There are many scholarly studies that attest to the fact that a child’s personality and development is very much influenced by the home environment. The child’s beliefs, attitudes, emotions, behaviour are formed through his experience and interaction in the home as much as, if not more, than the school environment. Some parents clamour to get their children enrolled in mission schools and be immersed in the Catholic ethos. And this is good. But we sometimes forget that when the child returns home he is spending more time with the family than with his peers in the classroom. At home he is more at ease, he has more leeway to observe, absorb and form his opinions as he watches his siblings, parents, grandparents or even the domestic helpers go about their lives.
This is indeed an opportunity that is often overlooked by us adults – be it as parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties or guardians. In a recent Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the Sistine Chapel where he baptised 27 babies, he reminded their parents that the first space in which children learn and witness the faith is at home. “Yes, when they go to catechism class, they will study the faith well, they will learn catechesis,” he said. “But before being studied, faith must be transmitted, and this is a job that is up to you.”
He urged them to transmit the faith by example, by words, by teaching them to make the sign of the Cross. “The important thing is to transmit the faith with your life of faith: that they see the love of the spouses, that they see the peace of the house, that they see that Jesus is there,” he said.
And, this is very true indeed. Our Archbishop William Goh has espoused this on many occasions in his learned writings in the daily Archbishop Scripture Reflections. His most recent was on Dec 23, 2018, where he asked parents to set good examples for their children.
“Parents and adults are called to be agents of God’s healing grace. By our unconditional love and acceptance of our children, by our affirmation and encouragement, by our empathy and forgiveness, we teach our children how to love and accept themselves.
“At the same time, our openness and compassion for them will help them to forgive themselves when they fail or sin; and as a consequence, we heal their pains and memories. Parents and older siblings, aunts and uncles, and relatives must not underestimate their influence over their children. We have a very important and key role in forming children with holistic upbringing. Otherwise, we cause them to be fearful, have low self-esteem, wounded and broken.”
In one earlier Scripture Reflection on Nov 13, 2018, Archbishop Goh noted how St Paul instructed Titus to urge the elderly, the parents, married couples and young people to be mentors of each other by setting good examples in the way they conduct themselves in Christian living.
Archbishop Goh pointed out that we, as adults, have to practise what we want to teach the young. We need to walk the talk, so to speak. “Today, people are looking for witnesses, much less teachers. Simply teaching our young what they should do without doing it ourselves will have very little impact on them,” he wrote. “The underlying principle is that all must show good examples to their juniors, living exemplary lives according to their state, whether they are elderly, grandparents, parents, married or young people. Indeed, those of us who are elderly, especially grandparents, must show our children how to live their lives graciously. Even as elderly, we can offer them our wisdom and our sense of moderation in responding to situations.”
So, all of us who are parents, teachers or in influential positions need to recognise how by our actions, behaviour or the words we use, we can strengthen or weaken the faith of those under our charge. In fact, a year ago, on Jan 26, 2018, in the Scripture Reflection titled “Faith of our Fathers”, Archbishop Goh urged us to act responsibly and exemplarily in the way we impart our faith to our loved ones, especially to our children or young people, as we would create an impression on them. “Unfortunately, many of us, especially parents, teachers and Christian leaders, fail to realise how others are impacted by how we live our faith. We must not only teach our young about the gospel, but most of all, to live the gospel for them to see.”
So, there are many ways we can live out our faith, and practise our faith. Perhaps, we can begin the day by saying a morning prayer together with our children before they leave for school, say grace before all our meals, and pray together as a family before bedtime.
For example, even till today, my sister and I, we always cherish the times we knelt together with our late mum reciting the rosary nightly before the tiny statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Today, this statue sits reverently on an altar in my sister’s home. The before bedtime prayer continues even as we move on through the years.