Growing up in Fall River, it seemed that our parish would find any excuse to have a procession. Whether it was two processions for our parish feast, the annual Romeiros on Good Friday, the Mordomia processions for the Holy Spirit, or the annual Peace Procession on Columbus Day, we were always holding up traffic for Jesus.
Let me tell you something: as a kid, those experiences changed by life. I’m not trying to exaggerate; I’m quite serious. Sure, walking in the street was always fun as a kid. But I just took it as this is what we did as a community. But as I grew older and into adolescence, it made me really own the faith. Moreover, building this habit over time showed me the power of someone’s witnessing for Christ.
One year, when I was in middle school, we walked by a bar as part of the Romeiros. I saw two gentlemen loudly discussing outside: “I believe that there is someone up there!” exclaimed one to the other. His exclamation seemed a defensive response to the other’s probing of his faith. I could only assume that their conversation was prompted by the fact that while they spoke, 300 men, women, and youth walked by while chanting the Rosary.
It makes me wonder: are we mindful of our witness? What example are we setting for others? Do we practice what we preach?
The language used in the Baptismal Rite is quite telling of what is expected of us as parents. It begins by the baptizing priest or deacon asking the parents “What do you ask of God’s Church?” Our response as parents is “Baptism.” We are the ones requesting Baptism for our children. As such, it is us parents that take on the principal ownness for raising our children in the Catholic faith.
The new “Directory of Catechesis ”(2020), released by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, echoes that this is a reality we need to better appreciate:
“Believing parents, with their daily example of life, have the most effective capacity to transmit the beauty of the Christian faith to their children. ‘Enabling families to take up their role as active agents of the family apostolate calls for “an effort at evangelization and catechesis inside the family.’’ The greatest challenge in this situation is for couples, mothers and fathers, active participants in catechesis, to overcome the mentality of delegation that is so common, according to which the faith is set aside for specialists in Religious Education’” (n.124).
We must, as parents and families, lead the way in sharing the faith by first doing so within our homes. What parishes offer are meant to enhance and support our role as our children’s primary catechists.
Growing up, my family’s involvement in Church created a “tag team” effort between my parents and our parish that supported me through good times and bad. While my parents shared the faith at home, several adults in the parish became examples to me, at times simply by being present. When I doubted, I could lean on both my parents and the parish to encourage me. It was this collective witness of authentic faith that showed me that the Catholic faith wasn’t some made up fairytale or collection of opinions, but that God and objective truth are real.
This fostered a desire in me to learn more about the rational warrant for God’s existence and the “whys” behind the truth which the Church teaches. In all this, I didn’t just come to know about Christ, but to truly know Him.
And it all started with my parents.
They were not trained theologians, nor did they know the answer to every question. But, they taught us that a relationship with God and our Catholic faith was the priority. And then, they did their best to live it.
As I prepare for my daughter’s Baptism, and reflect back on that of my son, I am struck by the promises that we make as a part of the Baptismal Rite:
“Presider: You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God’s Commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
Parents: We do.
Presider: (To the Godparents) Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?
Godparents: We are.”
Parenting isn’t easy. Sometimes my son responds well to us taking him to church and praying at home, and other times it’s a real struggle. The same may be true for you. That’s OK. Just don’t stop trying. This also means that we should be intentional about who we ask to be our children’s godparents and consider whether they will aid us in living and sharing the Catholic faith. After all, being a disciple of Christ is the most important thing we can do with our lives and offer our children. Or, to put it more directly, “For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul?” (Mt 16:26).
What good will it truly do for our children if we give them everything, except Christ?
I have met various parents who tried their best to do this, but whose children walked away from the Church. They have expressed to me their pain that their child no longer practices the faith. When we love God, we want others to love Him too. When they don’t, it hurts. I have the greatest respect for these parents, because they continue to try their best to live the promises made at their children’s Baptisms. Even now, they have not given up loving them, still inviting them to hear and respond to Christ’s invitation to relationship.
Speaking to these parents gives me pause to ask: what have I, as a fellow Catholic, done to help them and their children? What can we as a Church community do better to help invite fallen away Catholics back to the Church?
To begin, I would invite individuals to read Brandon Vogt’s book “Return,” where he discusses how families can work to bring their children back to the Church. For now, I will simply say that as Catholics we can begin by evaluating how we support parents and families.
Do we invite parents to take on their role as the primary catechists of the faith?
Do we help parents know how to share and witness to the faith at home?
Are our parish programs and ministries family-focused or make it easy for parents to be involved?
Do we speak to the challenges of parenting and aid parents to navigate these challenges through faith?
Do we pray for them?
And as parents, we how do we bring our children up to live the two greatest Commandments: that we must love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. (Mt 22:37-38)
Do we go to Mass each Sunday and pray at home?
Do we speak about Jesus as Someone we can truly know and have a relationship with?
Do we show how to serve one another at home?
Do we live the Church’s teachings and show our children how to do the same?
Do we practice forgiving and asking for forgiveness, and model this by going to Confession?
I share these questions as they are ones I ask of myself. In particular, I am looking to improve on asking for forgiveness and explaining to my son why I go to Confession. After all, the confessional is where we are healed. That is a great thing for people to know even at a young age!
In this month of May, let us pray to Jesus’ parents — our Blessed Mother Mary and St. Joseph the Worker — to intercede together for us to their Divine Son to help us witness and share the faith with our children. And remember, as Venerable Father Patrick Peyton taught, the family that prays together, stays together!
Anchor columnist David Carvalho is the senior director for Faith Formation, Youth, Young Adult and Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Fall River. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.