As a parent who is also a practicing Catholic, hoping to raise his child to be faithful, there were, perhaps, no more daunting words that those the priest prayed at the end of the Rite of Baptism for my children. In concluding this ritual of initiation, the celebrant prayed first over my wife, the mother of the child, reminding her to give thanks for the gift of this child now and in the future. Then the celebrant blessed me, the father of the child, reminding me that, together with my wife, we “will be the first teachers of (our) child in the ways of faith.” The celebrant continued, “May they be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.”This is a tough challenge for any parent, but it was a challenge that unfolded for me more and more as I journeyed through my coursework at LaSalle.
In those early years, when the children were quite young, the primary role of my wife and I was to feed and care for our helpless children. As parents, we taught our children to walk, talk, count, identify colors, and be kind to others. Parents like us, who wish their children to grow up in the faith – any faith – also tell stories of Jesus. Catholic parents help their children make the Sign of the Cross correctly and we teach them their prayers. As first teachers in the ways of faith, we are storytellers and witnesses to a loving God on whom our children can depend. As Saint John Paul II stated in 2003, “people today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories. Therefore, a loving witness of Christian life will always remain the first and irreplaceable form of mission.”This charge to be witnesses certainly extends to parents. The obstacles to raising faith-filled children today do not involve public games of chance with a lion at the center of the ring, but the rise of anxiety, shootings in our schools, and the onslaught of technological devices certainly do their part to make it harder for parents to be strong witnesses to the faith.
As a theologian in the Roman Catholic tradition, these questions are paramount to the future of our faith communities. As a parent, the answers might save my children’s souls.
This originally appeared on Patrick Donovan’s personal blog, Five Minutes on Monday.