I recently saw a meme that had great insight into the role that parents play in teaching their children. It said this: “To my children: Never make fun of me for having to help me with my phone. I taught you how to use a spoon.” The entirely of a child’s life is spent learning – how to eat, how to talk, how to be fair with siblings and friends. Parents help their kids learn by experience – the first few times using a spoon are always a disaster. But with humor and patience, everybody learns how to use a spoon. Parents are the first teachers of their children in every respect – especially when it comes to the faith. Parents are the first catechists of their children and the first ones to teach them what it means to
live in relationship with God. The unconditional love of a child’s father and mother is the first experience of God’s love in the family.
Unfortunately, many parents feel unequipped to be the first catechists of their children. Through no fault of their own, maybe they did not receive a good catechesis from their own parents or during their upbringing. However, even if there is still room to grow in knowledge of the faith, this is no excuse to abdicate this responsibility. It is never too late to learn about prayer and the teachings of the Church. Most important is the witness of faith that parents give to their children. This means prioritizing one’s relationship with God throughout the day by interspersing moments of prayer in the morning, and regularly talking about faith matters during meals and conversations. Attending Sunday Mass as a family may be the best witness that parents can give to their children. Prioritizing Sunday Mass above sporting events and other entertainment teaches children, without even using words, that keeping holy the Lord’s Day is a commandment from God meant for our own happiness and for the glory of God.
When parents help their children to grow in holiness, this is not a one-sided exchange. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains in paragraph 2227, “Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents. Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect.” Children can also teach parents what it means to be generous and loving, usually just by being themselves! A child’s love and trust teaches us how to become like children so that we can enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).
Father Dominic Vahling is a newly ordained priest. He serves as parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and as co-chaplain of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School.