How can I keep my kids Catholic?
It’s a question we hear a lot. After all, sending kids to school sometimes seems like sending them to swim in a shark tank. Sometimes it seems like the corruption of our time outdoes even St. Paul’s list of vices in Romans 1, and that our children are the ones most exposed and vulnerable to it. So keeping them Catholic must mean fighting a vigorous rearguard action, and possibly even a losing battle.
But are we asking the right question?
Phrase it like this: How can I keep my husband married to me? That’s backwards: Marriage isn’t just about playing defense any more than love is just about keeping the beloved from falling out of love. Being obsessed about how a marriage might fail is one of the quickest ways to set it to tottering.
Marriage is more about “offense”: The one who loves just looks to love more and to love better, and that heads off so many problems that don’t even get the chance to germinate. The marriage that is strong can afford to be confident, because a husband in love looks at the world with different eyes: All those eligible women out there are only eligible for others, and his eyes are for his wife alone.
A novice on a tightrope fears the fall. But if we think that love is a tightrope, we’ve missed the point.
A tightrope Catholic’s only parenting strategy is to unplug: the television, the phone, the Internet, the devices, the dangerous friendships etc. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary. But the “unplug” strategy is never enough.
Because just as with a marriage, the key here isn’t access, but attractiveness. If the husband’s heart is attracted by another woman, he’ll find a way to get access, and no amount of vigilance on his wife’s part will ultimately prevent him. In the same way, a kid who is attracted by the world’s wiles will get access to them sooner or later. You can’t “keep” kids Catholic like you “keep” a dog on your property with an invisible fence system. It’s a question of the heart.
Parenting today — more than ever — is a question of making the truth more attractive than the world’s lures.
Kids will stay Catholic if the Catholicism they see is the strong, self-assured, self-confident, assertive kind — and if they see worldliness accompanied by the ugly train of destruction its glamour tries to hide. Sure, they may have their falls and their difficult years and some rebellion. That’s par for the course; but they’ll come back around if they fell in love once with genuine Catholicism.
The early Church won so many converts not because it was glamorous, but because the faith of the early Christians was the “strong and silent” type, full of quiet joy and enthusiasm. Anyone who saw Pope John Paul II at a World Youth Day event saw that kind of Christianity: a Christian life based on discovering Christ’s personal love for each one. That’s what today’s kids need. Will they find it? A solid family life is essential; but kids need more than that, especially in the adolescent years.
Here at the Register, we’re constantly amazed at the sheer number of “joyfully Catholic” activities that come across our news desk. If your kids aren’t already involved in something like the following, maybe these suggestions could be a great start:
Franciscan University of Steubenville’s youth conferences span the summer and the country. If you live in the continental United States, one of their 19 conferences this summer is close to you. You might have missed the flagship Ohio conference in June, but 1,700 teens didn’t. Get more information at FranciscanYouth.com. Or how about Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ Camp Wojtyla, a Catholic adventure camp for middle and high school students in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains? Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, hiking the mountains and cooking your own food … with daily Mass and spiritual guidance. Find out more at Camp.focusonline.org.
Then there’s Catholic Familyland, which Joseph Pronechen profiled in our last issue. Their website, Familyland.org, goes into more depth about their youth program that’s so energizing that teen participants keep in touch with their new friends all year after the summer experience.
You can probably guess what CatholicSoccerCamps.com is all about. Who says you can’t “promote Catholic values while teaching the beautiful game of soccer at a world-class level, and to expose campers to Italian culture and language” in a single week from Italian coaches, with daily Mass to boot?
Just google “Theology of the Body” to find out how many programs are already running for teens to discover the fullness of the Church’s teaching on sexual purity. Prepare to be amazed. TOBforTeens.com and OneMoreSoul.com are great places to start. Even the Pure Fashion program sponsors summer camps and retreats to help Catholic girls grow into confident, competent leaders who live the virtues of modesty and purity in their schools and communities. Details at PureFashion.com.
Then too, how could any discussion of dynamic Catholic youth programs leave out Life Teen? This year they’ll host 25 conferences around the country to train 2,700 adult ministers and host 10,000 teenagers at regional events including summer camps. Get an inside look at LifeTeen.com and get youth ministry tools at CatholicYouthMinistry.com.
Catholic kids don’t have to be on a tightrope. They can be on a mission. Or on an adventure. It can all start this summer.