When we think of education, we usually associate it with paid educators teaching from textbooks. Religious education, too, takes place at school or in catechism sessions at our local parish. In other words, we believe education is what someone else does for our children.
But Scripture makes it clear that religious education is to take place first and foremost in the home. After delivering the old covenant law, God commands the Jewish people to teach their children his precepts constantly:
“And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart;
and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deu 6:4-9)
God is commanding families to live his law so faithfully and diligently that the ways of God literally became the atmosphere, the breathed air, if you will, of the home. He is saying that everything, even the most mundane tasks, are to be teaching moments.
Likewise, the Church has always recognised parents as the primary educators of their children.
The family is the domestic Church, and parents have the responsibility to create an atmosphere of faith and piety that defines the Catholic home. The Church summarises this beautifully in the Catechism:
“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.
The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the ‘material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”
Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelising their children.
Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the ‘first heralds’ for their children.
Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens quite naturally when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents (and fathers have a particular role and duty in this regard) have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God.
10 things parents can do to evangelise their children
Sam points out that fathers have a particular, God-given role to model themselves after Christ’s example in catechising their children. But mothers certainly have an enormous influence on their children’s formation as well. Here are some of the ideas Sam gives fathers for evangelising in their home which are equally valid for mothers:
The most important thing to remember is that children will learn far more by your example than by your words.
- Pray with your children, morning and evening
- Bless them.
- Be a student of the faith yourself, since you can’t teach what you don’t know.
- Receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion frequently.
- Teach them about the lives of the saints. Forget Batman and Spider Man, the Church gives us thousands of real-life superheroes!
- Take them to Mass, and not only on Sundays.
- Read an age-appropriate spiritual book together, especially Gospel stories or stories from the Acts of the Apostles.
- Be faithful. If you tell your children you will do something, do everything in your power to make it happen. Our faithfulness teaches them about God’s faithfulness.
- Suffer well. Suffering heroically is intrinsic to the Catholic faith. Teach your children to ‘offer it up’ by doing so yourself.
Jesus described his entire life as a mission “to bear witness to the truth”. We, too, should bear witness to the truth in our words and example, showing our children as much as possible through our marriage and family life what Christ-like love looks like and teaching them the truths of the Catholic faith.
About the author
Sam Guzman is founder and editor of The Catholic Gentleman website. This is an edited extract of an article which is part of a series on what fathers, in particular, can do to raise their children in the faith. It makes for a great Catholic Father’s Day reflection!