The religious education of our children is a very important concern of mine. With Catechetical Sunday upon us (September 20, 2020), I think it is good to reflect on the faith of our children and young adults.
What is frustrating to religious education teachers, to priests and to others involved with the religious education of youth is the “disconnect” often present when it comes to formal religious instruction and to living out the faith on a daily basis. Too often, in so many of my former parishes, students were dropped off for class but were not present in church for Mass on a regular weekly basis. Let’s face facts. We inevitably do not see anywhere near the same number of children at Mass as we may see registered for and coming to religious education classes. Their absence is even more apparent during times like summer vacation and especially now during this unprecedented coronavirus pandemic.
What do we do? An hour or two of religious education each week for several months each year is not and has never been an adequate solution. The Church has said continually that parents are the first educators of their children when it comes to religious faith and practice. When we bring a new life into the world we realize that we have to feed, clothe, and educate our children. We want the best for them if we love them. Hopefully we realize that we are also responsible for an immortal soul and the eternal salvation of a person as well. We cannot leave this responsibility to chance in an often amoral--if not immoral--world.
Do I teach my children to pray and pray with them at various times daily? Do I read Bible stories to them or teach them what Jesus said and did? Do I take them to confession and show them (by my own example) that the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is important? Outside of these extenuating circumstances, do I normally take them to Mass weekly? Do my children understand that Jesus is truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist?
What has been said for students in religious education programs is also true for our students who attend a Catholic school. There must be a connection with the local parish, with weekly Mass attendance and with the everyday living out of the Catholic faith.
I have been a priest long enough (over three decades) to see the rapid decline of those who actively participate in the faith life of their parish. (I also understand there may be multiple reasons for this.) Unfortunately, however, each subsequent generation seems to know less and less about even some of the essential teachings of the Catholic faith. This should be troubling for all believers.
I always welcome your ideas and suggestions concerning how we can continue to close this gap and have our young people more active and involved in the life of the Church.
Fr. Ed Namiotka