Parents who have a deep faith in Christ and His Church are always praying that their children will continue on with that faith. Many good parents enroll their children in Catholic school or CCD, volunteer for the Church, join apostolates, and a growing minority homeschool. They pray the family rosary, discuss the saints, and seriously celebrate saint and holy days. There are many articles online with the title "How to Keep Your Kids Catholic." And the authors always have fantastic ideas on how to do this. But when you look at the world sometimes you can wonder, "CAN We Keep Our Kids Catholic?"
I have belonged to a Catholic Mothers email group for several years. This international group of very faithful Catholic women of all ages has been an anchor for me. We discuss everything, always with an eye on Church teaching. We pray for each other, support each other, and console each other.
This week, one of the topics of conversation has been ways to keep your kids Catholic. We are the kind of mothers who don't just want our kids to go to church once a week, but to actually live the Christian life. To have a relationship with Christ, and to live a moral life.
I always feel inadequate discussing this topic. I have several friends who homeschool and they do amazing things. Some of my friends talk about doing the family rosary after dinner, and having their kids watch the latest EWTN kid show. They don't allow their kids to watch any secular TV, and saint biographies are a staple in their house. I feel lucky sometimes if my kids say some prayers at night.
The discussion through the email group has been very edifying, but always we turn to the problems with adolescents and young adults, and their encounters in "the World." Children who stop going to church, drop out of school, marry poorly, get involved with drugs, or start living with their girlfriends. Children who join a protestant church, or dabble in New Age practices or the occult. Things we have little control over. How do we handle this? How do we cope when the children you have been raising to be good Catholic Christians start to stray?
After giving this some thought this week and reading the other ladies replies, I think it all comes down to LOVE. One of the most profound replies was from someone I deeply admire, Kathleen. Her experience brought tears to my eyes with its beauty and truth, and she has given me permission to post it here.
You can have the most perfect (as possible here on earth) upbringing: 2 parent family, faithful Catholic upbringing, no cable TV, no drinking/smoking/drugs/etc., no skeletons in the closet, parents always there for you, etc., and STILL stray from the faith and from the moral upbringing of 20+ years.
I grew up with awesome parents and beautiful catholic upbringing. There was nothing more that my parents could have done for me. They were loving, faithful, and giving yet not indulgent, strict but not overbearing.
I got caught up with the wrong crowd after high school and started drinking and doing drugs. I quit going to church. I started sleeping around. I moved out of the house when my parents were both at work. I moved in with a friend and partied all the time instead of going to classes. Within 1 month I became pregnant at 19 and had to move back home. At that point in my life, I had tried to sever ties with my parents. Moving back home was the hardest thing I ever had to do... no, telling them I was pregnant was the hardest.
Over the next month I was having morning sickness so I told my mom that I needed to see a doc because I thought I was sick. After a positive blood test I told her I was pregnant on the ride home. I was a basket case, she was just visibly angry and said she knew it. I had never seen her so angry. But she didn't yell or scold, she was just quiet.
I remember sitting on the stairs in our living room when my dad came home. I hadn't talked to him in several months. I always stayed in my room and wouldn't even eat at the table with him. Our relationship was dead. Now I had to face him. I was so scared.
When he came home and saw me crying, he said to my mom, "What's the matter with her"? She said, "What else? Your daughter is pregnant!". He didn't say a word but walked over to me and held me for what seemed like hours then said, "I love you and we'll get through this." And we did.
Today, my mother and father are my best friends, they are my heroes, my rock, my examples of holiness here on earth.
To me, it's not just about raising faithful children - it's about being there for them when they come home after being unfaithful.
Steve Angrisano does a short monologue on one of his CDs where he talks about the Prodigal Son. He says that he likes to call it the story of the Running Father - for the son doesn't make actually make it home... the Father runs to the son.
"So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way
off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He
ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him." Luke 15:20
There is only so much you can do to raise a good, faithful, Catholic Child. You give them a good foundation. If you do that and they stray, it's NOT your fault. It's their choice through the gift of free will.
It's what you do AFTER they fall that counts. Just be there for them, give them a safe haven where they can think and recoup. Don't preach. Your actions say more than words anyway. Finally, allow them to ask for forgiveness.
As I read this I realized that THAT is what being a loving Catholic parent really is about. I have watched my mother-in-law and sister-in-law as they have coped with children who stray - with children who made bad mistakes. It is their loving attitude that has been a balm to their children. It is their loving attitude that has kept the family together with love and peace. Berating, screaming, trying to exact revenge, or enact punish fails in these situations. Why? Because it drives the child farther away. They don't see Christian behavior from you, they see just the opposite.
Christ did not act that way. He was like Kathleen's father. He knew his daughter was hurting, confused, in trouble, and scared. He did not scream at her or throw her out of the house. He held her in his arms with love.
So how do we keep our kids Catholic? WE don't. God does. I have always felt that a person's relationship with God is like a marriage. We can never really knows what happens between two people in a marriage, and we can never know what happens between a person and God. Some people I thought were far from God turned out to have a really good relationship with him. Other people I thought had it all together and were strong Christian examples to me, fell into serious sin. Those people were not really close to God. Their relationship was weak, like the "perfect couple" who divorces.
We all are sinners and fall short. We ALL are tempted by what looks good but is really a pathway away from God. Our children are no different. They are sinners and will sin.
As parents, all we can do is do our best. We can do all those good things with our children as they are growing. We can make sure they know their Faith. Make sure they know what the Catholic Church teaches and why. Make sure they know the Church's history. We can try to protect them from the evils of the world, and try to arm them as best we can with knowledge and courage. Ultimately it is up to them to make the decisions in their lives, for good or bad.
If you have tried hard and your children stray, it is NOT your fault. You did the best you could. Adam and Eve had God as their Father. They walked and talked with Him. They were in complete harmony with Him - and still they sinned. If God could not keep His children from sinning how can you?
We also need to realize that many times the twists and turns in a person's life are important to get to the ultimate goal. God writes straight with crooked lines. He allows people to join a fundamentalist church, for example, to learn certain things before coming back to the Church. He allows people to wallow in the mire so that they truly thirst for him. God knows best and God is in control.
We as parents should relax, do the best we can, and not be afraid. We should however, be concerned with OUR relationship with Christ. We should be meditating on the scriptures and reading good spiritual books. We should attend Mass frequently and partake in the sacraments. We should pray the rosary and ask the Blessed Mother to pray for us and our children.
In this way, we will strengthen our relationship with God AND be a good example to our children. We will gain in wisdom and knowledge. We will gain peace, and that peace will affect how we interact with our children, and they will learn from us the path to God.
The main thing we should do is to pray, pray, pray for our children. Pray every day. Pray for their future vocations. Pray for their future spouse if God wants them to marry. Pray for their safety and their relationship with God, and pray for the strength to be a wise, loving parent like God our Father. He is the one who is in ultimate control and is the one who will bring them back if they stray.