Parishes and parents: a partnership for passing on the faith

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Last Sunday, the church began the celebration of National Marriage Week.

The theme for this year, Stories From the Domestic Church, highlights the call of every family to be places of prayer, service and love. Throughout the nation, parishes have been invited to highlight the importance of family life as the first and strongest influence on their children’s growth in faith. This theme challenges parishes and households to form a strong partnership with one another.

Saint John Paul II states: “The right and duty of parents to educate their children is essential … irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others” (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World 36).  

Most of us can agree that almost every active adult Catholic is active because of the faith of his/her parents. Living in a household where faith and life were integrated provided the foundation for a lived adult faith.

Recently, The McGrath Institute of Notre Dame University conducted a study entitled a Report on American Catholic Religious Parenting. This study concluded: “The crucial location where youth’s religious outcomes are largely decided, is not the congregation or the parish, but the home.” This study only confirms what was stated in the Declaration on Christian Education from Vatican II: The role of parents in Christian education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute” (Declaration on Christian Education, Vat. II).

This week, parishes were invited to reflect on the message of our American bishops, outlined in the National Directory for Catechesis: “Parents have the unique responsibility for the education of their children; they are the first educators, or catechists. They catechize primarily by the witness of their Christian lives and by their love for the faith. … The catechesis given by parents with the family, precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis…” (NDC. 8.C).

There are many ways parents can build and strengthen the “domestic church.” Reclaim the idea of Sabbath within family, making Sunday a special day, attending Mass together and continuing with a special meal afterward. Integrate family life with the liturgical life of the church, utilizing Advent and Lenten rituals around the dinner table. Make having supper together a priority in your family. In short, recognize and celebrate the sacred moments in the life of the family. Finally, families should play together both at home and with the faith community.

Building and nourishing the family as domestic church cannot be left to the parents alone. Parishes and parents need to partner together supporting households of faith. “The vibrancy of the parish community, the beauty of worship, and the example of generous love and service of parishioners strengthens parents in the faith” (DC 8.C). Parishes can successfully partner with and support parents providing a variety of opportunities to come together in worship, service, community building and formational events. The many intergenerational events already offered in parishes is a wonderful first step. Sharing milestone events with families offers yet another opportunity for support and encouragement. Parishes can offer family service projects, where families come together to serve others in the community and then share fellowship with one another as they reflect on the church’s teachings around social justice. Finally, parishes can commit to coaching parents on practical ways that they (parents) can confidently be “the most influential agents of catechesis for their children…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2222-2226).

Sister Kathy Burton, SSJ is co-director for the Offices of Faith Formation/Family Life/Lay Ministry Formation, Diocese of Camden.

For more information on intergenerational catechesis, coaching parents, and celebrating milestones, contact Sister Kathy Burton, SSJ or Mary Lou Hughes, co-director for the Offices of Faith Formation/Family Life/Lay Ministry Formation in the Diocese of Camden.