by Bishop Michael G. Duca
“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…” 1Cor. 15: 3-4
We see in 1 Corinthians that St. Paul was handing on the faith in Jesus that was handed on to him to the new believers in Corinth. This work of handing on the faith has always been at the heart of the Church’s mission. In fact, we are Catholics today and believe in Jesus and His Church because the faith has been handed on to us.
I have been thinking about how the faith was handed on to me. It began before I could speak when I was brought to the waters of Baptism by my parents and I received sanctifying grace that bound me eternally to the love of God and His redeeming grace. I was taught my prayers from an early age, I learned the answers to hundreds of questions from the Baltimore Catechism, attended daily Mass at Catholic grade school and was formed as a Catholic in all these opportunities, as well as in so many other influences from the nuns, priests and others in the parish. Yet, even though I value all these influences, I know my most important and lasting influence was my parents’ example and the way they wove our Catholic faith into our home and our daily lives. They were the ones who handed on the faith to me. Every other opportunity was helpful and formative, but only because they were able to build on the foundation of faith that was handed on to me by my parents.
Recently I have been considering the best way for us to hand on the faith to our children. I have some insights shaping my thinking and I want to share them with you.
Of course we hope to hand on the faith through our Catholic Schools and in our Parish Schools of Religion. But when I consider how to make our programs of religious education more effective in handing on the faith, I realize we must begin with the parents. Anything else we do as a diocese or church parish will only be successful or helpful if children are living the faith and learning about the faith in their homes. Just sending a child to a Catholic School or to Parish School of Religion is not enough. I believe a more active involvement of parents is needed. This may seem overwhelming to parents who think they are not qualified to teach. But this is not hard because it is not about teaching theology, but more about the way we live our Catholic faith. We hand on the faith in the family, for example, by our yearly traditions of faith (advent wreath, manger scene), by praying together as a family, by making Sunday Mass a priority and by making visible decisions in the family based on our Catholic faith. The faith is handed on first by the example and teaching of the parents and then reinforced by parish programs for all members of the family. We do not just learn about the faith to become smarter Catholics, we study to come to know Jesus and to try to become a more faithful disciple and a better Catholic every day.
If it is clear our parents and family are the first ones to hand on the faith to us, it is also clear to me that while it is important to hand on the content of the faith (prayers, teachings and sacramental practices), this will be empty knowledge unless our children develop a prayerful and lively faith that helps them come to know and truly encounter Jesus Christ in: prayer, the Sacraments, the Scriptures and as members of the Body of Christ, the Church. We need to pass on a living faith that can only be handed on if we truly believe in Christ and in His Church. This means the work of handing on the faith is also a matter of personal conversion and witnessing of Christ in our own daily lives. If, as adults, our Catholic faith is not important and central to our lives, if we create our own version of what it means to be Catholic, then why should we expect our Catholic faith in Jesus Christ to be important to our children?
These insights provide a pathway for changes to our religious education programs and the ways we hand on our faith to our children. They reveal that it will not be enough just for the diocese to create a new program or the parish to make superficial changes. No, the real answer is more personal because to effectively hand on the faith, we must understand that each of us is responsible for teaching the faith to our children and our success will, in great part, be rooted in the example of our lived faith and the way it is woven into our families’ daily lives.
(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)