I’m preparing for the workshop I’m giving at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and I wanted to share one small piece of the message I plan to present. The workshop is focused on empowering parents as the primary religious educators of their children, or more specifically, as disciples and teachers.
So this begs the question: How, exactly, do parents best educate (or better: evangelize and catechize) their kids?
Here is what I realized in talking with people who cite their parents or grandparents as significant influences on their faith:
It wasn’t what they said that mattered, it was what they did.
In other words, it wasn’t their “teaching” but their lives of prayer that had the most lasting impact on passionate Catholics today. People do not remember structured lessons from their parents. They remember what they did.
And if they do remember what they said, it was how they said it that stuck with them the most.
When you ask someone about the influence their parents had on their faith, most of the time they talk about going to Mass together, praying as a family, or obvious but not overwhelming prayer lives.
They talk about their parents praying the Rosary or reading the Bible. Or they talk about how their parents were involved in a parish community, serving and praying with other disciples.
As religious educators, this should influence the way we think about our outreach towards parents.
Instead of expecting or inspiring them to teach articulate lessons about the faith or forced discussions about lessons of the week, what if our only goal for parents was to invite them into a deeper relationship with God through an improved life of prayer?
This article has two parts:
- Describes the model Catholic family.
- Answer: What is one way to cultivate the model Catholic family?
What Impact Did Your Parents and Grandparents Have on Your Faith?
Let’s start with ourselves here.
What kind of impact did your parents and grandparents have on you?
What did they do to inspire and pass on faith in Jesus to you?
I know I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for my family.
- My mom and stepdad made Sunday Mass a priority. I don’t remember missing a weekend while I was in high school.
- My Catholic grandparents had a strong devotion to Mary through the Rosary. I often saw my grandfather in the early morning hours praying the Rosary after waking up—something he vowed to do every day for the rest of his life during one fearful night in France during World War II. Likewise, my grandmother prayed the Rosary all the time and kept them all over their house.
- My Southern Baptist grandparents read the Bible a lot. When my grandfather passed away and we went through his things, we found dozens of Bibles with underlined passages and notes written in the margins cover to cover. They never missed a Sunday service either and often took me to church on Sundays when I was young.
Again, parents and grandparents pass on the faith by what they do more than what they say. Today, I pray the Rosary daily, read the Bible every morning, and never miss a Sunday Mass. This was something my parents and grandparents made a priority, convincing me that it should be a priority for me too.
So, again, what priorities and habits did your parents and grandparents instill in you and your practice of the faith?
The Ideal Catholic Family
Now, let’s think about the families in your parish and school. What are we hoping for in an ideal world?
1. Family Prayer
As Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. frequently said, “a family that prays together stays together.”
When parents establish meal times, bed time, and Sunday evenings time as non-negotiable prayer times, then we can be more hopeful that those same habits will be passed on from their kids on to the next generation. Establishing these habits often takes time, but it goes a long way in setting an example for the kids. It also puts to the test that famous saying of Fr. Peyton.
If a family wants to stay together, then pray together. That is probably more important now than ever as activities busy-up the lives of families everywhere these days.
2. Personal Prayer
When someone lives a devout personal prayer life, it has an impact on their children, too.
St. Therese of Lisieux, in her autobiography, talks about the devotion her father had in prayer. She says that she remembers watching him pray and how his face must have resembled the way a saint prayed with devotion towards God. (He and his wife, of course, really are canonized saints.)
I’m also reminded of a popular country song by Rodney Atkins, “Watching You.”
At the beginning of the song, a father is surprised to hear his son say a bad word. He asked him where he learned to talk like that.
“I’ve been watching you, dad . . . I wanna be like you.”
The man then prays to God for help in being a better example for his son. Then he goes to tuck his son into bed and what does he see? The boy is down on his knees praying too. Where did he learn to pray like that?
“I’ve been watching you, dad . . . I wanna be like you.”
The final exchange says it all, “when I’m big I’ll still know what to do.”
3. Sunday Mass
We all know the challenges we face as religious educators. Frankly, parents aren’t bringing their kids to Mass.
Why? Because many of them just haven’t been evangelized enough to make that decision to make the sacrifice to be there every weekend.
It’s said, but true: the kids show up at religious education classes or Catholic school, but many of them won’t make it to Mass.
Obviously, when this is a priority for parents, it will become a priority for kids even when they grow up. Even if someone’s faith as an adult is lukewarm, that habit of going to church on Sundays can be ingrained in someone’s idea of family.
Most importantly, though, in my experience it is a devotion to the Eucharist is the glue that keeps all dedicated Catholic disciples passionate about their faith.
4. Stewardship Way of Life
Parents offer a great example in the way to live their faith by the way they serve the Church.
They willingly serve by giving of their time, talent, and treasure.
- They spend their time at parish events.
- They share their talents for teaching, hosting, cooking, serving, etc. by volunteering in ministries at the parish.
- They place an envelope in the collection basket each weekend and offer financial support for faith-based organizations that serve those in need.
All these activities combined are generally referred to as stewardship. The ideal Catholic parent lives a stewardship way of life.
The One Thing Religious Educators Can Do To Help
OK, now I know what you’re thinking:
“Yes, Jared, this is all true, but many of the parents of the kids I teach don’t do this. What can I do to get them to make changes to the way they live their lives?”
First, I would ask you to read this article on reaching out to parents:
I don’t want to diminish the first four steps, but that last step is essential when it comes to parent prayer practices.
If you want parents to pray more and go to Mass, you have to do one things: invite them.
And it has to be you.
And, maybe, only you.
There may not be another person in their lives right now showing them what a life of prayer and weekly Mass attendance is like. They might not be praying before bed because no one ever told them how.
So, invite them.
An invitation is the only way a parent is going to start something new.
They may never have considered it or it might be exactly what they’ve been looking for in their lives.
They may say no. They may ignore you, and that’s O.K.
Your personal and thoughtful witness to any of the practices listed above will be appreciated nonetheless.
You are more than your title. You are not just a teacher or catechist or director or coordinator.
You are a disciple and disciples invite other disciples to join them in prayer, worship, and service.
So, it is really pretty simple.
Send an invitation.
Make an announcement, send an email, call home, write a note, put it in a newsletter . . . however you decided to do it, just make an invitation.
Then, let God take it from there.
An Invitation for You
I have an invitation for you.
Do you pray the Angelus? Would you like to pray it with me?
Four years ago I barely knew what this Catholic devotion was. Today it has been a cornerstone prayer practice in my life and the life of my family. I started praying it because of a simple invitation from our parish’s associate pastor.
It can change your life. It changed mine.
The prayer made such an impact on my life that I wanted to share it with others; so I wrote a book about it.