~Familiaris Consortio #39
The family is the first place children are introduced to Jesus. While children cannot grasp the fullness of faith at an early age, they can develop habits that will grow into understanding later. Children begin cultivating these habits by observing the habits of their parents. Children take their first steps of faith by following the walk of their parents.
As you have already learned, the Church considers the role of the family in the faith formation of children so important that it calls the family the “Domestic Church.” It is the first and the main place that children experience the love of God, learn about their faith, and learn to put their faith into practice.
Parents who honor their role in faith formation immerse their children in a Christ- filled environment before they even have them baptized as babies. And, as the children grow, faithful parents strive to become more conscious and deliberate in their efforts. They start with the basics and continue to build upon them.
Faithful parents make Sunday holy. They celebrate the Eucharist at Mass each and every week. They reinforce the special grace of Sunday by spending time with their family and others who understand the need to rest in the Lord. Parents who want their domestic church to be strong slow life down on Sunday. They make the Lord’s Day holy with special events like an out-of-the-ordinary meal, extra time spent in conversation or recreation, prayer together or reflection on God’s abundant goodness.
Faithful parents understand that their children’s faith development starts in the home. While Catholic school, parish catechetical programs and sacramental preparation all play a role in the faith development of children, they can never replace the significance of what is caught by the family within the domestic church. There is an old saying that is very true, “The faith is first caught before it is taught.” Children “catch the faith” within the family. There are really three steps to sharing your faith with your children:
- Modeling your faith: let your children see you pray, grow in virtue, practice devotion, read the Bible, attend Mass, participate in the Sacraments and fellowship with other Catholics.
- Practicethefaithasafamily:inviteyourchildrentodothesethingswithyou, and eventually encourage them to take leadership roles within the family’s practice of faith, such as leading prayer or planning service projects.
- Expand the faith with your children: don’t assume that Catholic schools and parish catechism classes are going to do this for you. They are only a piece of the puzzle. Find ways to make learning about the faith fun – research saints together, have theological discussions around the dinner table and look up what the Church teaches on whatever issue you’re discussing or play Catechism and Bible board games, quiz games and computer games. Read bible stories using your family bible. Ask questions about the Catholic faith and find the answers in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Available on line at www.usccb.org.)
Sometimes parents get nervous about the idea that they are responsible for developing faith in their children. Parents often feel ill-equipped, despite their strong desire to love and serve God. Fortunately, help is available from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the form of practical prayer advice. Let’s examine this advice and lay out a path to getting started with family prayer.
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