By Phillip Hadden, Holy Apostles College
I’ve gone to weekend retreats and perused Catholic message boards, and time and time again, our conversation moves into the need to renew catechesis in the Church. Naturally, the conversation usually ends there with stating the problem and providing no solutions and no plans of action. I hope to offer a plan here in this article, a plan that parents and catechists can go out and innovate and tailor to their particular needs. I’ve spent nearly five years now as a volunteer teaching Catechism for my diocese’s public school catechesis program. The one lesson I have learned from the entire process is that the role of the parents as the principal educators of the faith is extremely vital. The parents must take an active role if the faith is to be passed on to their children.
For the most part, I understand that many parents think they are teaching the faith to their children by taking a more passive approach, taking them to Mass sometimes during the month and to catechism class once a week. I imagine in their minds they might reason, “Let someone else who knows more than I do teach them.” However, this is the bare minimum and tends not to be effective. Of course, all things are possible with God, so if someone lacks in catechesis, God can make up for it with grace, but I am positive that God wants to use parents as the instrument to teach the faith to their children. In fact, whatever a parent can do to actively instruct their children the faith will always be more effective than any lesson plan an ‘expert’ can teach their children.
It becomes a bit more clear if the typical month is broken down into hours of study. For example, the month of a child who goes to Mass and catechism once a week at the bare minimum factors out to be 2 hrs x 4 weeks = 8 hrs. devoted to God. What about the rest of the weeks saturated by secular culture’s take on morality?: 22hrs a day x 30 days= 660 hrs. It’s pretty staggering when it’s laid out in that manner. Let’s put it in focus for the bare minimum of sending a child to be immersed in the culture of a Catholic school (if we’re lucky they go to Mass once a week there too): 8hrs at school (with Mass) x 5 days x 4 weeks + 1 hr Mass on Sunday = 164 hrs. of Catholic/Christian culture. If we compare that to the rest of the month: 720 hrs. (in a 30 day month) – 164 hours = 556 hours of saturation in secular culture. It’s a good thing some of those hours are sleeping hours. I make the point of pointing out Catholic schools because I went to Catholic school. As far as I am aware, out of the ten students in my class, two are regular practicing Christians including myself. The other student is an Episcopalian now. So, from my anecdotal evidence, the result of Catholic school passing on the faith to my class is 20%.
Now, I’m not pointing this out to blame catechists, religion teachers, or Catholic schools. I’m pointing this out to say it is out of their control. If we examine polling done on church attendance, the data shows that those who attend church at least once a week or more have been in 20-30% percentile for the past few decades. So, those who are no longer identifying as religious are the middle group of those who sporadically attended services. The finding does help breathe a sigh of relief, but it’s also a concern as we’re commanded by our Lord to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. It also means that the trends of those who once identified as Christian are growing increasingly secular which means the culture as a whole is growing more secular and less Christian.
The questions parents and the faithful have to ask is whether they truly want to pass on the faith to their children. And if they do, parents must be the principal educators of the faith. Catechists and religious teachers cannot be their primary educators, they can only supplement what a parent has taught their children. So, what does that mean? It means parents need to take the faith seriously. It means that catechists need to make it clear to parents that they must take this role. I’d suggest at the beginning of every year make it mandatory for all parents to come to the first day of school or evening classes to listen to the following instruction from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“1653 The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children by education. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children. In this sense the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life.165 (2231)
1654 Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.
1655 Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary. The Church is nothing other than “the family of God.” From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers “together with all [their] household.” When they were converted, they desired that “their whole household” should also be saved.167 These families who became believers were islands of Christian life in an unbelieving world. (759)
1656 In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica. 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. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation.”169 (2204)
1657 It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way “by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity.” Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.”171 Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous—even repeated—forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.”
In all honesty, my best students are the ones whose parents take the faith seriously and teach them their prayers and the stories of the Bible. How can parents be effective teachers of the faith? You do not need to be a theological expert. It’s as simple as creating a prayer routine with your children, teaching them to pray, to live the liturgical life in your home, to teach them the basic stories of the faith, and show them the example of charity, as this is the visible sign of the assent to faith. If there’s even the smallest desire of the parents to pass on the faith to their children then they must live the faith visibly.
In fact, St. Augustine, arguably the greatest theologian of the Catholic Church, remarks at the simplicity of teaching the faith in a letter to Deacon on the topic of catechesis. St. Augustine writes, “The narration is full when each person is catechised in the first instance from what is written in the text, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, on to the present times of the Church. This does not imply, however, either that we ought to repeat by memory the entire Pentateuch, and the entire Books of Judges, and Kings, and Esdras, and the entire Gospel and Acts of the Apostles… what we ought to do is, to give a comprehensive statement of all things, summarily and generally, so that certain of the more wonderful facts may be selected which are listened to with superior gratification…we ought to dwell on them for a certain space, and thus, as it were, unfold them and open them out to vision, and present them to the minds of the hearers as things to be examined and admired. But as for all other details, these should be passed over rapidly, and thus far introduced and woven into the narrative.”
St. Augustine simply instructs catechists to teach the narrative of salvation history. It’s important to realize that we cannot do this all by our own will. It must begin with God through His initial grace—the invitation to the divine life. It is at the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist that bring us into the Body of Christ. It is at the source and summit of the faith, the Sacrifice of the Mass, where the parent and catechist alike are fed the Bread of Life in which sacramental grace can aid in their goal to pass on the faith. It’s important for both parents and catechists to be reminded of the gift of their baptism. The gift of the washing away of our original sin by the water of such a gratuitous sacrament. George Weigel, the biographer of Pope St. John Paul II writes about the importance of this sacrament witnessed by the gesture of the future saint in 1979, “During his pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979, the pope went straight to the baptistry of his former parish church in Wadowice, knelt, and kissed the baptismal font. Why? Because, I realized, he knew that the day of his baptism was the most important day of his life: for it was the day that made his life in Christ, which he knew to be the deepest meaning of his life, possible.”
The most important day of Pope St. John Paul II’s life was the day he was baptized and the same is true for myself, it is true for both parents and catechists, and for all children who have been baptized. In the same article, Weigel offers the advice that Christians should learn the date of their baptism and celebrate it every year. I was baptized and given new life as a member of the Body of Christ on September 28th, 1985. In fact, in many ways, this celebration should be as large—if not larger—than our birthdays.
The second part of this article is to focus on Christian prayer. One cannot foster a relationship without communicating with the other person. It’s the same with God. God calls all of us to a life of holiness. He calls all of us to be saints—everyone of us. To be a saint is not a special privilege for the few, but rather God’s desire for the whole as Sacred Scripture teaches, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. 3 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Prayer is a vital source of grace for the Domestic Church. The Rosary is one of the most effective teachers of the faith. A spiritual weapon, so to speak, that can easily be wielded by a parent and catechist to prepare and instruct children in the faith. The Rosary teaches rote prayer, meditative prayer, and by the gift of God can be a method to reach contemplative prayer. The meditations of the rosary can instruct anyone the narrative and lessons of the gospel. The meditations can move someone to reflect on these events to instruct a person in their day to day life.
The source and summit of the sacramental life of the Church, namely the prayer of the liturgy and the most Holy Eucharist, is the most vital. I’d ask any of the faithful to consider the role of prayer in our lives and how it sets a foundation for our lives through its repetition. Let us reflect on what is taught in the gospel of Luke. In Luke’s Gospel, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is found:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk. 18:9-14 RSV
So, as taught in the Mass at the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy,” it begins with repentance. Now, after the faithful humble themselves before the Lord, how do we continue to live a life of repentance? How do the faithful answer the call to live a life of holiness? It is important to review what the Catholic Catechism teachers on this matter:
2013 “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”65 All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”66
In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.67
2014 Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called “mystical” because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments – “the holy mysteries” – and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all.
2027 No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.”
Therefore, we must be receptive and responsive to the gratuity of God’s grace through the supernatural of the liturgy (prayer), sacraments, and devotions like Eucharistic Adoration. It is through the ordinary means of grace given to us by Jesus Christ through His Church that the Body of Christ can move the intellect from assenting to the articles of faith to the act of faith perfected in love as St. Paul informs us in the Letter to the Galatians. The intellect is moved by ordering our will with God’s will by acts of charity. As St. James reminds us, “Faith without works is dead.”
Many children—and even parents—may think the Mass is boring. However, it is through the movements and repetitions of genuflecting, standing, kneeling, the parts of the Mass, the hymns, etc. that teaches us the building of virtue. It is usually easier for people to understand the concept of building bad habits or vice. A person begins a poor habit and they do it again and again. Let’s use the example of chewing on one’s nails. Finally, a person doesn’t even realize they are chewing on their nails because they have done it so much. And, if they wanted to stop, they would have made a conscious effort to stop.
So, how does this relate to building good habits? A person begins a good habit and it may seem difficult at first. They may try to clean up the house for a half hour every day. Finally, it becomes second nature, not even feeling like work to keep a clean house because a person picks up for a small portion of the day. A person walks into the church, they kneel before the Blessed Sacrament being conscious of the presence of Christ. They humble themselves before the Lord, they prepare their hearts for worship, they ask forgiveness, and are refreshed by the Sacred Body and Blood of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ. It is here a person practices the virtue of religion. St. Thomas Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologiae:
“A virtue is that which makes its possessor good, and his act good likewise,” wherefore we must needs say that every good act belongs to a virtue. Now it is evident that to render anyone his due has the aspect of good, since by rendering a person his due, one becomes suitably proportioned to him, through being ordered to him in a becoming manner. But order comes under the aspect of good, just as mode and species, according to Augustine (De Nat. Boni iii). Since then it belongs to religion to pay due honor to someone, namely, to God, it is evident that religion is a virtue.”
In the end, If you want to pass on the faith, let your children see you pray, sing hymns at home, live the liturgical life, and make sure to always take them to Mass—to the source and summit of our faith.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000).
Gallup. “Religion.” Gallup.com. Gallup, March 30, 2020. https://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx.
“On the Catechising of the Uninstructed.” CHURCH FATHERS: Catechizing of the Uninstructed (St. Augustine). Accessed April 28, 2020. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1303.htm.
“Question 81. Religion.” SUMMA THEOLOGIAE: Religion (Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 81). Accessed April 28, 2020. https://www.newadvent.org/summa/3081.htm#article2.
Weigel, George. “Rediscovering Baptism in Plague-Time: George Weigel.” First Things. Institute on Religion and Public Life, April 22, 2020. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/04/rediscovering-baptism-in-plague-time.
Edited By: Ariel Hobbs
 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000).
 Weigel, George. “Rediscovering Baptism in Plague-Time: George Weigel.” First Things. Institute on Religion and Public Life, April 22, 2020. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/04/rediscovering-baptism-in-plague-time.
 1 Tim 2:1-4 RSVCE