The family is supposed to be the primary educator of the faith. In his 1979 Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesi Tradendae (Catechesis in our Time), John Paul II stresses that it is within the ecclesia domestica, or domestic church, that children are formed in their faith. When I first read this, I interpreted it as a wonderful shout-out to the subsidiarity of the family unit. In a church that too often thinks in hierarchical terms, here`s an example of Mom and Dad coming out on top! Do you hear that, Father?!
Of course, all families do not accept or embrace this responsibility of primary educators; whether in secular or religious education. It’s easier to pass the buck to the ‘professional’ teachers, even if those teachers are ill-equipped or under-qualified volunteers.
Formation in the faith is more than memorizing dogma and prayers for one hour a week. It requires being immersed in your faith, allowing it to weave into your daily life. The sacramental spirituality of Catholicism encourages us to put flesh on our beliefs through meaningful routines and ritual actions.
Crucifixes on our walls and around our necks remind us that our darkest worries can be raised in hope-filled prayer. Statues and pictures of Mary and the saints remind us that we have friends standing by to pray with us and pray for us. Praying as a family answers the summons of ‘where two or more are gathered in my name’. Collecting pennies from our Lenten sacrifices connects us to social justice actions around the world, with a preferential option for the poor. And we gather as the Body of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist; the source and summit of our faith.
But what about the child who comes to the parish catechism class with little or no exposure to their faith? What about the child who seldom sets foot in a church? Where does a catechist begin? What would Jesus do?
We know what Jesus would do. He would welcome all the little ones with open arms, without judgment. And this is what a good catechist would do. If the one hour a week of parish catechism classes is all the faith formation that a child will receive, then the catechist will try to make the best of that hour. And let God do the rest.