Home: the First Catholic School

by Micah Murphy

January 29th – February 5th, 2012 is Catholic Schools Week. This year’s theme is “Faith. Academics. Service.” There are plenty of other bloggers who will tell you about the important roles played by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Katherine Drexel, St. Angela Merici, and many other great Catholic educators not yet canonized. I’d like to focus on something a little different.

One of the fundamental roles of parents is that of being the first teachers of their children. It is, in fact, no small part of the wedding promises they made, when they agreed to welcome and raise children.

I did not receive a strong Catholic education. Despite attending Catholic school K-8, I went into a public high school totally unprepared for the onslaught of attacks on my faith. “Catholics worship a piece of bread!” “Well, I never thought about it, I guess we do. I’ll look into that.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, some 6 years after my First Holy Communion, I didn’t know the Eucharist was Jesus. Now I may have been spacing off, but I really don’t remember anyone telling me that. My parents did not know their faith well enough to have informed me of it.

I don’t blame my parents. I am sure they also received the same poor catechesis I did. However, I do hope that I can stop my own history from repeating itself in the lives of other teens by promoting a strong context for Catholic education in the family. So, whether your kids get their religious education at home-school, parochial school, or Sunday school PSR, here are a few ways you parents out there can help to assure that your children do not have to teach themselves the faith by confusedly searching through the Catechism every evening and putting together, piece by piece, a seeming jigsaw of doctrines1:

  1. Start praying with your children at an early age. Take Dr. Taylor Marshall’s advice and make a candle or some other religious object the center of family prayer. Place it in a sacred space in your home – a cabinet, a bookshelf, an end table – any spot where the family can gather and devote themselves to prayer.
  2. Spend time everyday playing with and teaching your children. Children imagine God to be very much like their parents. If kids don’t know how much their parents love them, they will not be able to understand how God loves them. Your kids learn God’s love through the loving attention you give them. They also learn through play, and let’s face it: it’s fulfilling as a parent to watch your young ones play.
  3. Discipline your children with patience and mercy. The flip side of #2 – if kids don’t know patience and mercy from their parents, it will be difficult for them to understand that God is patient and merciful.
  4. Get your kids into the habit of frequenting the sacraments and using sacramentals. Take your kids to Mass every Sunday (perhaps more often). When you go to Mass, sit near the front and explain to your kids what it is they’re seeing (sometimes you’ve just got to use the nursery; that’s okay, but don’t make it a habit). Go to Confession as a family once a month so your kids will be used to being transparent with their confessor by the time they’re old enough to have the kinds of sins they’ll be really embarrassed about. Get a bottle of holy water and use it when you pray every evening. Other ideas: miraculous medals, brown scapulars, and rosaries. Play a game of memory with holy cards and have them read the prayers or bios when they make a match.
  5. Educate yourself. The older your kids get, the more questions they will have. You don’t have to be a famous theologian to have the kind of knowledge you need to answer your kids’ questions. Read the Catechism, the Lives of the Saints, and the Bible. If your kids ask you a question you can’t answer, look it up or ask about it here.
  6. Have more kids. Children with siblings have more teachers and more minds to bounce their ideas off of. They also play more and are generally happier, which lends itself toward holy joy.

I hope these help you all! Happy Catholic Schools week! Remember, the first and foremost Catholic school is your home!