I was privileged to attend a Catholic elementary school during the late 1950s and early 1960s before the church's place in society was nearly drowned by a wave of secularism.
Catholicism was in the air we breathed. My friends and I were prepared for first Confession and Communion, and later for Confirmation in a spirit of anticipation and fervor. We received those sacraments, not just as individuals, but as a community. St. Augustine School in Regina is located next to Little Flower Church where we all served as altar boys, not just on Sundays, but also on weekdays.
Our parents were all regular churchgoers -- it was inconceivable that they be anything but. Our fathers worked in various secular milieu, but our parents worked together to ensure that God was honored in the home with prayer, religious images and proper behavior.
Some might disparage such an upbringing as that of a Catholic ghetto. But really it was a good preparation for living a Catholic life in a secular world. The problem is that the world has changed drastically. Against today's world of uncensored TV, dog-eat-dog global capitalism and loose sexual mores, this Catholic culture stood little chance. The faith community was eroded and our ability to hear the quiet voice of the transcendent Other was drowned out by loud music and traffic noise.
Today, those of us who are still committed to raising our children in the faith know we are in a big battle, one with the odds stacked against us. We know we are not going to get much support from the surrounding culture. The mainstream culture, with its incredible resources for conscience formation, often mocks religious faith and rarely treats it with honor.
My wife Nora and I have three children, aged four, two and four months. Our children watch virtually no TV. We pray before meals, always with a song which changes depending on the liturgical season. We make a big deal of Advent and the religious nature of Christmas and play down Santa Claus and the commercial aspects of the season.
Religious books are among those we read to them, we have blessings for important occasions, and for the last year and a half have occasionally prayed a couple decades of the rosary with them.
We make the rosary a big deal. Natasha, our oldest, spreads a blanket out on the floor, we place an icon of Mary on the blanket, bless each other with holy water and use the Scriptural Rosary booklet with Bible verses before each Hail Mary.
Despite all this, our home is far from being a mini-monastery. It has all the tensions and tears of any home with three young children. We struggle, parade our obsessions and fears before each other, and go through times when religious observance is lax.
As well, much remains to be done. We need to begin encouraging our children to pray on their own, using their own words. When they are older, we can help them to learn about the lives of the saints and to see their own personal vocations in life as related to God's plan.
Will any of this make any difference? Or, by the time they hit 15 will they be awash in the mixed-up values and anti-values of mainstream society? We don't know. Society is powerful and these children have their own minds. They won't be dictated to by their parents' hopes and expectations.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about various "servants of prayer" -- the family, ordained ministers, religious, catechetics, prayer groups and spiritual direction. These "servants" are people and resources which help us deepen our life of prayer. Elsewhere, Pope John Paul wrote that "Among these many paths, the family is the first and most important. It is a path common to all" (Letter to Families, no. 2).
Being a Christian parent carries a serious responsibility for formation of children in the faith. This is particularly true in today's world when so many social forces are arrayed against the carrying out of that responsibility. Children are most unlikely to grow into faith-filled adults unless they have received clear and deliberate spiritual nurturing in the home.
Catholic schools can supplement the work of parents. But they cannot perform miracles. Parents cannot pass on the task of faith formation to the schools. They themselves must be the first and primary educators of their children, especially in spiritual and moral matters.
The theologian Karl Rahner is said to have written somewhere that "The Christians of tomorrow will be mystics or they will not be at all." Raising children in the faith is no longer a matter of letting them breathe the air of a Catholic culture. Such a culture no longer exists in the Western world. Rather, it is a matter of fostering in them a personal, loving relationship with Jesus and his church.
Parents, please pray with your children. It's the greatest gift you can give them.
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