It’s about time we Catholics realize that going to church occasionally and sending our children to Catholic school simply won’t cut it. And it isn’t enough to be “nice people living a good life.” Parents are called to teach their children about the Faith.
Parents are the primary teachers of their children. Even an apathetic or absent parent is teaching “something.” For example, parents that only go to church occasionally (if ever) because they want their kids to attend Catholic schools are teaching their kids that education is important but the Catholic faith is not. The message is, “Get a good education, kids. Don’t care about your eternal destiny.”
Your children need to see you live your Faith, but they also need to hear you talking about your faith. They need to hear you explain why you are Catholic. They need to hear you constructively and compassionately stand up for your faith when others put it down, doubt it or attack it. They need to hear you describe what you believe and why you believe it. They need to hear you speaking to others with love, kindness and compassion. They need to hear that you have a personal relationship with Christ, and that you do so through Christ’s Church.
It’s not enough for clergy or teachers to say what your children need to hear. Your children need to hear you say why it’s important to go to church every Sunday and on Holy Days. They need to hear you explain that, “No, Catholics do not worship statues, Mary or the saints, and here’s why.” They need to hear you explain why you are going to confession and how it changes your heart and your life. They need to hear you say why you believe in the authority of the Bible and the Church (not Bible only). They need to hear you talk about the Holy Eucharist and why it’s life-giving (not just a “symbol”).
In short, what I’m saying is this: Catholic parents must become Catholic apologists! Not the sort of professional apologists that debate from behind podiums and write scholarly, theological books defending Catholicism. Catholic parents must be the kind of apologists that can have informed, loving conversations about Catholicism with family, friends, co-workers, etc. Unless you know something about your faith, you can’t have much dialogue about it with your children or anyone else.
Does it seem overwhelming to you? It doesn’t need to be. Look at it this way: when you fall in love with someone, you instinctively want to learn more about that person. To truly be Catholic is to love Jesus Christ. We grow to know Jesus better by learning about His Church (which includes the Bible). Start small. Take “baby steps.” Surf some reputable Catholic websites like Catholic Answers and read about a topic that interests you. Read the Catholic Catechism and find out what the Church really teaches. Have a few apologetic books like this or this in the house along with a good, Catholic study Bible.
One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it! By teaching your children about the Faith you will learn along with them. When they have a question, look it up! Find out the answer together. Stop worrying about how much you “don’t know” and start exploring Catholicism.
There are numerous forces in the world seeking to divert you and your children from the truth. Atheism, anti-Catholic Protestantism, Socialism, Secularism, etc. are just a few of the philosophies that would love to tell your children why Catholicism is wrong and false. As parents, you are the first line of defense. Do not rely solely on Catholic schools or the clergy to teach your children about the Catholic Faith. They can’t do it very well without you! And you can’t teach it to your children without living it yourself.
I’m not proposing that you sit your children down and lecture them in some kind of “home school catechesis class.” I’m saying that you need to notice the teachable moments and actually have something informative to say in those moments!” The only way to do this is to know your faith or at least know how to get answers. Your children need to see that Catholicism is more than merely a cultural identity: it is the very means by which Christ gives eternal life!
Catholic parents, one of the most important aspects of your job is to help your children get to Heaven, not just to get through school. Learn the Faith so you can teach the Faith. Teach the Faith so you can learn the faith. Live the Faith and speak the Faith with your children. Let your actions match your words, and your words match your actions. Be genuinely Catholic! If you don’t take Catholicism seriously, why should your children? Why should anyone?