Faith formation should be a family affair - Catholic Courier

Faith formation should be a family affair

ROCHESTER — "It’s a certainty that if we’re going to pass on the Catholic faith, it’s going to occur in the home."

That’s what Michael Theisen told the roomful of catechists who’d gathered in an art classroom at Aquinas Institute on Aug. 2 to hear him talk about families’ roles in passing on their faith to younger generations. Theisen’s presentation was part of the Diocese of Rochester’s Households of Faith Summer Congress, which was held at Aquinas Aug. 2-3 and focused on issues related to faith and families. His presentation, "Bringing Home the Faith: Partnerships, Strategies and Next Steps for Building Strong Catholic Families," suggested several ways catechists could help parents embrace their faith and instill it in their children.

Many parishes throughout the country have been accomplishing this with the help of Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth, which is a process through which parishes partner with parents to help them bring their faith home, said Theisen, director of membership services for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. The NFCYM is one of Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth’s four sponsoring organizations.

Before parents can begin to impart their faith to their children, they first need to understand the influence they have over their children, Theisen said.

"Research has clearly found that there is no one else who has a greater impact on the transmission of faith to children than their parents," he noted.

Research also has shown that today’s youths are more interested in family values and family ties than those of previous generations, and that kids who are engaged in their faith turn into stronger community members as adults.

That, combined with the fact that parents are called to be their children’s primary educators in the faith, means the Catholic Church needs to do more to help parents be able to fulfill this important role, he said.

"We hold the institutional church responsible, but we also have to hold the domestic church responsible," Theisen added. "First we have to communicate to them what we mean by the domestic church. The domestic church is the home, and it’s as old as the faith itself because that’s where the early church started."

Many parents don’t consider themselves up to this task, perhaps because they feel they don’t know enough about Scripture or their faith, Theisen said. They also may be intimidated by such terms as "faith-sharing," and may balk when asked to do regular faith-sharing with their children.

It’s another story, however, if catechists ask parents to simply hold weekly family meetings to say a short prayer together and discuss what did or did not go well during the week and what they’d like to work on during the next week. This is faith-sharing, yet somehow calling it a family meeting makes it seem less intimidating, Theisen said. Another good first step is the creation of a family mission statement, which outlines a family’s traits and strengths, as well as the values the family holds dear. Many families decide to frame these statements and hang them where they have their weekly meetings, he added.

Simply hearing their parents talk about their own faith can make children more likely to embrace that faith, and these discussions don’t have to be theological or intimidating, Theisen said. Rather, parents can share their own faith stories much the same way they share other stories in their families’ history. They can talk about their favorite Bible stories, their most memorable moments of faith and faith-related traditions.

Catechists can make some changes at the institutional level in order to encourage family engagement, Theisen said, noting that a number of parents have moved to a gathered coaching model of faith formation. This means that instead of having a catechist teach a classroom full of students, parents attend classes and teach their children while catechists walk around the room and coach the parents, he said. Other parishes have tweaked their Mass schedules after realizing that the timing of their faith-formation classes and their most family-friendly Masses actually forced families to choose between Mass and faith-formation classes.

Several catechists who attended the Aug. 2 presentation said they were eager to utilize Theisen’s suggestions.

"I thought the information was very good," noted Sandra Addante, who coordinates preparation for baptism, first reconciliation and first Communion at St. James Parish in Cazenovia, which is in the Diocese of Syracuse. "I am going away with some ideas that I can implement in the sacramental-preparation programs."

Matt Griffin, a volunteer youth minister, also said he planned to try out some of the ideas with the teens and parents involved in Elmira Catholic Youth Ministry.

"As a parent I would like to try some of these ideas with my family," added Griffin, father of a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old.

Tags: Faith Formation
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