As he sat down, he leaned to the mom next to him and whispered, “Don’t ask any questions; I want to get out of here before eight!” This was Bruce*, a 40-something professional man whose daughter Denise was enrolled in our Confirmation program. The setting was a parent session offered before the children’s sacramental preparation began. Bruce rarely went to church, had little to no spiritual life, and no real knowledge of his Catholic faith outside of what he had retained from high school. Between traveling for work and his leisure activities, his life was pretty full. Bruce was exactly the person I had in mind when I began rethinking how we prepare for sacraments in our parish.
As catechists we’re very aware of the challenge in encouraging families to continue living and growing their faith in their homes and in the Church once the sacraments have been received. Too often the journey ends with a friendly wave and a smile at the close of the celebration, and an empty pew the next Sunday.
I’ve learned that the key cannot be found in better religion classes, sacramental preparation classes, or even liturgical celebrations. The key lies with the parents. Mom and Dad are indeed the primary teachers of the faith; only they can model a life of faith to their children on a daily basis.
Bruce’s attitude on entering the first of our parent-only sessions was a common and expected one. Bruce spends most of his days moving quickly from one thing to the next. He is not in the habit of spending a lot of time in the present moment, but rather setting his attention always on what is coming next. He’s also afraid this whole thing will be a horrible waste of time.
What I found entirely uplifting was the transformation in Bruce and the other parents as our sessions continued. As we journeyed through the story of salvation history, touched on the form and content of the Catechism, discussed the vital role of a personal prayer life, and gave practical help in entering into one, Bruce began not only engaging in discussions, but leading them himself. By the end of the third session he was keeping me after class with more questions!
By the end of our fourth session, through a steady stream of comments, questions, and personal sharing, other parents had also begun to reveal the great hunger they had for God in Word, sacrament, and prayer. But the greatest fruit from this new focus on the faith formation of parents was to be had in the bear hug and note slipped into my pocket by Bruce one Mass a few weeks after our Confirmation celebration: “I would like to thank you so much for your guidance and teaching as you led my daughter and me though Confirmation. Such an enjoyable journey! I especially loved the studies in Scripture! Warmest regards, Bruce and Denise.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.