Teach Your Children Well
Faith: Catholic Parents’ Greatest Gift to Their Kids
Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) is abundantly clear about the role of parents in educating their children: “Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. … Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs” (36).
Without question, parents are the primary influence on the faith lives of young people. Many Catholic parents are deliberately teaching and witnessing the faith to their children at home, laying a foundation of faith that will support their families for a lifetime.
“Years ago, while preparing for our weekly radio broadcast, I told [theologian] Scott Hahn, ‘I feel like I know all about Our Lord, but I don’t really know him,’” Catholic apologist Matthew Arnold recalled. “I asked what he recommended to help me develop that ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ that everyone was always talking about. He answered with one word: ‘Teach.’”
Both Matthew and his wife of 23 years, Betty, took that advice to heart, seeking to maximize their time spent teaching their six children about faith, virtue and becoming lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.
“Since Catholic parents are called to be the primary educators of their children, Jesus grants us the grace necessary to fulfill that responsibility,” Arnold said. “As parents, we obey the Great Commission to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:18) precisely when we disciple our own children.”
“Instilling in my children the profound truth that God loves them more than I ever could, while striving to be an example of that perfect love, is a daily goal of mine,” Betty shared. Teaching her children about God’s love and his Church continuously sparks her own spiritual growth as a forever student of the Catholic faith, too: “I have grown so much in my own faith by teaching it at different levels. It is so exciting to share the parables of Jesus with a little one who is hearing it for the first time; then to go over that same parable when that child has reached high school and can understand it [fully] is exhilarating.”
The Arnolds look to the example of the Holy Family to encourage them in their mission to bring their children up to be Godly, faith-filled adults. “In Luke’s Gospel, when the boy Jesus is listening and asking questions of the teachers in the Temple, Scripture says, ‘All who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers’ (Luke 2:47),” Matthew pointed out. “Later, when Jesus is preaching in the Temple, people asked, ‘How does he know Scripture without having studied?’ (John 7:15). Where did a carpenter who had not gone to the rabbinical school or studied with a great teacher learn these things? Well, Scripture informs us that, from the time of the return from Egypt to the finding in the Temple to the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus lived in Nazareth with his mother and his foster father. There, he was obedient to them and grew in age and grace and wisdom before God and men (Luke 2:51-52).”
Set an Example
Parents serious about fulfilling their “most solemn obligation” to educate their families in faith are also continuous learners of Catholicism. Whether or not they have any formal background in studying theology or religion, they know how important it is that they actively learn more about and intentionally live out their Catholic faith at home, so as to help their spouses and children grow in faith as well.
This is true of the Cotter family. Kevin Cotter seizes opportunities for teachable moments with his children, in order to instruct them about what he himself has learned about living a Christian life. “If you can establish conversation as a consistent habit and pattern with your kids, then talking to them about the faith, and how it applies to life, becomes easier. Teaching the faith ultimately starts with a relationship.”
Lisa, Kevin’s wife of 10 years and mother to their three children, believes she has a responsibility to help encourage the most important relationship her children can have — with Christ: “The greatest gift that I can give my kids is the gift of faith, teaching them to have an authentic relationship with Christ, where Jesus is real and present in their daily lives. I want to teach them to talk to Jesus like a friend, to love him and trust him.”
Lisa and Kevin, Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ missionaries, devote time to becoming more faithful disciples of Christ.
“I want to teach my kids to know and recognize truth, goodness and beauty in the world, but if I haven’t trained myself to do so, how can I impart it to them or expect them to be able to recognize goodness, truth and beauty themselves?” Lisa reflected.
Some ways she grows in her own knowledge and love of the faith include prayer, consulting a spiritual director, going on annual retreats and participating in parish faith-formation programs.
Kevin also cited a consistent prayer life as his primary way of growing in relationship and learning more about Jesus and his Church. “It is during this time that I learn more about God, myself and the faith.”
The Arnolds and Cotters recognize the unmatched influence they have on their children’s spiritual lives through their teaching, and they also see how their children encourage them to become better students of the faith.
As Kevin observed, “I think faith is best caught when it is taught.”
Katie Warner writes from California. She is the author of Head & Heart (Emmaus Road).
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