Marc Cardaronella, diocesan Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute, has written a very timely book about the need for parents to share their faith with their children. The sad truth is that the majority of Catholic children will leave the church before the age of 21. As Catholic parents, this is not the outcome we hope for. What can be done?
Cardaronella suggest that there are three things we can do to avoid this outcome. First, secure your own faith. The example of our own faith as parents is essential. We cannot just passively expect the parish education program to do this job for us. If we value our own children’s faith, we will work on our own faith life. Cardaronella shares his own faith journey to illustrate how to grow in faith. The most essential component is to foster our own personal adherence or voluntary commitment to Christ. Only then can this be shared with our children. He notes, “The child must also be led to understand this great gift as a personal invitation to share in the Christian life. . . accepting the invitation leads to conversion” (p. 14). This theme is developed in detail in Part II of the book, “Is your own faith secure?” This section forms a kind of self-guided retreat on the condition of the heart. Cardaronella gives prayers and reflection questions and practical advice on how to deepen your personal faith.
The second component is to educate to foster faith. Very often parish education programs focus exclusively on passing on information about the faith. Clearly learning about the faith is important and it is necessary to gradually give our children a systematic understanding of the faith, but without a second component this type of learning can fall flat. Turning to Blessed John Henry Newman, Cardaronella suggests a different model which focuses on personal influence and witness. This theme is expanded in Part III, “What kind of education fosters faith.” Again giving the reader practical reflections, prayer questions and further resources Cardaronella highlights those aspects of learning that are crucial for developing faith. This section is divided into three topics. The first in understanding the Bible as the story of salvation. Cardaronella gives practical advice on how to approach the Bible and pass on the faith to our children. The second section involves the story of the liturgy in which he helps the reader to understand Mass and the liturgical year more deeply. He concludes this section with helpful guide to mentoring relationships.
The final component is to create a home of faith. Once again it is clear that Parish and school programs only have a tiny influence in our children’s lives. Our home is the primary influence. Cardaronella suggest four ways that parents are vital for passing on the faith to our children. The first is influence. Parents have far more effect on their children than they are aware of. Cardaronella notes, “If you want your children to grown up to be good Catholics, be one yourself! (p. 28). The second is to teach through relationship. Cardaronella notes that although parents might assume they are too “uncool” to teach their children, researchers have shown that even teen children are still listening and open to being taught even if they act uninterested. But in order to do this you need relationship with your children. The third vital parent behavior is to talk about faith. The experience of talking about our faith makes it something that is not vague but specific and challenging. Cardaronella warns “In order to articulate faith, you have to internalize it and understand the reasons why you believe it” (p. 31). We need to be open to honest discussions and not merely appeal to the rules. The final component is religious practices. Adolescent faith is activated through specific spiritual and religious practices. This theme is expanded in Part IV, “How to create an environment of faith?” In this section Cardaronella discusses the topics, ‘Training in godliness,’ ‘Seeking personal relationship with God,’ ‘Praying from the heart,’ and ‘Structuring life to support faith.’
A final important section involves helping your children to make an act of faith. Cardaronella applies the tools of evangelization to the family. What is the message of the Gospel and how do we present it to our children? He presents three different moments of Catholic commitment, the age of reason, early teens, and late teens.
Overall this is a very practical guide for parents that will help them to get the most out of their family faith experience. Each section of the book ends with reflections, prayers and applications that make the book a life changer.
Scott McKellar is associate director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.