An excerpt from U.S. Catholic’s web-exclusive interview with theologian Thomas Groome of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
What do you say to parents who say, “I don’t want to saddle my kids by bringing them up in a certain religion. I just want to let them make the choice when they’re ready to do it”?
I say baloney! I say you’re shirking your responsibility.
I’ve always loved the phrase from John 14:2, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” In other words, there are many homes within God’s family. But I think we all need to start out in a particular home – if we are so blessed. To start out not knowing where your home is, without any sense of being at home in God’s family, is not a good foundation in life for a child. Everyone needs grounding in the particular, even as we may later reach beyond it, toward a more universal perspective.
Now the challenge is to ground young people in a particular faith without implying that this is the only home within God’s family. And it is desperately important not to say, “If you don’t belong to my home, then God doesn’t love you, and we could even buy guns and shoot you.”
I grew up in Ireland with that kind of dreadful sectarian Christianity. Our very Christian faith in the universality of God’s love demands that we realize that we’re not the only people among whom God’s self is revealed or God’s grace is mediated. God’s love is universal, not just for Catholics. And yet people need a particular home within God’s family, and we’ve got a fantastic one to offer.
Also, it doesn’t work to say, “I won’t give my kids any faith because it will impose values.” You cannot parent children in an objective way. It’s literally impossible to parent a child without influencing their values, their outlook on life, their understanding of themselves, their way of being in the world. So why not let it be good Christian values that we share with them; there’s none better. And most of the great Christian values are universals anyway. So why not share them through the great stories and symbols and creeds of Christian tradition?
Have you had experiences of talking to parents about these kinds of issues?
I met a young, prominent movie star once as I was bumped to first class coming across the Atlantic. I was the envy of the whole plane to be beside this very beautiful, young woman who is quite famous, but I didn’t even recognize her name. Everybody in first class was agog and abuzz with the fact that she was even in our midst.
We had this extraordinary conversation after the pleasantries passed. She came from a Catholic background and confessed that she still loves her faith in many ways, believes in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, occasionally would sneak into Mass herself, but would never, she said, rear her 2-year-old daughter in this tradition and certainly hadn’t had her baptized.
I gently began to say to her, “What will you give your daughter instead?” And she had very little to replace what she was leaving behind. She was mad at the church because it doesn’t ordain women; she said it doesn’t really respect gay people—all of the push button issues. I said, “But what values and outlook on life and self understanding will you give her instead and what will you draw upon to raise her as a wonderful human being?”
When she started to dig into her values, many of which were deeply Catholic, she began to realize that it would be terribly unfortunate if, because of her anger at the church, she would leave her daughter bereft of the great positive influences of Catholic faith. She began to recognize again that the great values, the deep structures of Catholicism, are tremendously life giving.
At Home with Our Faith is Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s 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.