By Daria Sockey
It’s the great joy of being a catechist, the thing that makes you want to come back each week: proclaiming the Good News to your class and seeing those little eyes go round with amazement as you open their hearts to some amazing truths — God! Heaven! Angels! Jesus! Prayer!
As the parents pick up their kids and drive away, you may find yourself wondering about the discussion taking place in the car. Some of them may be having a lively conversation about what was learned in your class. But in other cases, parents (who may not have had a good formation as children, have forgotten what they once learned, or may not even be Catholic) might not know what to do with the information their children share, other than to nod and say, “That’s nice, dear.”
Wouldn’t it be great if there were ways to help all parents to better understand, appreciate, and take delight in the truths their children are learning?
Actually, there are. From the simplest of gestures to more structured programs that can draw parents into what their children are learning, many catechists and church communities offer doorways to deeper faith for parents.
Christian LeBlanc of Greenville, North Carolina, has taught grade six for many years. He is keenly aware that his students can be the bridge between their parents and renewed faith. “My weekly homework assignment is for students to take home the class handouts and explain each one to the parents. Some of them actually do it!” Each year, LeBlanc also sends home a letter inviting parents to attend class with their children whenever they wish. He reports that some take him up on that offer, even to the extent of perfect attendance.
With 750 children in pre-K thru grade eight to supervise at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, Kansas, it would seem that DRE Willliam O’Leary has enough on his plate without worrying about reaching out to parents. But he manages — let’s just say the computer is his friend. “Every week, 24 hours before class, the parents receive an email that says, ‘Here is what your child is learning tomorrow.’ The idea is that they have 24 hours to look at it.” This way, parents can ask children after class about what they learned and not be shut down with a shrug and an “I dunno.” They can prompt conversation because they know what topics were studied and what activities took place. These emails also include suggestions for making the various church seasons special at home. Obviously not every parent implements the ideas from the emails. But O’Leary has gotten positive feedback from many of them, so he knows that what he is doing has had impact beyond the classroom.
In addition, O’Leary set up a lending library at the entrance to the classroom building. There are two tables of books — one for adults titles and one for children’s. The tables also include Lighthouse Media CDs and reprints of worthwhile articles from various publications. “The parents see these materials as they come in to pick up their children,” O’Leary said. “Some will pick up a saint book from the kid’s table for an at-home read-aloud session. Others gravitate to adult titles.”
Parents are already accustomed to a required “parent’s session” or two prior to sacraments of initiation. Many parishes, recognizing that adults are often desperately in need of an encounter with Christ, are tweaking the content of these sessions in the hope of sparking a renewal in the minds and hearts of the parents. In fact, there is one new program for parents of first Communicants and confirmation candidates that has been designed with that specific purpose.
Years ago Lori Pacer was one of those parents: “I was a lifelong ‘cultural’ Catholic. The close relationship with Jesus that I’d had as a child was gone. I’d made up a comfortable version of the faith that suited me. In fact, on my list of things to do was to get my [more devout] husband to change what I called his ‘rigid Catholicism’ into my more ‘free spirit’ version — I must have provided a lot of laughter for the Lord!”
Yet when Lori’s children began preparing for the sacraments, she began wondering about what she truly believed. Several weekend retreats rekindled her faith and a desire to give to others the conversion she had experienced. Before long, both Lori and her husband, Mike, were facilitating weekend renewal retreats around the country. As time went on, Lori realized that many people did not have the time or the inclination for an entire weekend, but they might be willing to do a daylong program. She and Mike distilled the essence of evangelization weekends into a one-day format. Their ministry, Evangelize All, travels to parishes around the country proclaiming the Good News and leading parents of sacramental candidates to a living relationship with Jesus that, for many of them, includes a return to the sacrament of reconciliation after years of absence. The program is titled God Is! Parishes that host it need only provide space, food, and a priest to hear confessions and say Mass at the end of the day (which is usually the parish Saturday vigil Mass). The God Is! team leaders do the rest, providing teaching, personal testimony, humorous skits, Eucharistic Adoration, and small group discussion.
“We share the basic truths of the faith in a simple, effective way, and we challenge parents to say yes, to affirm that faith. We help them better understand the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, and reconciliation so they will thirst for the outpouring of grace that comes with them. We teach them about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and we wrap up with a talk on how to apply all of this in their everyday lives.”
Participants in God Is! leave with a bundle of Lighthouse Media CDs to provide ongoing formation, and they are signed up to receive monthly E-pistles from Evangelize All. Parish leaders are given all the materials they need to continue the renewal through regular small faith-sharing groups.
A catechist or DRE’s attempt to reach out to parents may be as simple as casual conversation in the parking lot, a gift of a book or CD, or a more formal program with multiple bells and whistles. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. Whether or not a parent returns to an active practice of the faith does not depend on you. It depends on God and the action of grace. All you can do is cast the seeds, like the sower in Jesus’ parable. That, and pray for the parents of your students.
- Lighthouse Media CDs are talks by exciting Catholic speakers on hundreds of topics. Their low price makes them a great addition to a parish resource library or as individual gifts from you to parents. LighthouseCatholicMedia.org/store
- Evangelize All — Might the one-day God Is! day of renewal be a way to draw your students’ parents towards a living faith in Jesus and an embrace of the sacraments? Learn more by going to Evangelizeall.org.
Daria Sockey is the author of The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours (Servant Books). Visit her blog, Coffee and Canticles at DariaSockey.blogspot.com.
The article was originally published in Catechist magazine, Nov/Dec 2016.
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