“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
A couple of years ago, we decided to “teach the faith” to our children without CCD classes at the local parish. In signing the official “opt out” letter, we agreed to formally and systematically teach our children the faith. These words proved themselves to be very important. We attended Mass regularly, every Sunday and once per week for a daily Mass. We said our morning, meal, and evening prayers, too. We were living the liturgical calendar in the home. What else could be needed? The kids did still have many questions, sometimes surprising ones. For a while, we took the “answer it when it comes up” approach, talking to the child in detail about the question he or she asked. These conversations were always fruitful. Those words, formally and systematically, returned to our ears. A Scripture passage from James also rang clear: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1 Driven by a desire to be obedient to our local Bishop, we decided to meet those two words head on. I put Religion first in our day, knowing that I might slip during the school day and skip the Religion lesson. I learned so much from this little maneuver!
Seedlings Emerged ~ Religion a Priority, not Just another Subject
What is happening now? Well … we started our day with ….hush … … GOD. With each Religion lesson, we began our day discussing God. Each lesson in Our Holy Faith, Teacher’s Manual builds on the previous lesson (wait a minute…I am hearing those words, formally and systematically). Each day I saw the children growing in love for God, growing in knowledge about His teachings, and answering questions before I could finish asking. Each day I have seen our conversation and love for one another grow as we learn to love God together. So, how did we make it work? To place the “Religion Lesson” in context with our family prayer life and liturgy, we all sit down in our place of prayer in the family room. I sit on the couch; the children are on the floor. I begin by reading the lesson of the day, allowing pauses and discussion to emerge naturally. Yep, we still get to have our “answer it when it comes up” approach, but now it also happens in the context of a planned discussion that teaches all the articles of Faith. If questions come up during the Mass, we can bring them back to our lessons, or if there are questions about a particular feast, we find them in our liturgical lesson for the unit. In other words, the Religion lessons are truly more than just another subject; they are a road map to living the liturgical year of the Church and to teaching the Faith fully to my children. If there is a follow-up activity, like making a prayer card or drawing a picture, we take the extra time from our school day to finish it, placing a great importance on this activity of teaching my children how to pray. Gift of Love. During snack time, I am sure to laminate any prayer cards for them to have before lunch. This makes the reward of their work immediate, and they have a prayer to take to Jesus right away, too.
Flowers Blossomed ~ Teaching Religion with Intent and Purpose
By beginning with “Religion Lesson” not only set the children on the right path for the day, but it put me on the right path. I was reminded of why I teach my children anything. All is for the glory and love of God. Praying over Scripture passages also reminded me of the grave responsibility we, as parents, have in imparting the knowledge of the Faith to our children. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1 This passage caused me to think. We have a duty to teach the laws of God first and foremost. Even Jesus humbled Himself to be obedient to St. Joseph to learn the Law. What awe and wonder we should feel when we contemplate upon the duty of Joseph, as foster father to Christ, to teach his foster son God’s Law, and this to God Himself who was and is the Law. When we consider that duty and how it is now in our hands to do the same for our children who are ignorant and blind of God’s law, we are perhaps filled with trepidation and fear of the Lord. May this well be the case, for with Fear of the Lord we may humbly pray that God give us strength to be His servant in teaching His children. “The Lord takes away the sins of the world.” Through Him all things are possible. In accordance with Holy Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church lays the duty of the education of children primarily in the hands of the parents and first and foremost is education in God’s law. 2222 “Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law.” The Catechism provides some additional guidance, 2223 “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them: He who loves his son will not spare the rod…. He who disciplines his son will profit by him. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” 2224 “The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies.” 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.”
Fruits ~ Will my labor of Love bear fruit?
Every day I pray for each of my children and for each I pray simply that they “believe and remain faithful to God.” Scripture passages gave me hope that there would be fruits from these labors, not only of teaching the Faith but in teaching the virtues that set children up for self-discipline and self-mastery, habits desirous to those who wish to walk in the way of Christ. “And so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Titus 2: 4-5 “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 11: 18-19 It seemed such a small thing to begin the day with a “Religion Lesson,” but at the end of the day, we realized it set us up for a great day filled with charity toward one another.