A father and daughter receive the holy oils from Bishop William F. Medley during Chrism Mass on April 12, 2022. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC
Faith that sticks
How parents’ faith lived at home influences the faith lives of young people
BY DANNY MAY AND CHARLIE HARDESTY, SPECIAL TO THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
During the recent synod listening sessions, one of the most consistently mentioned issues was the deep concern of parents whose adult children are no longer practicing their faith. A similar concern was the lack of young people in our pews. When we see stark realities like this in the Church, we might feel a sense of failure as parents and grandparents. But what we want to do with this article is focus on the positive because it’s never too late to make a difference in the faith lives of our children, adult children, and grandchildren.
In an article published on the USCCB website, John Roberto of the Center for Ministry Development summarized decades of research into a few practical ways parents can most effectively influence the faith of their kids. Study after study confirms that parents are the most significant indicator of spiritual outcomes of young people, rather than Catholic schools, youth ministry, or Mass attendance. That might be hard to hear as parents/grandparents, but instead of feeling defeated or looking back to ask what went wrong, what we’re suggesting is to see this research as encouraging news and opportunity. (Editor’s note: If you’re interested in learning more about this research, please reach out to Danny May or Charlie Hardesty.)
Roberto offers some practical ways parents can pass on their faith that “sticks” to their children. For example, Roberto says, “The primary way by which Catholic Identity becomes rooted in children’s lives are the day-to-day religious practices of the family and the ways parents model their faith and share it in conversation, collaboration, and exposure to outside religious opportunities.” In other words, it’s not just talking “about” faith or repeating memorized prayers. Parents/grandparents should also discuss faith with our kids regularly and why it matters to us. And more importantly, modeling our faith by how we live our lives during the week, not just on Sundays at Mass.
“The primary way by which Catholic Identity becomes rooted in children’s lives are the day-to-day religious practices of the family and the ways parents model their faith and share it in conversation, collaboration, and exposure to outside religious opportunities.” – John Roberto, Center for Ministry Development
Do they see us pray? Or read Scripture? Do they ever hear us pray? Do they see that attending Mass is a priority to us? Do we treat others like Jesus teaches us to?
Roberto also says the quality of our parental relationship with our kids matters. We’ve heard that a family that prays together stays together. Another way to summarize what the research reveals is a family that not only prays together, but also plays together, worships together, and serves together reinforces the “sticky” kind of faith that children absorb over time when they experience parents sharing faith with them in their day-to-day lives.
How can parents do that? John Roberto recommends these simple but effective ways:
- Reading the Bible as a family and encouraging young people to read the Bible regularly
- Praying together as a family and encouraging young people to pray personally
- Serving people in need as a family and supporting service activities by young people
- Eating together as a family
- Having family conversations about faith
- Talking about faith, religious issues, and questions and doubts
- Ritualizing important family moments and milestone experiences
- Celebrating holidays and church year seasons at home
- Providing moral instruction
- Being involved in a faith community and participating regularly in Sunday worship as a family
Another practical idea we suggest is using the parent “take homes” from ODYC, NCYC, and Gasper River camp for follow up discussions at home after the event.
Lastly, a friendly reminder that when we rely only on our own merits, we will all know failure as parents. However, as Christians, we don’t parent alone. God fills in those places where we are weak. God loves our children more than we do and our prayers for our children/grandchildren never go unheard.
Charlie Hardesty is the director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. Learn more at owensborodiocese.org/youth-ministry. Danny May is the director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life. Learn more at owensborodiocese.org/office-of-marriage-family-life.
Originally printed in the February 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.