The following is taken from a presentation I gave at a Parent/Sponsor Confirmation meeting…
I am here today to speak to you about keeping our kids faithful, committed Catholics for life. This is the most important thing we can do for our children. There’s a lot we want for our kids; a good education, friends, a spouse and a family, a good job etc… But ultimately those things will last for a maximum of 100 years or so. After that, all is vanity. As they say, you can’t take it with you.
Beyond the happiness we hope they find in their first 100 years, what do we want for our children? We want them to share in the joy of Heaven forever. This is our ultimate goal as parents. Our children are not actually ours to keep. They are on loan from our Heavenly Father. It’s our job to help them get back to him.
I’d like to talk about how we can do that.
First, the challenges….
This world is set with a million traps and lures to draw our children away from God. If you look carefully, what more could the devil do to make it difficult for our children to seek God? I have kids in high school and college, and I see how inundated they are with messages that run contrary to the teaching of Jesus and the Church. Not only that, the Church itself is broken and scandalized. It is mocked openly and rejected by most of our society. Most of our kids’ friends, even in a Catholic high school, will scoff at the idea of weekly Sunday Mass, let alone Catholic principles regarding prayer and morality.
In light of these challenges, the question becomes, how do we help our kids stay true to the faith? In part two I will explore some possible answers.
It’s about Jesus, not just the Church
First of all, I think we need to make a distinction between primary and secondary matters of faith. Primary matters of faith are summarized in the Kerygma. The kerygma is the primary gospel message: God loves us and he sent his son to save us from our sins. This is the good news. This is what matters.
Morality and other teachings are super important, but if we don’t believe the first thing, the rest is without any foundation. We have been guilty of stressing morality, even above faith at times.
So of course morality and God’s law are vitally important to being a fully formed Catholic, first comes the love of Christ.
Our young people today may not be immediately drawn to the Church’s teachings on morality, but all humans are inspired by role models of love. Our kids need to know how unconditionally loved they are. This starts with us as parents. I love you no matter what. I love you just as much when I pick you up drunk from a party as I do on the day you get your confirmation. I love you 100% on the day you got arrested and I love you 100% on the day you got a scholarship. My love for you doesn’t waver depending on your actions.
The reasons to express our unconditional love are both practical and spiritual. It’s practical because we want our kids to know that we will be for them in their darkest hour without reservation. That will hopefully keep them safe. It’s spiritual because we want them to know how God loves them. Despite their sin and failures, they are loved. They are never “too far gone” to come back to us, and ultimately, to Him who made them.
No spiritual journey is a straight line
The thing is, very few people’s spiritual journeys are a straight line. Few people go straight from Baptism, to First Communion, to Confirmation, to Marriage, to Anointing of the Sick, to Heaven. Many people go through ups and downs spiritually. Many of our children will abandon their faith at some point in their lives. When they are gone, have we raised them in such a way that they will know we have left a spiritual light on for them? It is easy, particularly for young people, to be distracted. Eventually, they will reach a point where they will wonder? Why am I here? What’s the meaning of life? If we have done our job, and by the grace of God, they will hearken back to the Kerygma and the unconditional love that awaits them in Christ.
So as parents we need to keep the Spiritual light on. We can do this by being role models of faith and continuing to love them unconditionally through their struggles.
Virtue and habits
While our kids are still in our home and largely under our influence, it is important to build virtue in them. Aristotle speaks a lot about virtue. Virtue is a disposition to behave in the right manner. Basically it is a tendency to want to do good. This is counter to concupiscence, which is the tendency for humans to be inclined to sin. Our natural tendency is to be lazy and find the easy way out, which leads to sin.
We need to build virtue in our children in the same way we would build a muscle. By constantly exercising a muscle, we make it stronger and more resilient. If we fail to exercise a muscle, it will weaken and lose its vigor. Virtues are built up by building good habits. So, if you want to be a prayerful person, practice praying. Set a regular schedule and stick it, whether you feel like it our not. If you want to live chastity, fill your mind with beautiful images, songs, and books. You can’t expect to build virtue without good habits.
So make a habit, as a family, of doing things to build virtue. Go to Mass as a family every Sunday, eat dinner together, pray the Rosary together, go for walks together. Do things to build up the virtues you want your child to have. Making these behaviours a part of everyday life, rather than just on special occaisions like Christmas and Easter.
Encourage Questions and Thinking
As a Principal for the past 11 year and a teacher for ten years before that, one of my biggest concerns for our children is the decline in thinking skills. Children should be curious, creative, and critical. They should always ask questions and feel this persistent, almost annoying, urge to find out about things. This includes sciency things, current events things, but it should also include spiritual things. Why did God make me? Why is it wrong to steal? How do we know about Mary? These are all good questions that a curious young Catholic should ask.
Unfortunately, too often they aren’t asking. Why not? What has caused our kids to stop asking questions? I can’t help but think that the corporations that have grown to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars developing algorithms to keep our kids hooked online might know. When the internet became a thing, educators and parents saw opportunity; they can look up and learn about anything! Now, some 30 or so years later, kids aren’t looking stuff up; they are having stuff shown to them that a computer thinks they might be interested in. These algorithms are too good at their job, and they are killing curiosity. Kids stay plugged in for hours watching Tik Tok videos, scanning Instagram photos, and waiting for likes on their latest post.
My best advice is for everyone to unplug. Make sure your kids read good books, engage in conversations, and spend time outdoors. Exploring, creating, reading and questioning are at the heart of curiosity. Spiritual curiosity is necessary to develop a healthy and mature spirituality.
Pray without ceasing and put your trust in God
Finally, we need to remember that our children are not our own. Ultimately faith is a gift from God. Like St. Monica, we must pray for our children without ceasing. St. Monica prayed for years for her son’s conversation while he lived a life of sensuality and excess. Eventually, her persistent prayer and unwavering love bore fruit. When our children waver, we must persist in prayer, trusting that God will answer our prayers for the child he has entrusted to us.
In conclusion, let me summarize today’s tips for keeping our kids alive in their faith:
1) Keep first things first; love of Jesus comes before the rules
2) Unconditional love not only shows our love, it reflects God’s love
3) Stick with them even when their faith falters
4) Build virtue through practice
5) Encourage questions and conversation
6) Pray without ceasing and trust in God
Thanks for listening!