For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD
I first want to affirm all those parents who are actively involved in the moral and religious formation of their children. The Church has consistently taught that parents have the primary responsibility for the growth in faith and Christian life of those to whom they have given the gift of life. The Catechism (#1666) states that the Christian home is where the children receive the first proclamation of the faith, and thus the family is rightly called “the domestic church,” a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity. The Christian family forms an environment within which faith is professed and witnessed. Parental responsibility also includes selecting the most suitable means and schools for the Catholic education of their children. The Church has the duty and right to assist the parents with their responsibility, but not to substitute for the parents.
An article I read led me to reflect about the lack of participation by many of our Catholic parents in the religious formation of their children. The author wrote that as a child he spent much time with his grandmother. He noticed that she prayed the rosary often. He asked her about the rosary and why she prayed it. She responded that she could not really explain it, but it was a habit passed down from her mother. She said that while she was praying the rosary she felt close to the Lord, and that gave her peace. The child’s parents were not practicing Catholics, so when he went to Church, he went with his grandmother. His parents sent him to the best academic schools, and he became very successful in business and had a fairly good marriage.
But then he went through several crises, and he felt lost and in need of direction and guidance. For the first time he realized that something essential was missing in his life. He thought of his grandmother and her rosary and was grateful for her faithful witness. He began to research the rosary and learn more about the Catholic faith. Eventually, he began praying the rosary and again practicing his faith.
Unfortunately and tragically, today many Catholic parents do not provide for and are not involved in the religious formation of their children. Many of those parents do not nourish and live their own faith, and thus, do not actively form that Christian family environment where faith is witnessed and professed. If they send their children to the parish religious education program, they often expect the parish to take their place and form and educate their children for them. These same parents are very involved in and follow the academic education of their children at school, and especially in sports events. Would any parent shirk their responsibility to provide an academic education so their children can become successful in life? [Doing so is against the law, unless provision is made through home schooling.] Then, why would a parent neglect providing the essential religious and moral formation for their children?
St. Augustine was one of the most educated persons of his time, yet, after much searching, he came to the conclusion that we can only rest in God. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You!”
In granting parents the gift of children, God also gives parents the supreme responsibility to form them in the faith–a responsibility for which parents will have to answer to God. Number 1656 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting from Vatican II) states, “It is in the bosom of the family that parents are by word and example…the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children.” Parents are to help their children grow into a sacramental life, into persons of integrity, honesty, charity, and service to others by giving them a moral compass by which to live their lives.
In the Rite of Baptism, parents promise to accept the responsibility to train the child in the practice of the faith and to bring the child up to keep God’s commandments, and godparents promise to help the parents do this. Also in the Rite, as parents and godparents renew their own baptismal promises, they promise to make it their constant care to bring the child up in the practice of the faith and to see that the divine life which God gives the child is kept safe from the poison of sin and grows stronger in the child’s heart. This promise is not to be taken lightly or neglected. This is a sacred promise to be kept!
Some parents, however, do their best to pass on the faith to their children, but the child, once he or she becomes an adult, leaves the Church and the practice of the faith. This can be very disheartening for parents. As long as parents have done their best to give their children a foundation in faith, then they have fulfilled their responsibility. That foundation will enrich and sustain their children in some way or another at a very important time in their life. Just as the man in the story stopped practicing his faith, he eventually found his way back when he found strength and inspiration in the example of his grandmother who gave him the foundation in the faith.