“I had six children, and none of them remained Catholic. Father, what did we do wrong?” “We had eight children, raised them all in the Church, and today only one is still Catholic. I guess I’m not much of a parent.” Sadly, I have heard statements like these quite often. If you have not actually said them yourself, you have probably heard someone close to you say it. It is not uncommon, and we all have to admit it. So then, what are we doing wrong?
Why is it so common that children fall away from the faith in this day and age? It is not as though it never happened before, but it is hard to deny that it is more common than it used to be. Sometimes we try to ignore it and assume it is just an anomaly; other times we lament the state of things (and rightly so). Yet, what we cannot do is continue to use the same methods of catechising our children that got us into this situation.
Catechesis; that is the real issue. Yet, catechesis is not just a matter of what we stick in our children’s heads. Most will admit that it is also a matter of HOW we do it. You can catechize in a manner that is detrimental to a child’s faith (and not every parent or catechist thinks about that fact). Just getting children to memorize a few doctrinal details and do a service project does not transmit the faith properly. Furthermore, you can teach the dogmas of the Church in such a way that you bore the children to death with it. If we do not love God’s truth, how can we expect our children to?
Even with that said, however, there is another factor that I believe is missed by most people. That factor is: what else we stick in our children’s heads outside of their formal catechesis. What I speak of here is not merely the right details of education, or the right amount of education; neither quality or quantity is the key. It is a matter of what is destroying that education. One can eat healthy every day of his life, and yet if he ingests poison as well, all the healthy food will not keep him alive. Our ancient English Catholic patrimony is a beautiful thing and it will benefit the Church everywhere for it to be retained. The Anglican heritage is now under the protection of the Roman Catholic Church, and that means that it is safer than it ever was for the previous 500 years. That does not, however, guarantee that it will be passed on properly to the younger generations.
I want my great-grandchildren to enjoy our traditions, but that will not likely be the case unless my children enjoy those traditions today. This means that I cannot just pass on facts to them. I cannot just tell them, “this stuff is great, you should like it too”, because that is not very convincing. Beauty is, of course, beautiful, but that does not mean that our children will automatically see that. They may be “catechized” by the world to think that immorality is more beautiful than the Divine Worship Mass, and this often happens quietly and without notice.
If we think about the past 100 years, there have been radical changes to society. I am not just speaking about technology, but also about the way that we view the Church and its place in the world. Religion as a whole has been steadily marginalized so that it has become nothing more than “a personal opinion”. With the philosophical changes that were occurring in the 20th century and the frenetic pace of technology invading our homes, most families were largely unprepared to deal with it. The saw these changes as merely a neutral issue, and continued to teach their children the same way. Most continued to rely on the Church’s CCD programs, and yet the Church was just as unprepared as were the parents.
We were blindsided both by the entertainment industry (assuming it to be “just entertainment”) as well as the school systems promoting a world devoid of any reference to God. Many parents inadvertently allowed these other sources to gain a heavy influence on children’s moral and spiritual formation. The end result was numerous children who reached maturity and said, “Why should I believe this Church stuff, when there is much more fun available elsewhere?”
Continuing to teach the same things as in years past may be a good thing (truth does not change), but if our methods do not take into consideration the radical changes in society and the means of temptation, then we will steadily become less effective in our catechetical efforts. Parents are supposed to be the “first teachers” and that means that they are supposed to guard against any bad “second teachers” for their children. What other ideas are the children being taught that contradict the faith of our fathers? How do we pass on the truths of our Anglican patrimony that Anglicanorum Coetibus commissions us to do? It cannot be just a matter of transmitting information, we must go deeper than that.
We must consider the broader context of a world that is against us, and the evil one who wants us to fail. We must realize that catechesis happens at Church, at school, and at home; but it also happens in the music we listen to, the shows we watch, and web pages we visit and the character of any teachers that we hire to educate our children. Parents, protect your children’s hearts and minds, for they are the ones who will take this patrimony and hand it on when we have “gone to be with the Lord.”