As a Catholic mom or dad, we promised at our wedding, and during each child’s baptism, to raise our children in the faith. Our parish priests remind us time and time again that “you are your child’s first catechist.”
Home: the domestic church
A parent being a child’s “first catechist” isn’t a goal, it’s a statement of fact. Children are far more influenced by the faith of their parents than their parish priest or catechist, whom they see for barely an hour a week. This was brought home to many families during Singapore’s circuit breaker, when parish catechism classes and Masses were suspended.
Catechesis – initiating a child into the Catholic faith – is a long-term partnership of parent with parish. Trained parish catechists can explain aspects like liturgy and the sacraments that parents may not feel equipped to tackle. But only at home does the faith come alive through daily prayer and Scripture, human relationships, and the chance to live the virtues.
Tithe some time
Tithing – dedicating one-tenth of one’s wealth to God – is not an outdated “Old Testament thing”. It reminds us that He is central to our lives. While we may not give 10 percent of our incomes to the Church, how much of our space, time and energy do we set aside for God?
- Do we pray regularly? We cannot introduce our children to Jesus if we do not know Him. If we speak of the saints as our friends, our children will want to befriend them too.
- Do we talk to our children mainly about schoolwork and enrichment activities, or do we also chat about God and the spiritual life?
- Do our homes have holy pictures and a prayer corner to remind our children of God’s presence?
- Do our children read books and watch movies about the faith? The National Library carries a decent selection of Bible stories for children, as well as books about the Catholic Church.
Engage the senses
Catechesis is not just filling the child with facts about God and the Bible, but also with the sensorial richness of our faith which makes it come alive, especially for young children who respond at an emotional rather than intellectual level.
- Touch: encourage children to handle holy statues with reverence and gentleness, and teach them to take ownership of their prayer corner by, for example, choosing the items to display, wiping dusty icons, or bringing home flowers from the park to offer to Our Lady.
- Taste/smell: mark a Church feast with a feast – special foods or treats give children something tangible to look forward to. We can celebrate our children’s baptismal anniversaries or saint’s name-days in addition to their birthdays, and keeping Friday abstinence fishy helps children absorb the rhythm of the Church calendar.
- Sight: hang a holy picture in every room, as beautiful – not kiddy – Christian art elevates the spirit. Putting a crucifix or icon near our children’s computers is a visual reminder to keep their usage decent. We can also decorate our family’s prayer corners with the colours and symbols of the liturgical season.
- Hearing: “Faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17). In addition to reading Scripture aloud – for example, the daily Gospel at bedtime prayers – singing or playing Catholic hymns allows the Word of God to sink deep into children’s hearts.
Keep prayer reasonable
Many parents despair at prayer time. “My child won’t sit still!” But prayer need not be done only sitting or kneeling. Children are still in the process of mastering their bodies, so prayer which engages the fingers (as rosary beads do) or feet is helpful. If your parish has a Marian grotto why not visit for some open-air prayer? St Joseph’s Church (Bukit Timah) has a rosary garden where Catholics can pray while walking.
If our children are very young, we can keep our prayers short and our expectations reasonable, lest they come to dread the experience. Pray one decade of the Rosary if our children cannot do five. Encourage our children to talk to Jesus as a friend, thanking Him for the day’s blessings. Adult prayer tends to focus on petitions, but thanksgiving appeals to children and is a good habit which nurtures gratitude.
Catechise with liturgy
One unexpected benefit of the circuit breaker was the provision of televised Mass in the Archdiocese. Not only is there still a Mass specially for children, with a lively segment beforehand of song and catechesis, but they are able to see the priest’s actions at the altar far more closely than in church.
This can help our children appreciate the finer details of the Mass: the richness of the Eucharistic vessels which points to the priceless treasure they contain, the colours of the liturgical season, and so on. The locally published book Mass Communication: Discovering the Beauty of the Catholic Mass provides an easy-to-read introduction.
One caveat: online Mass is not a substitute for in-person Mass under normal circumstances, and parents should use the online version for now only to encourage the child to desire the real thing, especially if they are old enough to receive Holy Communion. Preferring online Mass because it is “more convenient” will not help the family reap the spiritual benefits of the Mass.
Enjoy the journey
We should not feel inadequate about guiding our children in the faith. God, having granted us the grace of parenthood, will not leave us high and dry. Having the humility to say to our children, “I don’t know. Let’s find out together!” sets a positive tone for our children, and can be a way for our whole family to grow in closeness with God and with each other.
Estella Young has been a parish and school catechist since 2012. She has three children aged 2 to 8.