The first chapter of Keeping Your Kids Catholic is a single essay by Dolores Curran. The book is nearly twenty years old so some of the phrasing like “We are the Church” sets my teeth on edge. Also, Ms Curran's more recent writing has veered off into a very feminist vein making her a darling of the likes of Sr. Joan Chittister so I wouldn't seek her out as a current advisor. Yet the gist of her commentary in the book is as true now as it was twenty years ago: “Teaching religion is parents’ business and must begin in the home.”
1. What obstacles do parents face in deciding to introduce their kids to the faith?
I think the way that question is phrased gives the first clue to the “obstacles”. If Faith is viewed as something external to the home, then the introduction is forced and awkward. If Faith is interwoven into the very fiber of the home, then no introduction is necessary. When do we introduce a younger sibling to his older brother or sister? There is no formal introduction. The child assimilates the knowledge of family structure as he grows. Bit by bit he adds to his knowledge of his sibling—his middle name, where he was born, what foods he likes. So ideally, Faith is part of a child’s home from the time of his birth. That means his parents should have a deep personal Faith that permeates their lives.
What if that hasn’t been the case? Well, the sooner it becomes the case, the better. Creating a faith filled home is easier when children are young and more malleable. The older they are, the more resistance you will meet to a change in family priorities. Yet, with God, all things are possible. I recommend what I call Pizza Dough Spirituality. Pizza dough is very elastic but it has to be stretched very gently or it will snap. When we are making changes in our family, they need to be slow and steady. Maybe getting to Mass every Sunday is as big a change as we can make at first. Then maybe we can work on getting there on time. Then perhaps we can try to read the readings before we go.
Of course, pressures outside the home also present obstacles. For example, I am amazed how many birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese’s occur on Sunday mornings. My husband and I have made it clear from day one that attending Mass is non-negotiable. We are not averse to adjusting which Mass we attend to accommodate social activities but we do not miss Mass—period! I am not sure if it is by chance or by design, but our children have gravitated to others who have similar priorities. Finding friends and communities that support your Faith is critical.
2. How can we grow in confidence in teaching our kids religion?
We need to teach ourselves. We need to figure out what this Faith is that we want our children to embrace. If you are like me and most of your own religious education came in the confusing years after Vatican II, study of the basic doctrine of the Catholic Church has been a do-it-yourself project. That’s okay. Let your children know you are still learning. This will send a very strong message that Faith development is a lifelong process. Every household should have a Catholic Bible and a Catechism of the Catholic Church. I highly recommend subscribing to periodicals that are faithful to the Magesterium like the National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor.
3. Who has the greater responsibility in keeping kids Catholic—the church or the parents? Why?
Short answer is parents. From the Catechism (2226):
Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child's earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.
Dolores Curran speaks of the habit of turning over faith formation to the Church that developed as our ancestors immigrated to America. I don’t see the issue as being we don’t feel qualified to teach our children their faith. I think we have developed a culture of outsourcing. As family structures have evolved to include dual career parents or single parents, more of the tasks previously done by family members are hired out. Laundry, housekeeping, cooking and yard work are outsourced. Parents pay for a steady stream of camps and tutors to teach their children everything from math to manners. Suddenly religious education gets lumped in with music lessons. We need to bring religious education back into the family. That means we need to be families of Faith. The next few chapters should help us towards that goal.