One of the essential tasks facing Catholic parents everywhere is addressing the question of how they are to pass the faith of the Church on to their own children.
On the surface, this seems like a reasonably simple question with a reasonably straight-forward answer. The answer, however, is likely to determine whether the new evangelisation can succeed.
While the rest of the world looks to Rome to see who will follow in the footsteps of the remarkable Benedict XVI, it is entirely probable that discovering and implementing the solution to this one question – how to transmit the Christian faith to the young – is far more important in the long run for both the world and the Church than which of the cardinals will be elected in the conclave. Popes have a vital role in the Church, but so do Christian parents and Christian families.
Interestingly, while there has been much talk about the new evangelisation in the Church for many years what it precisely means is not often spelled out in detail. It can be confidently asserted, however, that the new evangelisation envisioned by modern pontiffs such as Paul VI, John Paul II and, most recently, Benedict XVI, is a renewed impulse on the part of the Church or a new confidence in proposing to the world the simple truth that there is a God – and one who loves each of us at that.
Transmitting this one truth in a credible way to our children is probably the single greatest gift any parent can give, but many Catholics do not understand quite how important this work is, either for their children or for the world.
The need for a new evangelisation has thankfully, however, become increasingly apparent at a moment in the history of the world when many see the Church as exhausted.
The problem for Catholic parents and Catholic families is that as modernity has increasingly turned its back on God and proclaimed God’s irrelevance (and therefore the Church’s) to modern life the pervasive nature of this message has helped to draw increasing numbers of the young away from the faith their families, their parishes and their Church wish to give them.
In the eyes of the modern world the Church is completely out of step with reasonable, rational, tolerant life. Worse, it is repressive – concerned only for the letter of the law rather than its spirit, willing – if necessary – to prevent human beings from responding to their own deepest desires as they search for fulfilment.
To describe this as a negative judgement would be an understatement. Nevertheless, this now widely-influential view has become the dominant orthodoxy of our time.
It is this view which powerfully persuades the young that whatever their parents’ reasons for continuing to adhere to the Church it is, in the end, not for them.
However Catholic and Christian parents can have good reasons for hope for any of numerous reasons.
It is clear that a fundamental dimension to the exit of huge numbers of young people from the Church (and allowing for the spectacular phenomena of successive World Youth Days) in recent decades is because one of their most basic experiences is that almost everyone around them is acting as though the Church has passed its use-by date.
In effect, young people and young adults are isolated by negative peer pressure; the ability of parents and families to neutralise this powerful factor is key to leading their children to an encounter with the Lord which is meaningful and life-changing for them. This is entirely possible.
It is of vital importance that parents, parishes and archdioceses – the whole Church – see and understand that offering the young the experience of Christianity as normality is probably one of the most important works they can carry out.
Once Christianity is experienced as natural and normal by those who are young – because friends and acquaintances treat it as such – then the negative peer pressure of a toxic society expressed through the media, the internet and through the culture loses its capacity to fool young people into believing the Church and God are irrelevant.
Parents need help doing this, but perhaps one of the most important practical steps they can take is to consciously seek out other families with similar faith and values with whom they can regularly associate.
From this friendships grow, opportunities emerge for families to jointly pursue formation for themselves as families and for their children – a serious but almost completely ignored aspect of Catholic family life today.
Opportunities for purely social gatherings, just as important in their own ways, emerge as well. Children and young adults growing up into the world will have the sure foundation that faith is not an irrelevancy to modern life but a precious treasure of the greatest value.
Children raised in this kind of environment are given certain clear advantages, not the least of which is that they learn to see the world for what it is rather than what it passes itself off for.
Children raised in such an environment have a far greater chance of not being robbed of their childhood.
More importantly they are affirmed by others so that when their peers and our culture attempt to drag them away from the Church they have far greater resilience and see the emptiness of the things our culture prizes the most.