Several months ago I came across an article in the official newspaper of a midwestern diocese. The article has to do with the 8th grade class of a parish school. The students were busy preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation, which they would receive in the spring.
As part of the preparation the religion teacher distributed a piece of paper to each student and asked the class to write their answers to this question: What do you need from your parents to help you prepare for confirmation?” The consensus of answers went right to the heart of the Catholic faith, but they also reflected the situation of many Catholics in our day. Here’s what the students wanted their parents to do:
• take them to Mass every Sunday
• pray as a family
• share their faith
• help guide them on their journey to adulthood
The answers caught the teacher and the pastor off guard. They didn’t expect what they heard from the students, but they were delighted to know that those 8th graders were a group of young people who wanted to take their faith seriously.
The article went on to quote several of the students. One of them said that he understood that confirmation marked a significant step toward “spiritual adulthood.” He noted the essential role of parents in helping their children experience the faith. “Sometimes I think that talking with your parents is more important than talking with your teachers,” he said.
Any priest will confess his sadness when young people speak to him of their desire to be active in their faith, if only their parents would help them. Sunday Mass, prayer, help in maturing in the faith — these are the basic things that young people want from their parents and to do with their parents. I have heard the confessions of many children and teenagers in our diocese. I have seen some of them break into tears when they confess their laxity in Mass attendance, but only because their parents do not take the “Sunday obligation” seriously.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the responsibility of parents toward their children: “Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the ‘first heralds’ for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church” (no.2225).
Parents should recall what they heard on the day that their child was baptized. It was then that parents presenting their children for baptism were told that they were the first teachers of their children in the faith. The minister of baptism then prayed that those parents would also be the best of teachers.
There is no expectation that parents be among the most learned Catholics in order to pass the faith on to their children. Their children certainly do not seem to have that expectation. Young people want only to see in their parents models of enthusiasm and love for — at least — the minimum requirements of the faith: faithful attendance at Sunday Mass, family prayer, guidance in the daily living of holiness.
The family is the Church in miniature, with parents playing a crucial role in their children’s faith life. If parents worship with their children each Sunday, pray with them at home and model a gospel life, their children’s children are likely to do the same. This is how the faith is handed on from generation to generation.