My lovely wife Sharon called me at work to make some observations about the content of this week’s St. Louis Review. She was particularly motivated by a sidebar to a story written by the inestimable Jennifer Brinker (this isn’t about the writing, Jen, so don’t hate!) on the Steubenville conference. The topic of the sidebar was this: “How to Help Your Teen Grow in Faith.”
So I was reading today’s issue of the Review as I ate lunch and came upon the article For Parents: How to help your teen grow in faith. As a parent of a soon-to-be-driving teen (please pray for us!) and a nearly teen, I thought I would see how my attempts in this area stack up to the recommendations of Catholic youth ministers.
Though I agreed with their main points, I must say I was disappointed in the ways they recommended to implement these suggestions. They seemed rather shallow or not specific enough to get the job done. And their overall answer to everything seemed to be “have them participate in youth groups” or “send them to youth conferences.” Now don’t tell me that these groups have been wonderful for your teens. I don’t doubt that they have helped some teens. But it seems to me that, though teens often get swept up in the moment and become more excited about their faith, these “gains” are usually just based on emotions and not built upon a solid religious foundation that will enable them to “grow” a strong faith.
So for those parents looking for more concrete ways to help your children grow in their faith, these are some of the things we’re doing to help our children get to heaven.
1. Put faith first. Family life should reflect how important the Catholic faith is to us. Yes, Mass should take precedence over outside activities (as recommended in the article), but parents should consider attending more frequently — say, make First Fridays, First Saturdays, Our Lady of Perpetual Help devotions together as a family. The Catholic Faith should be part of our homes. Have a home altar or hang religious art throughout the house. That way the children, and also visitors to our homes, have no doubt that our Catholic Faith is important to our family.
2. Engage in conversation. Talk about your faith with your children, as the article advises. But it’s important that children really know about their faith (and not just that we go to church on Sundays) and why our family is Catholic and not Lutheran, Jehovah’s Witness, or Methodist. (No offense, Methodist Jim!) Learn more about the Catholic faith yourself and share what you’ve learned with your children. It may even encourage them to study on their own. Discuss Father’s sermon over lunch on Sunday. Talk about current events and how it fits with your faith. Children should learn why the Church takes the stands it does and how everything fits with God’s plan.
3. Do charitable work as part of family life. Help in a soup kitchen, mow the lawn for an elderly neighbor, help clean the church, make a meal for a new mother or sick friend. Practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy as a family, and your children will probably continue this practice on their own.
4. Pray. Pray the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, any of the numerous Litanies, Morning Offering, the Angelus, Lauds, Compline … the list goes on and on. Or attend Adoration. Do this as a family so it will become a natural habit for your children as they grow up.
5. Encourage your sons to become servers. Serving at Mass can bring your son closer to Jesus, both physically and mentally. And those who serve for the Extraordinary Rite seem to see the connection to the priesthood and have a beautiful reverence for the Eucharist.
OK, I’ll step off my soapbox for now. If you have any other suggestions, please pass them along. I need all the help I can get!