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home : bishop : columns

9/14/2017 9:00:00 AM
Back in school -- with parents as catechists
'Today's textbooks, which are used both in our Catholic 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. Parents are encouraged to keep on top of what their children are learning about their faith.'

School is back in session, no doubt to the relief of many parents who are happy to share their duties of educating their children with the professionals.

All of us are grateful for the dedication and skills of our teachers who assist parents in forming the minds and hearts of our young people. Many students, too, who always regret that summer seems to fly much faster than winter, are happy to get back with their old classmates -- and make some new friends -- as they advance to the next stage of their education.

Catholic school students have the advantage, in most cases, of an integrated formational process that addresses the whole person -- body, mind and spirit -- and recognizes that education is a lifelong growth of knowledge, spirituality and character in an ecclesial or community context. Thanks to our directors of religious education and our catechists, every child, whether attending public or Catholic school, will have access to good human formation.

In no case, however, will this really be effective without the cooperation and support of parents, who are the primary educators of their children.

Nothing can replace the influence of the example of a parent on the human and spiritual development of a child. In fact, as some research has shown, the presence and guidance of a father is especially significant in determining whether children will continue to practice their faith.

This should come as no surprise: Our spiritual ancestors discovered this long ago. In Jewish custom, for example, there is a particular point at which the father typically begins to instruct the child in the sacred Scriptures and traditions of the faith.

Faith, however, is more than just knowledge of traditions and formal practice. Each parent (and, often, one who supports or take the place of a parent) helps to lay the faith foundation that informs the basic character and identity of the child.

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

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. Information about our faith is easily accessible in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which can we found online in its entirely at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org).

It is, however, even easier than that for a parent to guide their child's catechesis. Today's textbooks, which are used both in our Catholic 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.

Parents are encouraged to keep on top of what their children are learning about their faith in school or religious education programs: what lesson they are on and what topics they are discussing.

Communication among parents and teachers or catechists is extremely important, as well. Asking a child what he or she is learning is also another way to reinforce the classroom experience.

Keep in mind again that religion is not just another 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-entered life.

Opportunities for prayer are as many and varied as the experiences of life: before and after sleeping, eating, traveling, playing, studying, even before shopping or acquiring things!

Yes, 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. Before pressing my Amazon Prime "one-click" button, I need to remind myself to wait a day or two.

No prayer, however, surpasses the holy sacrifice of the Mass, especially on Sundays. The decision to bring the whole family to Church every Sunday, in addition to being an occasion to be fed by the living Word and the Bread of Life Himself, communicates to children that life is more than work or sports, shopping or entertainment, important as these activities are.

Sunday Mass sends 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: healing, forgiving mercy and eternal life. Mass is the one totally guilt-free excuse for "wasting time" (with God).

The essence of our Christian faith, after all, is 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 who wishes to, regardless of his or her level of theological sophistication or schooling.

Just "come and see," as Jesus welcomes us to. After all, He specifically asks us, "Let the children come to me."

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

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