Let’s assure that faith formation begins at home

I was having lunch with a young adult friend, and she was adamant that her Catholic religious instruction was lacking.

“I would never just trust a school or a parish to teach my kids the faith,” she said.

“Good,” I replied, “because the Church never envisioned that: That’s your job as a parent.”

“But most parents just don’t feel equipped to educate their children in faith,” she retorted.

As I contemplated our discussion, I wondered how many people shared her view. How many people find teaching the faith to be beyond their ability? It seems to me that, perhaps, we need to consider a different starting point: Do the daily activities and values of our homes point to a true belief in Jesus Christ? I would suggest to you that this is the very best place to reclaim our roles as the primary faith formers in the lives of our children, and it doesn’t require deep theological knowledge to start. Here are a few questions to ponder:

  1.  Does your family eat together? This one is complicated because someone always replies, “We are so busy with sports and activities that we rarely eat together.” Well, then step one to family holiness: Limit the sports and extracurricular activities. A friend suggests a healthy balance of one sport, one musical activity, and one civic activity for his children. With school and religious obligations, 3 clubs/activities is more than enough to fill anyone’s time. If sports or activities keep your child from a family dinner, teach them a valuable lesson in the primacy of family: Our family time always comes first (even if they’re not initially thrilled at the idea).
  2. When you eat together, do you pray? Think about the basic disposition of giving thanks before a meal: One recognizes that God provided the food they are going to eat, that He did it through the dignity of the work he gave to the “breadwinners,” and all good things begin with acknowledging God’s providence. All good things come from God, and we do best to acknowledge this with thanks.
  3. Do you bless your children when they leave your home? From my daughter’s birth, I have blessed her every day when she leaves the house, and when I take her to school, I bless her when I drop her off. I suppose I’ll do this when she’s 30 (if I live that long) because it’s crucial that I pray for my child and invoke God’s protection. As a parent, how could I do anything less? God’s oversight and protection are important realities, and our children need to see this.

I know that some credit their faith to a particular book, practice or theologian, and these are good; and I am not suggesting that catechetical instruction be abandoned—that would be spiritually deadly. However, like many, my father’s simple faith taught me how to be a Christian. I think of him in his recliner, holy medals around his neck, as he prayed decade after decade on his Rosary. My dad would get frustrated in theological conversations, but his faith was steadfast and exemplary; his faith was worthy of my attention and emulation. One need not be a theologian to be a strong, Catholic parent, one merely needs to be willing to exemplify faith as the foundation of their home.

Understanding deep theological truths are beneficial, but what would be the result if we all committed to making sure our children saw deep faith in action? Imagine if they knew they were so loved that we wouldn’t allow them to overextend themselves; that we valued them so much that we made an evening meal a protected family time because we wanted to be with them; and we pointed all that we did toward the recognition that God is, that God loves, and that God is the center of our family — in fact, we wouldn’t be a family without God? That is the place where faith begins. Not in a parish or school, but in our home, and if we do this in our homes, we’ll be amazed at what our kids learn (and teach others) in our parishes and schools.