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home : bishop : columns

5/11/2017 9:00:00 AM
Parents are still prime catechists: They 'practice what we teach'

Nothing can replace the influence of the example of parents on the spiritual lives of their children. In fact, research has shown that the consistent presence and guidance of the father is key to whether children will continue to practice their faith throughout their lives.

Our spiritual ancestors discovered this long ago. In Jewish custom, there is a particular point at which the father begins to instruct the child in the sacred Scriptures, to teach about the Torah and the traditions of the faith.

Many parents feel less than adequate to teach their own children about their faith. Perhaps this is partly based on a presupposition that "religion" is a school subject. It can be, of course, but it is so much more.

It is true that what we call "catechesis" is a process of instructing people in the knowledge and practice of the faith. It includes the teaching of specific content involved the creed that we profess, prayer, moral teaching and the sacraments. This is not just an exercise for children. It is life-long.

Adults, especially parents, can help themselves to learn more about their faith. Such information is easily accessible in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which can be found online in its entirely at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org). Many resources are available on our diocesan website (www.rcda.org) under "Faith Formation and Education" and "Albany Catholic Digital Library."

It is, however, even easier than that for a parent to guide their child's catechesis. Today's textbooks, used both in our schools and in our religious education programs, are full of materials that a parent can read with a child to reinforce what is learned in class.

I would strongly encourage all parents to keep on top of what their children are learning about their faith in school or in religious education programs: what lesson they are on and what topics they are discussing.

Communication among parents and teachers or catechists is extremely important. Asking a child what he or she is learning is also another way to reinforce the classroom experience. It is a great idea for parents to learn along with their children by keeping up with the lessons and then reading more about the topics in online catechism mentioned above.

Something always to keep in mind, especially as the school year draws to a close: Religion is much more than a school subject. It is a way of living. By taking the time to pray -- both at home and in church -- families show their children the importance of a God-centered life.

Opportunities for prayer are as varied as the experiences of life: before and after sleeping, eating, traveling, playing, studying -- even shopping or web-browsing! It is not a bad idea to pray for the wise use of our material resources when there are so many temptations to waste them on non-essentials that do not bring lasting happiness.

Not to be omitted are the family Rosary and the practice of reading the Bible, especially reading the Scriptures beforehand in preparation for a Mass the family will attend. (There are weekly columns in The Evangelist explaining the Mass readings for adults and children -- this week, on pages 6 and 15, respectively.)

No prayer surpasses the holy sacrifice of the Mass, especially every Sunday. In our often-hectic lives, with so many demands on our time and energy, Sunday Mass adds a much-needed focus to our entire week. Let's not cede this essential component of our children's Catholic identity to a mall or a sporting match.

The decision to bring the whole family to church every Sunday, in addition to being an occasion to be fed by the Gospel and the bread of heaven, communicates to children that life is more than work or sports, important as both activities are. It offers a needed focus to our often-scattered lives.

Sunday Mass communicates the message that we are worth more than what we do, that we have a Savior who wants to come to us and give us something we can get from nowhere else: total, forgiving mercy and eternal life. It is the one totally guilt-free excuse for "wasting time" (with God).

Parents who may be interested in learning more about their faith also have an opportunity to join RCIA, Bible or prayer groups that often meet in our parishes.

RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, is a process designed primarily for people who are seeking to enter into the life of the Church through the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation and holy communion. However, we also invite Catholics who may not yet have received communion or confirmation, and even those who have but feel a hunger for more knowledge of their faith. Contact any of your parish leaders for more information.

In speaking about the prime role of parents, in no way would one want to diminish the invaluable contribution of our dedicated catechists. All professional teachers, however, are well aware of the importance of reinforcement at home for the learning process. Grandparents, too, can and often do play are very significant supportive role. The key is the sustained and consistent relationship between what is learned and what is lived.

The core of our Christian faith is, after all, really a person: Jesus Christ. It is all about our relationship with Him and His Church, which is His mystical body. Christ saves us through us.

The experience of being a member of a family which has Jesus as its center -- and lives this conviction each day -- is something every parent can provide, regardless of his or her level of theological sophistication or book learning. Just "come and see," as Jesus invites us -- or, as I have sometimes heard it expressed, faith is as much "caught" as it is taught. Thumbs-up for catechizing parents, who practice what we teach!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)

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