Praised be Jesus Christ! Today many Catholic fathers and mothers are rightfully concerned about raising children who will desire to practice and flourish in the Catholic faith as holy adults. Now that we live in an emerging post-Christian culture, there is no guarantee whatsoever that children will even keep their childhood religion as they grow and move as adults in this secular age, let alone be committed missionary disciples and future saints. So, what can Catholics fathers and mothers do to best hand on a strong Catholic faith to their children?
Professor Christian Smith is a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame and he has done years of research asking this same question. He has found many factors that help children to have the best chances of keeping their religious faith as adults. Generally speaking, he has said “When it comes to kids’ faith, parents get what they are.” This insight corresponds with the classic idiom, Nemo dat quod non habet, or “No one can give what he doesn’t have.” Smith has indicated many practices of parents that help cultivate a strong faith in their children. These practices include consistent family attendance at religious services, both dad and mom having a strong practice of the same faith, and emotional closeness between parents and children. Obviously, such practices are all critical aspects of passing on the Faith to our children. However, Smith has identified one factor that stands out especially in families in which all the children keep the religious practice of their parents into adulthood: parents regularly talking with their children about their religious faith. In other words, families in which all the children keep their parents’ faith have in common that a normal part of family life was speaking about faith on a personal level.
- Share with your kids how you pray and let them hear your heart-to-Heart prayer with the Lord
- Tell your kids where you saw God working in your day today (and ask them where they saw Him working too)
- Share with the kids what particularly struck you at Sunday Mass and ask the kids what struck their hearts at Mass
- Ask the children to pray for a specific prayer intention for you
- Share with older kids places you have wrestled in your relationship with the Lord and the joys and sorrows of your life and soul over the years
- Talk about the saving truths of Jesus Christ and the beauties of the Catholic faith
- Share experiences of praying and receiving the sacraments (especially the Most Holy Eucharist and Confession)
- Tell stories of the saints
- Share experiences of sharing the Good News with others and finding joy in works of mercy like serving the poor or being on a mission trip.
These conversations should not be awkward or compartmentalized but should rather be a totally normal part of daily family life. They should easily weave in and out of all the other interests and activities of family life. In a word, talking about our Faith and matters of the heart and soul should feel like second-nature for you, your spouse, and your children. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, don’t worry and just start trying it! Such conversations will begin to flow more naturally and freely as time goes on and as divine grace moves you and your children into an ever deeper relationship with each other and the Lord.
If you’d like to read from Christian Smith, here is a brief article he wrote with some primary insights: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2021/05/keeping-the-faith. For more in-depth analysis, here is a link to a book he recently wrote on his research and findings regarding handing on faith from parents to children.
May the Holy Family intercede for our families and guide us in sharing the wonders of the life of grace in our homes. Holy Family, pray for us!