Faith needs to be learned at home

By  Fr. James T. Mulligan, CSC, Catholic Register Special
  • March 19, 2008

{mosimage}"But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and  to your children’s children." Deuteronomy 4:9

This forthright biblical injunction could also be called the great challenge of faith in our time and in our place. This beautiful little passage from Deuteronomy is the First Reading for Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent. In this text, Moses gives the people the statutes and ordinances to follow so that they can live in the promised land. He makes it clear that the people have a special relationship with the Lord because of the exodus, the liberation of the people from slavery in Egypt.

Moses is very emphatic on two points. First: Never forget. Never let it slip from your mind that your God has chosen you and has intervened so wonderfully in your life. And second: Make your experience of the living God known to your children and your children’s children. Share your faith experience. Hand down the faith!

Now let us fast forward to the Catholic Christian community in Ontario 2008. Let’s apply Moses’ double injunction to our own faith /church situation. We are not to forget our own living experience of Jesus and we are to share that experience with our children and our children’s children.

To give a certain perspective on how we are doing, perhaps the following example is illuminating. On a Tuesday morning in the Third Week of Lent I was present with more than 120 Grade 4 children at church for the sacrament of Penance. There were five priests hearing confessions. To each young penitent, I asked the question: “Do you pray?” Some said that they do pray at home before meals and before they go to sleep. But, for an uncommon number of children the answer was:  “yes” they pray every Sunday “when I go to my Nona’s for lunch.” So, for more than a few, no prayer at home but they do pray at Nona’s.

Many teachers in our Catholic schools will confirm that what passing on of the faith is taking place in many homes is happening because of grandparents. I guess we can say our children’s children are being told the story and experiencing faith in the Lord Jesus, but we seem to have skipped a generation. Why aren’t the parents handing down the faith to their own children? If the grandparents share their experience of Jesus with their grandchildren, surely they did the same with their own children? What happened?

These are a few of the questions that come about in applying Moses’ commands to the Catholic Christian community of our own time and place.  Without imputing guilt or blame on anyone, here are some further questions for the Catholic Christian community:

The grandparents seem to have a living faith in the Lord Jesus. It means everything to them. But why do so many of their children not share this faith? And if they do, why do they not share their faith with their own children?

Perhaps it is the culture. So much has changed since the 1960s. Is it the tough, secular, consumeristic culture that has shaped Catholic Christians, loosening the bonds of faith and pushing the tradition and the church to the sidelines?

Who can help? What can help our parents live as committed Christians in this tough culture?

But what will happen when today’s parents become Nona and Nono? Will they tell the story? Will they pray with their grandchildren?

Take care, don’t forget, don’t let it slip by your mind, make it known to your children and your children’s children! Imagine how deprived we would be if we did not have our Catholic schools to help in the handing on of our faith. To help in shaping something of the Catholic imagination in our children.

It is a certainty that our Catholic schools can always be more effective at making known and sharing the living memory of Jesus with our students. Are our Catholic teachers up to the urgent challenge of going deeper into the understanding and the living of our faith?

But we have to be realistic in our expectations of what the Catholic school is able to do in terms of making our living faith known to our children. They can only do so much. How will the parents take their roles as Catholic parents seriously?

What new and creative measures must the local church (the bishop, the priests and the parishes) take to invite many of the parents to own and to embrace their faith, much as their own parents have done? 

Or will the status quo maintain itself, and the slip-sliding away continue?

So many important questions occasioned by God’s Word as we approach Easter 2008.

(Holy Cross Father Mulligan, pastor of St. Kevin’s parish in Welland, Ont., is author of Catholic Education: The Future is Now.)

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