I’m so grateful for my husband’s family: They are devout, hardworking folks, dedicated to their large families and fun to be with. But as some of the kids grow older and head off to college, they stop going to Mass and, in some cases, lose their faith. These kids’ parents are daily communicants, who I know pray for their children. I fear the same happening to my own children as they grow. What can I do differently?
Some of that is typical. They are finding their way, questioning everything and establishing their own identities. Tom went through it as a teenager, so know that many will come around if they keep searching and remain intellectually honest. Those hours of Mass and prayers by their parents will not go unheard. Sometimes God uses the love of a beautiful young woman or the birth of a baby to draw us back, and we’ve seen that happen already with a number of our cousins. But it’s hard to watch kids go through a few years of struggle and heartbreak, as they learn the hard way that God’s will is the only way to true peace and happiness — and that our Church is here to help us know and follow God’s will on this earth.
One thing all of us parents can do better is to be sure that our kids see firsthand our love for God. To pass on the faith means so much more than going to Mass on Sunday. One hour a week is just not going to do it. The kids have to witness that Christ means everything in our life if he is to mean anything in theirs. So the hard thing about this truth is that we have to have some kind of spiritual life to share. And this is one of my new year’s resolutions: to be more faithful to a daily prayer time, attend daily Mass more often … so that I can witness what the Lord is doing in my life in a real, practical way to my kids.
More than any words, we are drawn to good examples. We think immediately of Tom’s mentor during his young-adult years: a wonderful Jesuit priest. He has this sense of serenity and joy about him that is so inspiring. You want to be a better person after visiting with him. And that is the kind of model we should strive to be for our children!
We also have to work hard to make our Catholic faith permeate our daily family life. Mumbling “Bless us, O Lord” every now and again is not enough either. Anything we can do to make Christ real in our family life will ultimately change our children’s lives. So when someone is stressed out about a test, grab his hand and say a quick, spontaneous prayer. It’s only awkward at first. Before a big basketball game, anoint your child with holy water and ask for protection and a great game. Have a special bedtime prayer routine. These little acts of grace will stay with our children forever. That’s what John Paul II meant when he wrote, “Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface” (Familiaris Consortio, 60).
The McDonalds are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.