Several years ago, His Excellency Cardinal Jose Sanchez was the featured speaker at the Catholic Home Education conference in Manassas, Virginia. He had traveled from Rome in his position as Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy to give support to Catholic home schooling parents.
Cardinal Sanchez encouraged parents to educate their children in the Catholic Faith, as they are encouraged by the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which teaches not only that they are the primary educators of their children, but also that the Church is present in families through parents teaching their children.
The family is the “proper place” to grow in the Faith, said the Cardinal. The family is the domestic church and through the family’s educational activities along with the ordinary events of daily life, it can best teach a knowledge and understanding of God, veneration and worship of God, a love of neighbor, and living a community life. “This is started and developed in the family itself.”
“Family catechesis can give the first lessons, the ABCs of Catholic doctrine.” The parents can best teach the meaning of God the Father, of God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and that we all belong to one family in Faith, which is the Church. Parishes should support parents by providing them with lesson plans or other materials to make catechetical instruction in the family successful.
Cardinal Sanchez gave parents several ideas about teaching the Faith in the home. “Teaching is not just transmitting truth, but giving witness, because teaching the truth without witness is not effective.” He pointed out that Our Lord at His Ascension told His disciples that “You shall be witnesses to Me.” Parents must not be just formal teachers but “give witness to the Faith.”
Witnessing is a “silent teaching” in the growth of the Faith. Parents give witness when they take their children to be baptized, or go to Holy Communion each Sunday, when they show respect for each other, or do charitable works for family or community members. The growth of the Faith in children is strengthened by adding witness to verbal teaching. This witnessing is “felt more strongly in the family. Covering several chapters in the catechism is important, but witnessing gives strength to the teaching.”
While verbal teaching and witnessing are most important, parents need to take advantage of daily occasions to teach. For instance, when an event or item is read in the newspaper, take the occasion to teach Catholic doctrine.
Parents need to be constantly aware and alert for occasions to teach, as well as conscious of their responsibility to teach the Faith on a continuing basis to their children. Parents should develop a sort of “spontaneous” response to take advantage of every situation to teach Catholic doctrine. All circumstances can be interpreted as occasions to teach the Faith. In this spontaneous response to every opportunity to teach the Catholic Faith in the family, children will develop a strong Faith and resist temptations.
Signs and symbols should be displayed in the home as a reminder of our Catholic beliefs. For instance, crucifixes should have a prominent place. Images of Our Lord and the saints should be displayed. Holy water should be in our homes. Holy Scripture should have a “place of honor” for this is the book that reminds us “we are pilgrims and this is the book that guides us.”
We should have certain practices as well as signs and symbols. Parents should supervise children, as a regular practice, in what they “see and hear, what comes into their minds” which can strengthen or weaken their awareness of Jesus Christ in their lives. Parents have a Christian duty to have more of those things which will help our children grow in the Christian life, and avoid those things which produce a negative effect.
Parents need courage and fortitude when outsiders are critical, but we need to set an example as a family to other families, and not be ashamed to practice our Faith in public. Being faithful to the Lord, even in public, is how people became saints.
Another practice for the family is reading the Word of God. The family should have a practice of reading the Bible as a family. This is not only a wholesome practice, but teaches our children that the Bible is a source of our Catholic doctrines and the teachings are a source of strength in difficult times. Children could take turns reading, and parents should encourage spontaneous reflection on what is being read.
The family can also participate in the liturgical celebrations “at home, reading the Gospel and other readings of the Mass each day, or on Sunday, encouraging discussion and reflection.” Thus the children better participate in the Mass and in the reception of the Holy Eucharist.
The family must have a life of prayer. The law of prayer is the law of Faith. Prayer is a summary of Catholic doctrines, such as the Incarnation and Redemption. If there is serious meditation on the prayers, it will eventually be a review of the whole doctrine of the Catholic Church. Prayer strengthens our wills to do good.
All these things may require a certain reorganization of our habits. Make the home once again the center of family life. “But the things of God can only be done with the help of God’s grace. The thing which makes a man Christian is the grace of God. … I hope our Christian families can become centers for the growth of the Faith, and give witness to the Faith, which will be the source and also the strength of the society and of the Church.”