We had a window salesman over at our house a few years back. He hadn’t been in the door five minutes when he said, smiling, “Well, I guess you folks are Catholic!” As I usually think the only thing remarkable about our house is the amount of clutter, I asked him what had given him that idea. “Well, you have a painting of a Catholic church over on the wall, and there’s a postcard from Rome with a picture of the Pope, and you have a holy card with a priest’s picture on it here on your dining room table.” He had the salesman’s gift for correctly sizing up his audience.
Catholic parents of 50 years ago didn’t have to worry about creating a Catholic culture for their children to grow up in. The parish did it for them. Chances are their kids went to Catholic schools and were taught by nuns; an uncle or brother may have studied for the priesthood. My parents met each other at a dance for Catholic young people. I met my husband at a Catholic university. And so on.
Although there are more Catholics now, Catholic culture is much weaker. Is it worth bothering to find a way to immerse our kids in a Catholic culture today? You bet, even if you have to cobble your own together.
Why? Catholicism is not and never has been a faith about me and God. Catholics believe that the church itself (which is, yes, human and imperfect) is a sign of God’s presence in our lives. Belonging to this people of God makes the faith come alive for our children. It’s essentially different from, say, the community of soccer parents that we may also hang out with.
Today there’s a temptation to drop into the church community for a few months for a child’s sacramental encounter and then back away. But kids learn from consistency, a commitment to something. Families do commit to get children to school, to sports, to the orthodontist. Kids, of course, note if faith commitments are absent from that list and draw their own conclusions.
Around the time of my mom’s death last year, I felt we were being carried along on the prayers of others, especially folks in our parish who were praying for us. Being part of a praying community can do that for you. But first you have to get to know some people in the praying community.
Kids can also absorb Catholic culture by helping to do some good in the world. One December our son’s Catholic school sent home questions we were supposed to answer. One was, “What will your family commit to do for others this Advent?” This led to our helping out at a homeless shelter run by a nun we knew, which we still do years later. This experience has, I’d wager, made more of an impact on our kids than the years on end that they watched us go out the door to those parish council meetings (riveting though they invariably were!).
Catholic culture shows up in what parents talk about with kids. Moral topics crowd the news: torture, war, abortion, racism, greed, hundreds more. Kids themselves grapple with bullying, cheating, unkindness. All make good dinner table conversation to help set your kids’ moral compass, to search with them for how our faith can guide us in this world. What we take seriously, we talk about.
I once visited a home where the owner had a quote from peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. painted, big and bold, on her kitchen wall. You couldn’t help but notice it. You may prefer a crucifix in your hall, a candle on your table, or a statue of Mary on your child’s dresser, but all of these remind the children of the house they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.
by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from At Home with Our Faith newsletter.
Take a look at At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home–read a sample issue. We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides. And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.
Filed under: Family spirituality, Handing on the faith | Tagged: Catholic culture for kids, Catholic faith for children, Catholic family dinner table conversation, Catholic home, family faith, kids’ moral compass |