I have been nibbling away at a book titled, The Difference God Makes, by Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. I say nibbling away because what Cardinal George has to say about the role of the Catholic faith in our modern word is so incredibly rich that to read it straight through would be like trying to enjoy an entire triple-layered chocolate cake in just one sitting. It’s certainly tempting to do, but from previous experience I know that the end result would only be feeling so spiritually overstuffed as to have lost the ability to actually move on any single insight from Cardinal George.
I find this problem to be somewhat common when I am attempting to learn anything new about how to live a more authentically Catholic life. I need time not only to take in the new information, but also to digest it and to figure out how to properly integrate it into my life. As a busy parent, however, it’s challenging enough for me to find the time to take in new information, let alone to digest and integrate it. Many parents I talk with express the same frustration about continuing to be formed in their faith as adults.
Although there are obstacles, I am convinced that as Catholic parents each of these three tasks — gathering, processing, and integrating information about our Catholic faith — is vital to the health of our personal faith. They are vital to the corporate health of our families, parishes and our culture at large, too, because keeping our faith alive and current is a prerequisite to fulfilling Jesus’ command to share God’s love with all the world (Matthew 28:16-20). An illustration from athletics would be that just because I ran a half marathon 23 years ago, this does not mean that without ongoing training I could wake up today and run another one expecting the same or better results. In fact, I could definitely expect worse results, if I even came close to finishing!
Similarly, just because we may have attended Catholic school or CCD classes during our youth, this does not mean that we could wake up today and breezily explain to our teenager what he is supposed to be getting out of Mass, the difference between a Christian denomination and a cult, or why the Church teaches that being in love is not a good enough reason for being sexual intimate before marriage. And these aren’t even the most pointed questions an astute teen is likely to spring on us! Even though I assumed it would, being a cradle Catholic didn’t guarantee that I had been taught or had obtained a solid grasp of basic Catholic principles. As a young mom I knew very little about the Bible, the importance of the Magisterium, or where to find authentically Catholic answers to the increasingly complex questions confronting us in the contemporary world. And yet, learning about just these three things while becoming a more experienced mom has been a huge help in my quest to give accurate, reasonable, and faith-filled answers to the real-life questions posed by my own astute children.
Returning to my athletic analogy, just like our bodies, our faith needs to be fed new nutrients and exercised regularly in order to retain the strength and capability necessary to engage in the spiritual marathon we call parenting. We simply can’t answer, “But why, Mommy?” or “But why, Daddy?” based on what we think we once knew, especially if we never actually learned it in the first place.
In his book Cardinal George highlighted this scripture as a reason to take ongoing faith formation very seriously; “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15).” If you are a parent like me, then the “everyone” asking you questions is most likely going to be your child, and explaining the hope that is within you to him or her is going to be a big part of your life’s spiritual mission.
There are times when being a Catholic parent stirs up feelings of unprepared panic. We want to be brilliant parents. We’re egotistically sure that we actually are brilliant parents because of how precious our two-year-old is. But then, Miss Precious morphs into Ms. Precocious teen, and between mouthfuls of pizza asks something like, “Hey, Dad, we’re Catholic, right? Well, Dr. Harrington down the street said Catholics don’t believe in birth control? Is he right?”
Well, Dad, forget having a 2-minute warning. Do you, right now, know what the Church actually teaches? If so, can you summarize it in a three-second, teen-friendly sound bite? And, if after listening to you — big if — Ms. Precocious squints her eyes and asks how you know this, how will you back yourself up?
Okay, parents reading this, remain calm. This was only a simulation exercise to illustrate why, with regard to the effective sharing of our faith, St. Peter instructs us in the New Testament to, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. (1 Peter 3:15).” We must always be prepared because we never know when our number will be called and if we fail to adequately teach our child the Catholic faith, it may compromise their eternal life.
Perhaps you are like me and were convicted by the verse from St. Peter of your need to become a better-prepared Catholic parent by learning more about your faith, but you are also just too busy to wedge even one more thing into your calendar. If this is the case, then here are a few bite-size ways to get ongoing adult faith formation into your life anyway. Forget reading Cooking Light in the doctor’s office and get in the habit of bringing a Catholic magazine, newspaper, or the Bible around with you instead. Skip night school classes in wok cookery, and join a church prayer or support or service group instead. Turn off the morning or evening news and tune into EWTN instead or get out of the house and go to daily mass. You’ll be amazed at how little actions like these add up in no time. You see, finding time and opportunities for faith formation is not the real problem. There are enough opportunities out there to fill a million directories, and we actually are in charge of our own time. The real problem is finding the resolve to replace all that stuff that seems so very worldly-urgent with that which we know to be so much more heavenly-important.
When I have more excuses than resolve in this area, I have found that the only thing to do is to pray. Seriously, I just pray. I pray a two-second prayer every day that the Holy Spirit would replace my sloth with resolve, and my sense of what is urgent with what is important, until I am once again convicted that, yes, I am willing to do the work needed to stay prepared for the honor of being a Top Catholic Parent for my children. So, how about you? Parenthood is calling. Got resolve?
(© 2011 Heidi Bratton)