How to Keep Your Children Catholic
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
This is surely an unusual subject for today’s conference, “How To Keep Your Children Catholic.” The subject may be unusual but it is desperately important.
I would like to briefly address myself to three questions, expressed in three words, Why? What? and How?
I don’t think anyone here has any doubt about why we should speak about keeping our children Catholic. The widespread loss of young Catholics to the true faith is unparalleled in Christian history. Millions of teenagers and those in their early twenties are leaving the Catholic Church in one so-called developed country after another. I will never forget the dinner I had with a Catholic father and mother who sadly told me that their seventh child had just left the Church. All seven had been given a nominally Catholic education, at great sacrifice to their parents.
The experience in the United States has been duplicated in Europe. Young people in England, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy are leaving the Church of their Catholic heritage in droves.
What is the cause of this tragic phenomenon? To begin with, let me say that no one loses the Catholic faith. It is the Church’s infallible teaching that a person who has been baptized as a Catholic and has learned at least the basics of his religion does not lose the true faith. We must say such a person abandons the faith. In other words leaving the Catholic faith implies culpability.
Behind this teaching are two facts. No one can reason himself out of the Catholic Church. There are no rational grounds for giving up one’s Catholic commitment. Moreover, God is never wanting with His grace to preserve the faith He has once given to us and we have professed.
How then explain the deluge of departures of so many young people from their Catholic heritage? Only God knows the final explanation.
But this much we can say. The modern media of communication, in the words of Marshall McLuhan, “are engaged in a Luciferian conspiracy against the truth.” From infancy, children are exposed to all the means of communication. The masters of communication are not friendly to Christianity. In fact, most of them are openly hostile to the teachings of Christ and, with resounding emphasis, to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Add to this, young people from their earliest days are exposed to the good things of this world to a degree never before known in human history. Is it any wonder that our dictionaries define “nonsense” as whatever cannot be perceived by the senses. On these terms, the human soul, angels and saints, even God Himself is nonsense. Prayer becomes a pious practice of persons who are living in an unreal world.
We return to our opening question: How to keep your children Catholic? To keep your children Catholic:
Be a channel of grace to them.
Pray with and for them every day.
Train them to understand what they believe.
Channel of Grace. In His ordinary providence, God communicates His grace through other people. He uses believing Christians as channels of His grace of faith to others. He uses loving Christians as channels of His grace of charity to others. He uses trustful Christians as channels of His grace of hope to others. He uses prayerful Christians as channels of His grace of prayer to others. He uses chaste Christians as channels of His grace of chastity to others. He uses patient Christians as channels of His grace of patience to others.
What are we saying? We are saying that the first and most fundamental way in which parents can keep their children Catholic is for the parents themselves to be authentic, and I mean authentic, Catholics themselves.
This is more than giving a good example. This is the mystery of serving as a conduit of God’s grace to everyone whose life we touch.
There is no one on earth who is a more important and indispensable channel of divine grace to children than their parents.
God does work miracles. But, unless parents are expecting God to work a miracle, they must live a truly, fully Catholic life themselves if they expect their children to remain Catholic in today’s Christless world.
Pray with and for the Children. No words can describe the necessity of a family praying together in order to obtain the blessings of God.
At the heart of a Christian family is the supernatural life that requires constant light and strength to be sustained.
Father Peyton’s well-known statement, “The family that prays together stays together,” is not a pious cliché. It is the verdict of twenty centuries of Christianity. Just a few practical recommendations: say the Rosary together, if possible, every day; recite the Angelus together at least once a day; say the grace before and after meals as a family; have a holy water font inside the front door for people to bless themselves as they enter the house; have at least a small shrine to our Lady inside the house; have a crucifix and some sacred pictures on the wall.
Every one of the above recommendations was the way I was brought up from childhood by my widowed mother.
Train the Children to Understand their Faith. It is one thing to believe; it is something else to grasp what we believe. In today’s academically sophisticated world there is no choice. Either understand your faith or lose it.
It is not enough for parents to have their children know their prayers and memorize certain articles of faith. The children must grow in their faith. Parents must explain the meaning of what their children believe. Children ask questions from infancy about, “Who is Jesus? Where is God? Does God know what I am thinking? Why should I pray if God already knows what I need?”
Moreover, children are now exposed to all kinds of confusion. One priest says one thing, another says something just the opposite.
Children grow not only in size and weight. They grow in intelligence. Parents must make sure that their sons and daughters mature not only in body but also, and especially, in spirit.
In the gospel of St. Matthew, our Lord gives the parable of the sower who went out to sow, all good seed, but not all on good ground. The first seed fell on the wayside. Immediately the birds of the air came down and picked up the seed lying on the hard ground. So the seed produced no fruit. When Jesus explained the meaning of this parable, He told His disciples the seed falling on the wayside symbolizes those who have received the word of God into their hearts, but fail to understand it. So what happens? The devil comes along and steals the word of God from their hearts.
Of course, you parents must yourselves understand what you believe if you are to explain to your children the meaning of their faith.
Let me close with a short prayer: “Mary, Mother of the Holy Family, obtain for us from Jesus the light we need to keep our children in the Catholic faith. Ask your Son to give us the strength we need to bring our families to heaven, to the arms of the loving God from whom they came. Amen.”
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica