Can we deepen the faith of parents while teaching their children?
Becoming a parent for the first time and the birth of every child is a profoundly life changing experience. Regardless of how many books they may have read before or how they imagined parenthood to be, parents instinctively recognise how the child brings an enormous new reality into their adult world. This might change their whole understanding about who they are as adults [their self-identity] and what are the priorities in their lives. Hopefully this new reality can encourage a desire to grow in understanding and maturity as responsible adults and Christians. Society at large is focusing a lot of attention now on parenting and this is an opportunity for parish communities to provide good quality learning experiences and programmes for parents in affirming and supporting them on their journey of new challenges and discovery. These programmes can run alongside and be part of the child’s sacramental preparation.
When they bring their children for the First Reconciliation and First Communion preparation in the parish, we know how parents can be distracted by some of the external expressions of the various celebrations to come; what to wear, having a party or family celebration etc. Though these things can and should be a joyful element to the life of faith in the individual families, nevertheless, it is more about seizing the opportunity to extend a fresh and genuine welcome to adults into the parish community. One way of doing this is to provide high quality opportunities for growing in an appreciation of the need for a mature catholic faith for the sake of their children and assisting them in acquiring new skills, competence and above all confidence in being the key persons to pass on this faith and Gospel values to their sons and daughters.
Understandably but all too often the focus of attention for parents in respect of the parish is the local Catholic school and that desire to get their child enrolled brings new families to the parish. Sometimes for the regular worshipping community, this can feel disproportionate but perhaps what is key in terms of the new evangelisation is to recognise that this desire on the part of parents is genuine and heartfelt because all parents naturally want the best for their child. As a consequence we have an opportunity to tap in to this generous love by encouraging them to have confidence that the whole parish community is a ‘school’ –an environment of new experiences and learning – where getting involved in other parish activities, helping to build community contributes enormously to their child’s overall growth and development because they the parents will increase their support networks. By making new friends beyond the life of the school, sharing significant experiences, helping each other, being inspired to become involved in something interesting, meaningful and enriching, they might become part of the community over time as an on-going process and not only one off event. It is a part of growing into maturity and responsibility. During the inauguration of a new parish in Rome in 2011, Pope Benedict said; "give life to family pastoral ministry characterized by an open and cordial welcome to new families, and favor reciprocal knowledge so that the parish community increasingly becomes a 'family of families,' able to share with each other, not only the joys but the inevitable difficulties of initiating family life." He had a particular request for families in difficulty: "Do not leave them alone, but be close to them with love, helping them to understand God's authentic plan for marriage and the family."
Appreciation of and growing in one’s faith is a part of becoming a good parent and ought to demand the same amount of effort and attention that one gives to other things which sustain the family. Many children’s cathechetical guides, resources and textbooks for parents are excellent but are they enough to encourage real growth in faith. Formation in an adult faith requires other approaches too. We have to look for more effective ways to enable parents to live their faith so fully that they are more conscious of transmitting that faith, that personal relationship with God to their child. This is an opportunity and a challenge. Perhaps, alongside the usual children’s sacramental catechetical programmes, there is a place to have sessions for parents on the ‘basics’, such as being made in the image and likeness of God, how to pray, about healing and reconciliation through grace and the sacraments that captures their imagination in an adult way, the true purpose and meaning of the Mass, Christian morality, as well as giving them an opportunity to have their own personal questions relating to faith and Catholicism be addressed.
Alongside all the other daily demands to excel especially in their daily work and professional life; becoming a good and conscientious parent in all things is a number one priority for the majority of our young families. We all know that this is not automatically given. It is a process, often painful, certainly tiring but always rewarding. And all parents can learn by the good example of others too and developing the life of faith in the home is no exception this. Children’s catechetical programmes can provide space for the parents to reflect with them and even “teach” them some important skills and more effective knowledge by group sharing with other parents with carefully targeted topics ranging from things such as bedtime and mealtime prayer tips to practical reconciliation between siblings and friends to highly sensitive but urgently important topics like the rights of children to their innocence, the place and influence of the media, peer pressure, etc. in the home and how the parents might take better charge of such influences.
There is no perfect programme on offer to address all diverse needs of parents during the children’s sacramental programme. The Agency for Evangelisation in collaboration with the Office for Marriage and Family Life is exploring ways of how a parish might address parents’ faith formation in a more systematic way and to use this unique time with parents to capture their attention wisely and creatively. In the context of the Year of Faith we are offering to parishes a course of 7 sessions to be run in conjunction with the children’s sacramental preparation. The course materials are under preparation and will cover the main areas of adult faith formation with an emphasis on parental skills. This initiative is a genuine attempt to respond to the request from a number of parishes to help with parents’ faith formation.