September 15, 2006

2006 Religious Education Supplement

Program helps parents hand on faith to children

By Mary Ann Wyand

Parents are a child’s first teachers.

Catholic parents also are their child’s first catechists.

During the sacrament of baptism, they promise to raise their child in the Catholic faith, and that involves religious education in the home as well as at the parish or parish school.

But sometimes the task of educating their children in the faith can seem daunting and even overwhelming for busy parents who juggle complicated work and school schedules, chores, homework assistance, sports and other activities that fill the family calendar.

So how, many parents wonder, can they find the time to teach their children about God and the sacraments in age-appropriate ways at home?

Conventual Franciscan Brother Robert Baxter advises parents to share family prayer time at the dinner table and before bedtime as a daily ritual.

During a faith formation workshop titled “Parents Are the First Teachers,” Brother Bob also discusses other ways that parents can include God in family activities every day.

“The goal is to help parents create a home where the faith is lived,” he said, “where it’s loved and where it’s meaningful.”

A former director of religious education at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis for 12 years, Brother Bob currently serves as secretary of the province and guardian at Mount St. Francis Retreat Center in southern Indiana.

He also directs the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Clarksville, and ministers to young adults in the New Albany Deanery by facilitating Bible study classes and faith-sharing groups.

The archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education developed and published a religious education curriculum several years ago, he said, that includes a section on the family and parish partnership with appropriate faith formation activities for use in the home and at the parish.

“I wondered how many parents really knew how to do that,” Brother Bob said. “There are some beautiful statements [in the curriculum] about parents’ influence through the witness of their lived faith. They should discuss issues of social justice, peace and respect for life routinely around the dinner table.”

After participating in a task force on ways to unlock the treasures of the archdiocesan religious education curriculum, Brother Bob developed the workshop for parents based on the six tasks of catechesis listed in the Church’s General Directory for Catechesis.

“That got me thinking that since parents are the first teachers, those six tasks would be appropriate tasks for parents in the home,” he said. “That’s how [the workshop] got started.”

Those tasks are promoting knowledge of the faith, liturgical education, moral formation, teaching ways to pray, educating for community life and missionary initiation.

“The workshop is geared for parents to give them the tools to create the Church of the home,” he said, “and specifically to cooperate and be a partner in the faith formation of their children.”

Family participation in Sunday Eucharist is essential, Brother Bob emphasized, and older children should be encouraged to assist at Mass as altar servers, lectors and music ministers.

It’s also important for families to use liturgical symbols in the home, he said, because it is the domestic Church.

A crucifix is displayed in most Catholic homes, he said, but parents may not know that holy water can be used during prayers at home.

Catholic parents should pray with their children every day, Brother Bob said, and set aside time to read and discuss the Church’s daily Mass readings at home. They also should pray the Stations of the Cross together at church.

Celebrating each child’s feast day is another important way to strengthen the domestic Church, he said, as well as practicing Lenten and Advent devotions at home.

The Holy Family is a wonderful model for migrant families, Brother Bob said, and the Nativity scene can initiate a discussion about Church teachings on welcoming immigrants.

The shepherd in the Nativity scene is an example of a leader, he said. “Put the shepherd on the dinner table for a couple of days during Advent, and talk about how we are called to be leaders, who we are leading and where we are leading them. Are we bringing them to Christ or are we leading them somewhere else?”

The next week, he said, use a sheep from the Nativity set and discuss how Christ also calls people to be followers.

“Ritual and symbol are so much a part of our faith,” Brother Bob said. “Take traditional Catholic prayers and devotions, and use them to deepen the Catholic life of the home. Use Church traditions to foster a real Catholic view of life.

“Morality flows from our relationship with God,” he said. “Include God in decision-making, and explain that it’s because we love God and we’re in a relationship with God that we live a certain way.”

It’s also important to teach children that faith requires showing concern for others, he said, and helping people in need.

“Catholic parents want to have a Catholic home,” Brother Bob said. “They want a home where their faith is lived and loved. We just need to give them the tools to do that.”

Joseph Fey, director of religious education at St. Joseph Parish in Corydon, said the “Parents Are the First Teachers” workshop helped empower parents to focus on teaching and living their faith at home.

“Parent response was very positive,” Fey said. “It gave them a lot of helpful information on doing their part as parents in the home. … I think it helped them to realize again the importance of what they do.

“At baptism, the priest says to the parents and godparents, ‘You have the responsibility for bringing the child up in the faith.’ Our job here at the parish is to assist the parents in the work of raising their children in the faith. … Passing on the faith should be one of our highest priorities.”

Fey said St. Joseph Parish also has offered faith formation seminars for parents based on the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church—the creed, the sacraments, morality and prayer.

The “Parents Are the First Teachers” workshop also was well received at American Martyrs Parish in Scottsburg.

Connie Sandlin, coordinator of adult religious education, said the workshop reinforced the importance of practicing your faith at home.

“There are so many everyday opportunities to incorporate the faith in the home,” Sandlin said. “… Often, these present themselves as great opportunities to practice our faith, … just regular everyday things like recognizing children for achievements … or affirming them for something nice they did for one of their friends.” †


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