to get a few moments of wisdom and grace sandwiched into their brains when they happen to not be wearing earbuds without it coming directly from me.
(2) Be Catholic Batman. Schedule time for yourself, in the same bat place, same bat time, same bat channel. Let them see that at ten o’clock on the nose, you’re in that chair with those beads, working your way around the rosary, or the chaplet, so they know, you take this as seriously as a workout, as work itself, because this is the work that Christ himself said was the better part.
(3) Daily rituals like grace before meals and bedtime prayers are bonus ways of adding in little petitions for the one studying for the SAT, or worried about auditions for a play. By slipping in the additional petition, it reminds the teens (and everyone else), that these prayers are not mere habit, they’re communication, they’re expressions of gratitude and thanks to God. Younger children help out in this regard as well. My youngest always adds at dinner, “And don’t forget to pray for the poor, the sick and the sinners.” It’s her own addition, but it never fails to move even the most stubborn of hearts who hears it, because it’s earnest.
(4) Introduce them to a few saints. Prayer cards are an easy way to do this, and perhaps encourage a personal devotion. Be selective about which saints to give to which children, and remind them that these saints are here to help us along the way. Ask them occasionally, if they’re still saying the prayer, or offer to say it with them when you’re stuck in the car going somewhere on an errand for them. If they won’t take the prayer cards, keep them for yourself and ask the saints to help with preparing the soil of their souls.
(5) Give them a few good books. I happen to love books, so giving them to my children happens on a regular basis. Most of Peter Kreeft’s work is very accessible, while The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce might be another’s cup of tea. Going back to the saints themselves, there’s Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Saint Catherine of Siena’s Sermon in a Sentence, Saint Teresa’s Story of a Soul and Pope St. John Paul the Great’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope. It’s hard to go wrong with all that’s available, except by not taking advantage of all that is available. But read it together with your teen and talk about it, use the writings of the saints to help springboard into conversations with your children about faith and all the challenges of being a disciple of Christ in this day and age.
(6) Let them see you bleed. Teens need to see this isn’t an empty thing, or a symbolic ritual. This faith life isn’t a mere tradition, it’s a manifested reality. Let your teens see you going out of your way to make it to an extra Mass or adoration or confession or all three. Let your teens see you’re willing to be inconvenienced for your faith, willing to go the extra mile for God, even if it seems no one but God is watching. (Hint: Your teens are watching, even the ones who say they aren’t listening.)
(7) Fast for them. Pick up a good habit as a sacrifice for the bad habit you want them to drop. This is part of your mission as their parents. It’s even better if you and your spouse do this together.
(8) Sing at Mass. Yes, they will feel mortified that you’re being so participatory, but later, as they grow older in the faith, when songs are sung at Mass, they will hear your voice and feel what your voice sounds like and that’s powerful. It’s a prayer that echoes over time.
Your job as their primary caregiver is almost at an end, but the task of witnessing, praying for them, and loving them, is forever. So treasure this short time when your kids are still fully your kids, when they’re still at home and you still have what feels like unlimited time to give them the best thing in life. College is around the corner, and all of adult life ahead. Your real work as their parents has just begun.