Instilling the faith in young children - Catholic Courier
Neva Khouri smiles as Msgr. Gerald Ward places the Eucharist in her hand during her first Communion at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Morton, Ill., June 13, 2020. (CNS photo by Jennifer Willems/The Catholic Post)

Neva Khouri smiles as Msgr. Gerald Ward places the Eucharist in her hand during her first Communion at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Morton, Ill., June 13, 2020. (CNS photo by Jennifer Willems/The Catholic Post)

Instilling the faith in young children

Practicing Catholicism requires a sense of humility for everyone, but parenting Catholic children takes it to a whole new level.

After having two babies in the first three years of our marriage, the time spent in toddler and preschool life seemed to define our household. Suddenly, my husband and I are taken aback to start this school year with a third grader and second grader(plus an 8-month-old rookie along for the ride).

Most days, my husband and I steal glances around their antics as if to say, “When did they get this big?”

Having “big little kids” opens a new world of contradictions in parenthood. The kids can dress themselves, but that independence comes with strong opinions about their outfit selections. They have developed a love of reading (Be still my bookworm heart!), but now they absorb every word, including some I would rather they avoid.

When our kids were babies and toddlers, faith formation was as easy as bringing them to church, pointing out statues of the Virgin Mary and teaching the Our Father. Now, everything is more complicated. They no longer require Cheerios and sippy cups to keep them quiet at Mass.

Still, my 7-year-old son squirms and fidgets his way through the Liturgy of the Word. Like trading nursery rhymes for dinosaur trivia, we have graduated from the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep prayer to the Act of Contrition.

The Scripture verse 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” comes to mind. Parenting children at this age involves a lot of imitating: Their behavior reflects our own back to us, for better or for worse. To bolster their roster of role models, we tell them about the lives of our favorite saints, hoping that perhaps their holy examples will inspire.

Having elementary-aged kids has me looking at the world with fresh eyes, too. When I point out the glory of God in the world, I get the benefit of being reminded as well.

Our elementary-aged children are growing in their faith every day. Each new discovery in the world is revealing something about God. That also inspires new, challenging questions that require faithful answers.

When my daughter prepared for her first Communion this year, I worried about her readiness. We would take her first Eucharist workbook to her bedroom and read chapters together at bedtime, making connections between the Gospel stories and her life experiences.

My issue was that as she anticipated receiving the body of Christ, her demeanor was quieter than I had expected. She had muted enthusiasm, and I was puzzled.

I discovered that as a minister, the significance of her first Eucharist overjoyed me and because of that, it was hard for me to be patient with the pace of her process in learning. I was bursting with theological excitement over this benchmark experience for my child and, yet, she seemed nonchalant.

I silently panicked, wondering if I was doing a good job of introducing her to the Lord. I yearned to spark her enthusiasm, but I worried my teaching wasn’t being absorbed or at least she was not gratifying me to verbalize these things herself.

The reality was that my daughter was absorbing her faith in ways perfectly appropriate to her age, her personality and her sensibilities. God is revealing himself to her each day in his own mysterious and obvious ways. I did not need to feel like a failure as a parent or as a minister but accept myself as God’s instrument to show her love.

My daughter’s readiness for her first Eucharist was never about her matching my theological enthusiasm — it is about the Lord meeting her perfectly where she is, in the form of bread and wine. Jesus demonstrated humility when he chose bread as a humble and accessible form to offer himself to us, and we imitate him when we bring our children to his table.

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Cassandra Palmer lives with her husband and children in Baltimore, Maryland, where she is director of religious education at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church. She holds a master’s degree in church ministries from the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary, and a bachelor’s degree in theology from Mount Saint Mary’s University.

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