On Monday, I wrote a post lamenting the state of Catholic catechesis today and recommending that the answer to the lack of knowledge and understanding of Catholicism among Catholics rests in the hands of parents. As Catholic parents, we are the primary religious educators of our children and we must begin to take that mission seriously. We cannot rely on the Catholic schools or Religious Education programs to do this for us. This isn’t because they’re not trying. It’s simply because they don’t know our kids like we do, they’re not invested in our kids as fully as we are, and they don’t influence our kids as deeply as we do as parents. Every bit of social research on the question identifies parents as the number one influence on children, even into their later teen years. Yes, you heard that right. Forget the conventional wisdom about coaches, teachers, peer groups, etc… It is YOU, their parents, who have the greatest influence on your kids.
A friend who read my post made the excellent point that how are Catholic parents supposed to educate their children on the faith when the parents are so ill-informed. After all, the disaster that has been Catholic faith formation stretches back at least to the mid to late sixties. So, parents themselves lack an adequate knowledge and understanding of the faith. How can they be expected to pass it on to their children?
They can’t, so long as they lack a knowledge and understanding of the faith and morals of the Church and are ill-prepared to explain what Catholics believe and why. Which is why the first question we as Catholic parents need to ask ourselves is: Do we regard the gospel of Jesus Christ as worth passing on to our children? Are we committed to the faith and morals of the Church? Do we believe that the Church is the instrument of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures say she is?
If you answer “Yes!” to these questions, than it’s time to commit yourself to the effort of gaining a knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith, for two reasons: first, to know what you believe, so you can become what you believe; second, to assume the mission that belongs to every Catholic parent of passing on the faith to your children.
Where to start? Here are some suggestions:
You will absolutely need a copy of two books: a Catholic Study Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These books are for reading, not for display. There are several guides that can lead you through a reading of the Bible over the course of a year, but if you take the time to read just four chapters a day you’ll get through the entire Bible in one year, with some room to spare for days you miss. The Catechism is divided into paragraphs. If you read just eight paragraphs a day, you’ll get through the entire Catechism in one year. Depending on how fast you read, that’s a daily commitment of about 20 to 30 minutes for both the Bible and the Catechism. For beginners, I recommend The Catholic Study Bible of the New American Bible translation. It’s the translation used at Sunday Mass. Also, if the Catechism of the Catholic Church proves too daunting for you as a beginner, you can try YouCat, which is a youth catechism. It goes through the same material only at a high school or middle school level.
Another recommendation: familiarize yourself with the Fathers of the Church. These are the great saints and theologians of the first six to seven centuries. In reading their thoughts and reflections you’ll recognize the Church and you’ll appreciate the history of Catholic thought. I highly recommend The Faith of the Early Fathers by William Jurgens. It comes in three volumes and one of the best features is the topical index in the back of each volume. So, if you want to know what the earliest Catholics were thinking and writing about the Eucharist, you can look it up in the topical index and it will give you all of the writings about the Eucharist in the three volumes.
Finally, I recommend the website for the Institute of Catholic Culture. The Institute posts videos of excellent lectures on various topics by scholars on all aspects of Catholic faith, Catholic philosophy, Catholic culture and Catholic history. It’s a great learning tool.
If your children are older, perhaps you can invite them to join you in your exploration of the faith. If your children are very young, you have until about the age of seven or eight before you get a question much deeper than, “Daddy, is God bigger than you?”
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.