This article was originally published in Sword & Spade magazine.
Dr. Jared Staudt speaks out about what is really happening in true education.
I have been working in catechesis for almost twenty years. Anyone involved in religious education can tell you that we have a crisis on our hands. Our programs do not produce adult Catholics or lifelong disciples. Classes about God are not enough to draw our kids into a Christian way of life, following Jesus, and sharing His mission in the world. We know the missing ingredient in our catechetical formation: the role of parents. The reason why is that only parents can translate the faith into everyday life in the home, making catechesis more than simple instruction but formation into a culture—a Christian way of life. This makes our faith something real and alive to our kids, something that shapes everything that they do and that takes on a tangible presence in their lives.
Fathers, in particular, have more influence on the faith life of their children than anyone else—more than mothers, grandparents, teachers, and the parish priest. Studies have shown that if fathers do not practice the faith, children are very unlikely to do so in adulthood. If fathers do, children are more likely than not to attend church in the future. Fathers are called to lead their families in the faith and to provide a model of the Christian life for their children. As fathers we are called to be the teachers of our children, primarily by providing an example for them. Parents are the primary educators of their children and this includes education in the faith. Fathers
“Our family culture will conform either to our faith or to the secular worldview.”
have to take a central role in this education, because they’re so crucial in the religious formation of their kids. Just dropping our kids off at a parish program, however, will not form them in their faith. They need an apprenticeship and initiation into the Christian way of life, embracing not only faith, but everything else.
Our goal, therefore, has to be to teach our kids how to live as a Christian in the world. To do so, we have to become catechists of the Christian life, showing how to make faith the center of our lives. St. John Paul II made this clear: “Catechesis aims therefore at developing understanding of the mystery of Christ in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word” (Catechesi Tradendae, §20). We come to know Christ so that He can shape the way that we live concretely and as a whole. Pope Benedict XVI said the same about Catholic education more broadly, claiming that it should “seek to foster that unity between faith, culture and life which is the fundamental goal of Christian education” (Pope Benedict XVI, “Address to the Participants in the Convention of the Diocese of Rome,” June 11, 2007).
If we don’t teach our kids how to live their faith in an integrated way, they will follow the way of the world. Our family culture will conform either to our faith or to the secular worldview. Catechesis imparts not just the content of the faith but a Christian way of life. Christopher Dawson taught this powerfully in his book, Understanding Europe, relating how we’ve had a breakdown in communicating our Christian identity in the West: “From the beginning Christian education was conceived not so much as learning a lesson but as introduction into a new life, or still more as an initiation into a mystery. . . . Christian education was something that could not be conveyed by words alone, but which involved a discipline of the whole man.” If our children conform to the secular culture more than to the faith, we will experience a breakdown in the raising of Christian men and women.
The art of life includes prayer, work, character formation, and learning how to be strong in the face of difficulties. Right now one of the key challenges we face in the family is technology. Here we have to lead by example as well. How can we be moderate in the use of technology, not allowing it to dominate us, but rather treating it as a useful tool? Emphasizing prayer and family time over technology makes an important statement about priorities. Limiting technology is a major task for fathers today and a key aspect of our role as teachers. We have to replace the influence of technology by forming the minds and imaginations of our kids by reading out loud together, singing, playing games, and spending time outdoors.
Overall, our kids look to us to teach them how to live. Our actions teach them and guide them in the faith and prepare them for the adventure of life. It’s impossible to emphasize enough the urgency of building Christian culture in our families as oases of sanity and holiness in a godless world. Initiating our children into a Christian culture is our primary task as fathers and the most important thing we can do as parents for their formation and happiness.