Are your children headed for heaven?
We want our children to remain faithful to God and to the Catholic Church, because we want them to have a happier life here on earth and receive eternal life in heaven. However, many teenagers and young adults reject what we’ve tried to pass on to them.
Pope John Paul II said (March 19, 2002, at the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture): “The transmission of the evangelical message is particularly arduous in today’s world, especially because our contemporaries are submerged in cultural ambiences that are often ignorant of any spiritual or inner dimension, in situations where essentially materialistic aspects prevail. Without a doubt, it must be said that in no other period of history [was there such] a rupture in the process of the transmission of moral and religious values between generations, which leads to a kind of heterogeneity between the Church and the contemporary world.”
The Holy Father pointed out that one of the greatest challenges for transmitting the faith falls on families. They have “the onerous task to transmit human, moral and spiritual values to young generations, which will allow them to be men and women who are concerned to lead an upright personal life and to commit themselves to social life.”
The best measures by the best parents are no guarantee that children will take personal ownership of the faith when they become adults, but we are called to give our best efforts to the faith formation of our children. After that, we entrust their faith journeys to God — and we pray a lot!
Why do children stray from the faith?
It’s easy today for family members to become isolated. This one’s running off to soccer, that one’s going to piano lessons, and the other one’s out on a date. Dad comes home from work late, and Mom’s too tired to spend quality time with the kids. Video games are played alone, and each child has his own bedroom and TV.
When kids feel isolated, they lose direction and become more anti-social. The result, according to U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley, is that “too many young people are…growing cold with fury, living lives of anger, poverty and spiritual numbness.” Also, half of America’s families have been split by divorce, making family intimacy much more difficult. Children in single-parent families are two to three times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems, drop out of school or get suspended, become pregnant teenagers, use drugs, or get in trouble with the law.
Research shows that early sexual activity occurs more frequently when the father does not live with the family. Other studies reveal a link between hyper-aggressive behavior in young men with the absence of a father. Sociologist David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values and author of Fatherless America, points out that research proves that the single most important predictor of criminal behavior is father absence.
We are an increasingly violent society because we are an increasingly fatherless society,” he said. Thirty-six percent of American children live apart from their fathers. Added to the 30 percent out-of-wedlock birth rate and the 50 percent divorce rate, he said, “Of all children, more than half will spend a significant part of their childhood living apart from their fathers.” (No wonder children today don’t have faith in God the Father.)
What sexual values are kids learning?
Through the Church Magisterium, God tells us that sexual union between husband and wife is a beautiful expression of their covenanted love, and it mirrors God’s love for His people. However, sex is often used destructively. Even though sex is the healthiest and happiest within the permanent sacramental covenant, our society strongly encourages sexual activity that lacks God and His love.
Do your children know that sexual relations lacking sacramental commitment are not worthy of them because they were created in God’s image? (See 1 Cor. 6:9-10,18.) Do they understand that in unmarried sex, the unconditional love of Christian marriage is missing because conditions are placed on those relationships? That it’s subject to exploitation and self-deception? That it trivializes sexuality and can erode the ability to make deep, lifelong commitments?
14 ways to evangelize your children:
- Speak openly about your relationship with God. If you don’t talk about it, your kids won’t know that God is important.
- Don’t be afraid to mention doubts and struggles. Your growing faith will be more believable. However, temper struggles with hope. You don’t want to give the impression that it’s okay to stop trusting God. Besides, too much focus on the negative might frighten them.
- Share your conversion experiences, but leave out details of your sins. If you tell children that you had premarital sex or an abortion, when temptation comes to them, they might think, “If Mom or Dad did it, I can too.” During temptation, the message of your regret may get pushed aside.
- Show by example that you believe what you profess. Live the Gospel message of love, forgiveness and trust. This means more than any parental sermon.
- Use daily conversation to bring the Lord into the spotlight. A child’s frustration over a friend wrongly calling him a liar can become an understanding of Jesus forgiving people who didn’t believe Him.
- Take advantage of formal programs that build up your child’s faith. Aside from Mass, the usual religious education classes and youth groups, there are retreats, prayer groups, youth tracks at adult conferences, Christian videos, Christian rock bands, and more. If there are no youth Bible study or prayer groups in your parish, get together with other concerned parents and start one.
- Pray with your kids. Before they leave the house, say a quick blessing over them or ask their guardian angels to provide protection. When your child has a problem, pray together. When you have a problem, ask him to pray for you. This makes God seem more real, and shows that He cares and is involved in our lives.
- When you pray with your children, tell God how much you appreciate all that He has done and is doing. Add other things that describe your relationship with Him. This not only builds up the faith of everyone listening, it also sneaks in a little bit of teaching without sounding like you’re lecturing.
- When a child has a birthday or other important event, write her a letter about how proud you are of her, what this milestone means to God, and anything else about your faith that fits the occasion.
- Tell stories about your faith experiences. How did Christian friends help you when you were ill or out of work? What funny or challenging story did a priest say that gave you a new insight?
- Be actively involved in the Church. Don’t spend too much time away from the kids, but let them know how important your faith is by doing things to nurture it and serving the parish.
- Get involved in volunteer work that the family can do together. It will help the child grow from self-centeredness to altruism.
- Give your kids lots of positive attention when they share an insight about God or put into practice a moral principle, even if the insight shows their naiveness or the good deed is done imperfectly.
- Help them define their own feelings about God, their own ideas about the faith, and their questions. Faith remains vague and intangible until they taken ownership of its various dimensions. Once they express a belief, it becomes easier to live it.
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© 1993 by Terry Modica
Good News Ministries