Being a high school teacher and father of three children can carry a great feeling of reward and satisfaction, especially when it comes to passing on the Catholic Faith. Serving as a role model for teenagers, one can realize tremendous fulfillment by helping guide students along a positive path in life and acting as an example of healthy influence for their decision-making in the future. Being a religious education teacher in a Catholic high school, however, can provide affirmation that is even more special.
How the Faith Takes Root
Such an educator has the unique privilege of presenting God to youth who may or may not have relationship with him. We have the opportunity each day to introduce God in all of his glory and mystery, revealing his presence and love through a wide array of prayers, lessons, discussions and activities.
Yet, this gratification does not necessarily come early. In fact, it has been my experience this encouragement and validation usually come far later, once students have advanced into their college studies and have grown through life encounters. It is usually around this time they have reflected on their past and have come to appreciate their faith with more mature perspectives.
Recognizing a far lesser awareness or depth of their Catholic faith when in my classes, it is my challenge and responsibility to meet students where they are in their lives, aiming to plant seeds of Jesus’ good news that will hopefully take root and grow in time.
Passing on the Faith as Parents
So, as a religion teacher, I am tasked early and often to help my students come to know God and grasp what it means to be Catholic. As important as that assignment is, though, I take even greater pride in sharing that same message with our children. My wife Catherine and I are blessed with three kids, aged five and under. We both grew up in practicing Catholic families and we both held a passion for our faith prior to meeting and marrying. Now parents, we both willingly undertake the challenge to share and impress upon our kids the value of belonging to the Catholic Faith. This might be simple in theory, but not so easy in practice.
Labor of Love
Teaching children the importance of the Catholic Faith so they can come to understand and appreciate it themselves can be one of the hardest yet most critical roles of parenting. In our everchanging world, kids of all ages are exposed to so many diverse and complex ideas and behaviors, not all of them aligned with our beliefs.
As parents are the anchors of the family, it is incumbent on us to teach and model our Catholic identity to our children. This will encourage their faith formation while helping preserve the healthy existence of family—the foundation for a strong society. Doing so can also prompt our kids to not only know Catholic teachings but also to practice them; to not only learn Catholic lessons but also to live them.
This is not a process with instant results and such a labor of love will take years of attention and effort. So with that in mind, below are some ways parents can convey the meaning and importance of being Catholic to their children no matter what their age.
Power of Prayer
One of the key principles in our faith, parents can consider it their duty to teach their children both how and why to pray.
The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the “domestic church” where God’s children learn to pray “as the Church” and to persevere in prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church’s living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2685)
Instead of looking at this as an unpleasant obligation, parents can view this responsibility more like a privilege. After all, spending quality time together and helping them learn to communicate with God can assist kids in developing a positive relationship with our Lord while also fostering a strong, virtuous life.
Teaching Kids How to Pray
As it is such a crucial building block of faith, parents can teach and practice prayer in a variety of ways. Certainly, we can introduce kids to relationship with God early on through song and age-appropriate reading. Reading together before naps or bedtime or playing Catholic music while traveling can inform children about famous biblical characters and events while teaching them the immense power of God’s love for his people. Praying the Rosary as a family can demonstrate to our kids the beauty and richness of the Catholic Faith through the drawing of grace from God and our Blessed Mother Mary. While strengthening certain qualities such as patience and solidarity, the Rosary can teach several specific traditional prayers, including the Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. It can also introduce others like the Fatima prayer and Hail Holy Queen.
Prayers before meals can refocus kids and remind them to always recognize and be grateful for their many blessings in life. Having a constant time of prayer at such moments and others such as bedtime can reinforce to children the importance of talking with God for any and all reasons. Prayer can also spur youth to ask questions about God, leading to some meaningful chats between parents and their kids. Additionally, children can come to better appreciate the meaning of prayer as they grow, as well as its importance for calling on God’s guidance and aid. Kids can realize this not only for themselves but also for others— family, friends, the leaders, and the weaker, less fortunate members of society.
Talk It Out
In such a busy world, conversations of any substance between parents and children can seem scarce. Discussing the Catholic Faith with our kids, then, can provide a refreshing break from the daily small talk that can bombard our routines. Whether chatting in the car, reading the Bible or sitting down for a heart to heart talk, addressing life lessons with connections to Jesus’ parables or Old Testament proverbs can help youth reflect and mature in their attitudes and outlooks. Sharing with them information from one’s personal testimony can also offer children a genuine glimpse into how impactful God is. This can be particularly helpful as our youth grow older, as they may very well need such a reassurance to lean on God during times of struggle or doubt:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
Regular verbal reminders that God loves them and that they are blessings from heaven can emphasize to our kids just how God views them, how we care for them and how they are commissioned to live. Impressing on our children the value of the Catholic Faith through our emotional sharing in authentic conversation can therefore help reveal to them its significance while encouraging them in their own spiritual journey.
Walk the Walk
We read in the Bible how we must back up our words with actions. Anytime we say something, we are called to support our speech with tangible justification. This is why it is so necessary to show our children the meaning of their Catholic faith and its worth through how we live with them.
A vital example of this is regular Mass attendance. To talk at home about Jesus and his unconditional love for us is one matter, but to celebrate God’s Holy Word recited and unite fully with our Savior through the Holy Eucharist is quite another. Despite the many scheduling commitments that may exist on a calendar each week, going to Mass as a family can teach kids from an early age the art of tradition, the special quality of time spent together and the spiritual benefit of being present in the house of the Lord. While each of the sacraments is important, attending Mass regularly and receiving the Blessed Sacrament can provide children of all ages the best opportunity to encounter entirely Jesus’ love and presence by entering into complete communion with him.
Another way parents can share the meaning of the Catholic Faith with our kids is through education. If possible, sending children to a Catholic school (or enrolling them in a Catholic religious education program outside of school hours) can promote and bolster the Christian values inspired by the Bible and taught at home. Receiving such an education can offer youth an environment of wholesome, virtue-laden teachings that support Catholic theology and social teaching.
A Catholic school background introduces our children to opportunities to serve in their community, humbling and motivating them to make a positive contribution in the world. Whether cleaning up litter from a local park, visiting the elderly in a nearby retirement home, serving food for the homeless at a downtown shelter, or any other act of community volunteerism, students in a Catholic school learn and feel the impact of giving back. Coupled with their own families’ acts of service, students can truly witness and live corporal works of mercy, coming to more fully understand the notion of defending and displaying our Catholic beliefs through actions.
Valuing Our Catholic Identity There are so many other ways that parents can teach their children the meaning and impact of being Catholic. Family retreats, children’s Bible study camps, a parent’s blessing over kids before bedtime and faith-friendly TV or movie programming (or healthy discussions following content that is not supportive of the Faith) are all subtle yet strong examples that can help nurture kids’ understanding of and appreciation for their Catholic faith.
No matter the method, we as parents are called to share and to show how God is always present in the world, leading our children each day of their lives. If we can do that with devotion and humility, we can be confident our kids will know and value their Catholic identity, always remembering they are blessed and loved.
Matt Charbonneau is a high school religious education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. For more of Matt’s writing, visit God’s Giveaways at www.mattcharbonneau.com/.