July 15, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Ideas for encouraging children’s faith

My husband and I sometimes wonder why not one of our three daughters still practices the Catholic faith. Once, I even wondered if Catholic editors would boycott my work if they knew. Then I learned even many of them struggle with the same questions we have.

To better encourage children in formative years, it behooves parents to follow some precautionary guidelines. However, this should be done in a natural, good-humored, encouraging way. Also, compared to yesteryear, there is so much more faith support provided now through activities like Vacation Bible School and youth and teen groups in parishes.

The July/August issue of Catholic Parent magazine (800-348-2440 or ­ cparent@osv.com) has an excellent article about this titled “Enhance Your Child’s Faith Life” by Gerri Ryan. Like me, she is a Catholic freelance writer, but also an artist. A Michigan native, she recently moved to Garland, Texas, with her ­husband, Jim, and their 11-year-old son, Devin, after living in Frankfort, Ky. They are members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Garland.

“Besides going to Sunday Mass,” Ryan writes, “the Church offers many options” for practicing Catholicism as a family.

Our souls need nourishment and support as much as our minds and bodies do … Choose an extra Catholic activity to do this week …” she advises. Then she shares several possibilities:

Pray a rosary, make a holy hour, celebrate your feast day, receive the sacrament of reconciliation, attend a weekday Mass, pray a novena, participate in first Friday and first Saturday devotions, celebrate you baptismal day, attend Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, pray the Stations of the Cross, make a five-minute visit in church, read Bible stories aloud, join a small discussion group, pray to your guardian angel, receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, have your throat blessed for the Feast of St. Blase or attend the Easter Vigil.

Readers can add other ideas, such as using various mealtime prayers. Spontaneous prayer can be especially revealing. Paul and I followed many of the above suggestions with our daughters, but we lacked tenacity with others. If children see parents consistently happy with faith practices, they usually respond well.

Our daughters loved the lighting-of-Advent-candles ritual and they never balked when, during camping trips, we searched for a Catholic church for Sunday Mass. However, we weren’t consistent with everything.

In her article, Ryan also notes: “Often, when I attend the Stations of the Cross or a rosary service, I notice how few children are there … Many of these rituals are rich with traditions passed down for almost 2,000 years.”

This is true and sad.

If children consistently understand these practices and benefits in the right way, it is likely they will continue them into adulthood. Of course, there are no guarantees. Often, only God understands why, as adults, children change their minds about their faith.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


Local site Links: