“These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-9)
A parent’s first responsibility as Christians is for the catechization of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and selfless service to others are the rule. That’s because a Christian home is best suited for education in these virtues. This task requires parents to embrace self-denial, good judgment, and self-mastery—the preconditions of all true freedom.
Christian parents teach their children that acquiring and securing material possessions is not the purpose and goal of their life. Instead, they teach their children that faith in Christ Jesus and sacrificial love for their neighbors is the goal and purpose of life. Parents also have a solemn responsibility to give an excellent example to their children of Christian faith and selfless love. This responsibility is greatly helped by knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children. In this way, parents will be able to guide and correct them.
Education in the faith begins in the child’s earliest years. This education already happens when family members encourage each other in the faith by witnessing a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis in the home comes before, accompanies, and enriches all additional instruction in the faith. As one example of how to pray as a family, I prepare a study guide called the “Congregation at Prayer” and use it for daily prayer in our school, streaming online, and in my home.
God has given parents the mission of teaching their children to pray and discover their vocation as children of God. This work begins in the home, but this cannot happen without parents bringing their children to hear the Gospel and receive the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is the heart of the congregation, the Christian liturgy, and every Christian family. It is Christ-gifted eating and drinking for the strengthening of faith and increase of charity.
Unfortunately, some parents are unaware of their duties as teachers and models of faith within their homes. Some parents seem to think that their role in nurturing their children’s faith is to take their children to church occasionally. And then, they relinquish their responsibility to teach and nurture to the pastor, a Sunday School teacher, a grandparent, or a family friend. Parents expect these surrogates to instruct their children about basic Christian teaching as well as they, rather than as helpers.
However, no one can replace the influence of a parent’s example for a child’s spiritual life. There is no substitute for the regular, consistent reading and discussion of God’s Word as a family, parents instructing their children. The way that you treat God’s Word, the congregation He has given you, your baptismal identity as God’s child, and the blessing of His body and blood in the Supper will either encourage the child into a life of faith… or discourage them from remaining in the church and even in faith in Jesus.
I know that being a parent can be a daunting task, even in the best of situations. The failure of marriages and parents neglecting their vocations haunts the church. Today, a parent must deal with the challenges of consumerism, technology, the media, and many other issues. As parents, you’re responsible for nurturing the faith and morality of your children. And children look to their parents as role models of faith and life.
Many parents feel less than adequate to catechize their children. Perhaps this is partly because of a misguided presupposition that “Christian education” is just one more school subject. But unlike the day school, catechesis is instructing children and adults in the knowledge and practice of the faith. It includes teaching specific content such as what we profess in the creeds, how we pray, godly vocations, and why the sacraments are necessary for life and life eternal.
The Christian faith is so much more than a school subject. It’s a way of living. By taking the time to pray, both at home and in Church, parents show their children the importance of a Christ-centered life. Opportunities for prayer are as varied as life experiences: before and after sleeping, eating, traveling, playing, studying, and even shopping or acquiring things. It’s not a bad discipline to pray for the wise use of your material resources when there are so many temptations to waste them on non-essentials that don’t bring lasting happiness. No prayer, however, surpasses the Gospel and the Sacrament of the Altar, especially on Sundays.
The decision to bring the whole family to Church every Sunday, in addition to being feasting together on the Gospel and the Bread of Heaven, communicates to children that life is more than work or sports. The Divine Service teaches the message that you are worth more than what you do, that here at the Altar, you have a Savior who comes to you and gives you something you can get from nowhere else: total forgiving mercy and eternal life.
The beginning and end of your Christian faith, however, is a Person: Jesus Christ. It’s all about your relationship with him and his Church, which he calls His body. To attempt to live as a Christian outside of Jesus’ Church is the same as if a hand or foot tried to receive lifeblood after being amputated from the body. Christ saves you through His body the Church because you’re a member of His body. You are that hand or foot that Jesus can’t live without, and that can’t live without his lifeblood.
Therefore, the experience of being a member of this family of faith, which has Jesus as its center and lives this conviction each day, is something every parent gets to provide for their child, regardless of their level of theological sophistication or book learning.
It’s quite simple. All you must do is “come and see,” as Jesus invites you to do, praising and thanking him for gifts given—tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and selfless service to others. These are the gifts of faith and charity, the gifts that define you as a member of Christ’s body, as a baptized child of God, today and always. And Jesus promises He will bless you and those whom He has given you to teach with faith, hope, and love.
+ Pastor Gillespie