Transforming weak Catholic families

Also posted at Catholic Insight.

786px-Familio_(Schumacher,_Katholisches_Religionsbüchlein)_002When you teach two classes of First Reconciliation and First Communion candidates on most Saturday mornings, you learn a lot about other families’ prayer lives. It doesn’t take long to see who prays at home and who doesn’t. I have come to the point where I am not surprised but remain disappointed that so many of the children can’t make a proper Sign of the Cross and don’t know the words to the Our Father and Hail Mary. Little children are not to blame for their lack of knowledge in the basics of the Catholic faith; the fault likes squarely with their parents. When I point out to some of them that they need to pray at home regularly with their young children, I am often met with excuses, embarrassment, or indifference.

It would be easy to look down on Catholic parents who don’t teach their children to pray, don’t bring them to Mass, don’t teach them about our glorious Faith, and don’t follow Church teachings, but what would that gain for the universal Catholic family of faith? We are all part of this family, all parts of the Mystical Body of Christ with our unique part to play. Just as the physical body is only as strong as its weakest organ, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth only as strong as its weakest members. Among its most fragile members are Catholic families who don’t fully embrace the Faith.

As a catechist, my role is very clear: prepare the children of my parish to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. But we who try to daily live in Christ are all catechists and it is our brothers and sisters who are only nominally Catholic that we need to catechize first. Instead of criticizing, condemning, and abandoning these Catholic families, let’s do something different: let’s gently and charitably show them what they’re missing. By our prayers, and the life in Christ we try to live in our families, we are a beacon of light illuminating Catholic family life as good, noble, and attainable.

Even the strongest Catholic family is imperfect. Devout families may have to deal with a crisis of faith in one (or some) of their children, or in one of the parents. If we address these crises in a spirit of humility and trust, if we storm heaven with our prayers, and if we are charitable to the person undergoing the trial of faith, then this too is an example and a sign of hope and strength for other families.

Our churches ought to do more to reach out to families who are weak in the practice of the Faith. My archdiocese  (and I suspect many other dioceses) pours money into youth and young adult ministries but often the parents of our young people are not given the same encouragement, opportunities and resources to strengthen their families.  Parents need homilies that inspire and support them in their role as their children’s primary educators in the Faith, and parish programs ought to catechize parents so that they can catechize their children. Parish priests, encourage families to attend Eucharistic Adoration that is scheduled for easy access by families; instead of Youth Masses that separate children from their parents, inspire families to attend Holy Mass together. A very wise former pastor observed that the family, the Domestic Church,  is the foundation of the Church and he made it his mission to support his parish families. Even now, my family continues to benefit greatly from his legacy of strong leadership.

On the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Association of Large Families. He quoted this passage from Pope Saint John-Paul II’s encyclical, Familiaris Consortio: “Families should grow in awareness of being ‘protagonists’ of what is known as ‘family politics’ and assume responsibility for transforming society; otherwise families will be the first victims of the evil that they have done no more than note with indifference.” (Familiaris Consortio, 44) A strong Catholic Church depends on faithful families. In our parishes and in society, the first people we ought to transform through our prayers, resources, and actions are Catholic families where God has largely been forgotten.

Drawing: Family During Common Prayer by Philipp Schumacher (1866-1940). In the public domain.




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5 Responses to Transforming weak Catholic families

  1. Great points. I know our Parish has been offering a lot more opportunities for education and growth for parents and families rather than solely focusing on the children. I have taught pre-school, Confirmation, and high school CCD classes in the past so I understand what you mean. On a side note, it has been a few years since I taught and this Sunday will be picking up with teaching the 2nd grade class in preparation for Reconciliation & Communion. The regular teacher fell and broke her knee and they needed someone to step in, possibly just for a few weeks or perhaps the rest of the year. I love teaching and am excited but also a bit nervous knowing that I am coming into the middle of the year and also knowing what an important year it is for these children and their parents. If you have any tips or pointers I would gladly welcome them 🙂

    • Good luck! It can’t be easy coming in to the classroom at this point of the year. I love teaching the kids. One thing I’ve learned is most kids respond to being challenged and so I ask them a lot of questions (including reflective ones) based on the topic we’re studying. And I insist they get the catechism homework completed every week. I throw in a good dose of the Baltimore catechism with the Faith and Life books we use.

  2. Pingback: Transforming weak Catholic families | Desperion's Blog

  3. reinkat says:

    Good post. One cannot stress enough the importance of continuing adult education in the Church. Pastors really need to take heed, and find good help if they are not natural teachers themselves.
    I think we as Catholics could take a few hints from Mormon ideas and ways of encouraging families& faith, and also from Protestant themes of stressing fellowship in addition to worship. Not to copy or transform our ways, but to glean what has been successful. Because it has been. Being attentive to these needs will help make a parish cohesive and the people truly a family. When the surrounding culture is strong, it is easier to pass along one’s faith to the children, and make it a real positive thing to take part in.

    For example, my parish, which is actually a Newman Center, has few children & families, but a lot of older adults. Someone had the idea of Fellowship dinner clubs, for people to gather for a monthly potluck in small groups at a volunteer host’s home. 8 couples per group, lasting 6 months. Then the idea was to switch around the couples, until everyone got to know everyone . . . it was wonderful. I now go to church with friends all around and know and love those who are praying with me. True bonds were forged. The only problem we had was many folks refused to switch groups, and eventually the formal program fell apart. The friendships have remained.
    This doesn’t really speak to family teaching, but it does relate to a parish reaching out and making a family out of the people who come to Mass.

  4. Pingback: Transforming weak Catholic families | Christians Anonymous

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