BY LISA MLADNICH
As catechists, most of us have struggled to teach children whose families are, for a variety of reasons, in a woeful state of ignorance of the Faith and habitually separated from the life of the Church. Put very simply, they don’t know what they’re missing.
But that doesn’t mean their parents aren’t doing anything right. In many cases, the natural process of raising children lays a foundation for sacramental life that can be useful in engaging the whole family.
Parents can be warmly and effectively challenged to appreciate the riches they have already inculcated in their children’s hearts and to enthusiastically embrace the role they are called to play in their children’s ongoing spiritual formation.
It’s important to realize that young parents enrolling children for the first time are often nervous and uncomfortable when they attend the parish’s information session. While you and I comfortably use terms like “sacrament,” “Eucharist,” and “reconciliation,” they may be quietly suppressing the desire to flee the room, wondering in embarrassment how they will cope with concepts they have either never heard before or simply do not understand. They may worry, thinking, How will I explain any of this when my child asks questions?
Bill Smith, a veteran DRE at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in New Braunfels, Texas, starts his “welcome” sessions by thanking parents for all they have done to prepare their children for first reconciliation.
As their faces register surprise, he explains that practices as simple and ordinary as “time-outs” teach children to examine their consciences, having to admit wrongdoing teaches confession, cleaning up a mess or making amends teaches penance, and having to say “I’m sorry” teaches contrition. The parents’ eyes light up as they begin to connect their efforts with the bigger picture.
“In the weeks ahead,” Smith says in The Six Tasks of Catechesis, “together we help their children see that reconciliation isn’t something strange and scary, but it’s turning to God for forgiveness, just like they have been doing at home. We can see the change in the parents’ attitudes. Now they are ready to get involved, because they were affirmed.
Later, giving parents a children’s missal so they can assist their children in learning the prayers and understanding the Mass makes the classroom teachings real and prepares them to actively participate.”
Sharing great tools — and praising moms and dads for all the ways that loving family life leads naturally to a life of virtue — can be a bridge to helping parents rediscover their primary role as educators of their children.
Lisa Mladinich is a Catholic wife and mom, catechist, and the author of the popular booklets, Be an Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children (Our Sunday Visitor). She is the founder of AmazingCatechists.com.
This article was originally published in RTJ/Creative Catechist, September 2014.
Image Credit: Africa Studio / Shutter Stock 512533513