“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”(Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NAB)
“Drill them into your children,” as it is rendered in the New American Bible, is quite the forceful phrase! This section of scripture, commonly called the “Shema” (meaning “hear” in Hebrew), is one of the keystones of the Hebrew Scriptures. This instruction to “drill” God’s words into one’s children speaks to the importance of passing on what God has spoken to us and previous generations.
The main message that children need to receive about God is the same one they receive from their parents – that they are loved! God’s story of how he loves us is found all through the Scriptures. This passage from Deuteronomy is in the context of reflecting on the Exodus from Egypt, and the receiving of the Law from God after this great event. We are called to return this great love from God by following the commandments he has given us.
There is a false understanding floating around our society that has caused a great deal of harm regarding religious education. This myth is that young children should not be given any guidance in religion so that they can make an unbiased choice when they are older. This logic does not hold up if we see religion as a living relationship with God and the Church. When a child is born, we give him or her both a first and last name, a home address, and before too long, enroll him or her in school. It would be absurd to wait until they were older to ask if they want to be a part of the family – that’s just who they are! In the same way, we do not need to hesitate to bring children into a living relationship with our loving Father in heaven and the family of the Church.
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.