You Can Keep Your Kids Catholic. Here’s How . . .
A talk with Catholic author and father of 11 kids, Patrick Madrid
There are very few things a father can give his children that will last forever – the latest iPod, a trust fund and even a college education are good only for this lifetime. But there are some eternal gifts that a dad should be very careful to pass on. They are love, and the greatest expression of love that is found in death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is, the Catholic faith.
Catholic author Patrick Madrid
To offer some guidance, Fathers for Good spoke with Patrick Madrid, a Catholic author who is host of the Thursday edition of EWTN’s “Open Line” radio show (Thursdays from 3-5 pm ET) and the director of the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College. He and his wife Nancy have 11 children, ages 28 to 8, and are the grandparents of eight children.
Fathers for Good: Are all your children still practicing Catholics?
Madrid: Yes, thanks be to God, our five children who are still at home all practice the faith (they don’t have a choice!), and our six adult children who are “up and out” (three of them who are married with children of their own) are also devout, practicing Catholics.
FFG: Give some key ‘ingredients’ in making the Faith fresh and palatable for kids.
Madrid: We cannot underestimate the importance of parental good example when considering what Catholic parents can and should do to help foster a lively faith in God and love for the Church in the hearts of their children. There is a great and powerful effect when mom and dad themselves live out as best they can their own love for God, in a visible but not ostentatious way, through their prayer, piety, and sacramental life.
An analogy I often use is that of growing tomatoes. Southern California, where I was born and raised, had vast tracts of tomato farms which are immediately recognizable because of the thousands of upright stakes the tomato plants are tied to. If left to grow naturally, the tomato vine will simply grow along the ground and produce inferior, and often diseased, tomatoes due to the worms, caterpillars, fungi, etc. However, if the plant is fastened to a stake and forced to grow upright, it produces healthy fruit. True, caterpillars and fungi are still dangers that need to be counteracted, but they can do far less damage to the tomato vine that has been tied firmly to the stake.
The analogy is clear. As Scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Children, need firm guidance and good example from their youngest years so that they will grow straight and “upright” in their knowledge of and love for God. So, the combined benefit of good example from mom and dad, as well as clear and purposeful handing on of the truths of the faith is essential.
FFG: Some parents may feel inadequate for the job.
Madrid: Let me be very clear, I do not hold myself up as a paragon of fatherly perfection. We all make mistakes, we all lose direction at times, and I am sure you can ask my wife and children where I have gone wrong at times.
What I am talking about is a diligent effort that a father must make to impart a basic knowledge of the Catholic faith, and a purposeful effort to teach his children how to really live out that faith. You don’t need a theology degree to do this. You do need a conscious awareness of God’s will for you as a father, an abiding love for him, and at least a basic knowledge of your Catholic beliefs coupled with a desire to learn more as you go along in life (the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a handy, helpful tool for accomplishing that task).
You wouldn’t expect your children to take you seriously if all you had was a grade-school knowledge of money or budgeting or any of the other duties fathers must handle in raising a family. In the same way, if you never try to learn and grow in your own knowledge of and love for the Catholic faith, they could easily get the message that living the Catholic faith is not really very important to you. When they get a little older, they may well go elsewhere with their questions about God and the meaning of life. You don’t want that to happen.
FFG: Offer some suggestions for setting this good example.
Madrid: First, you have to let your children know that the Catholic faith is more than an hour a week on Sunday. Sunday Mass should be the highlight and absolute obligation of the week, but it doesn’t end there.
A Catholic home is a sort of “domestic church,” as John Paul II and others have noted. This does not mean Gregorian chant and incense at the dinner table. But it does mean that faith must inform the daily routine and decisions in the home. Children must see their mom and dad as truly prayerful, again not in a showy way, but in a way where they know — because they can see — that their parents look to almighty God trustingly throughout the day and are not too proud to ask for help from above.
I always strongly encourage praying the family Rosary. If you, the father of the family, trustingly invoke the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary each day (she knows quite a bit about parenting, after all) on behalf of your family, especially your children, you can rest assured that, no matter how bumpy the road of life may become, she will be there helping you.
It may be a challenge at times to gather the whole family together, but the spiritual benefits of praying the rosary are enormous, especially if each child is allowed to take part in reciting part of this beautiful prayer. Other acts of piety are things such as prayer before and after meals (every meal), night prayers which include devotions such as the Act of Contrition, the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, etc.
Patrick and Nancy Madrid and their 11 children.
In our home, when our kids get to be about 12, Nancy and I give them their own personal Bible with a loving inscription from us inside the cover. And we strongly encourage them to read Scripture often, starting with the Gospels. This has two goals in mind: First, our children learn that the Bible is not a “Protestant thing,” that in fact Scripture is Catholic and is (or should be) cherished by all Catholics everywhere. Also, they learn to discover the biblical basis for a wide range of Catholic teachings and practices, found either explicitly or implicitly.
Beyond the externals of prayer and piety in the home, the children have to see that mom and dad are imbued with results of prayer – that they actually live out the gifts of faith, mercy and forgiveness. Having kids in the home is really a constant source for examination of conscience. A father does well to tell his kids not to gossip or speak critically about others, but does he talk about the neighbors uncharitably? If dad tells his children to practice moderation but he eats or drinks to excess, that’s sends the strong signal which says: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Telling children not to talk back or be disrespectful is a good thing, but if the father sets a bad example of shouting at his wife or ignoring her, his words to the children are empty. The list goes on.
There is no doubt that your children will pick up on every time you do not act according to the advice you give them. Of course, no father is perfect, and our children will understand this too, but I believe that they must see men who love God and are doing their very best to live the faith as best we can, by God’s grace. One more thing. Let your children see that you frequent the sacrament of Confession. That will help them see that you really do “walk the walk” as much as you “talk the talk.”
FFG: Many dads are worried about their kids losing their faith in college.
Madrid: As well they should be! Entering college is one of the most crucial crossroads for young Catholics, and fathers must be vigilant and diligent in helping them through this rite of passage so that they don’t become casualties in the war against truth and against belief in God that is waged on campuses, even so-called Catholic ones.
So many Catholic parents are shattered when their kids go to college and become swayed by an atheist professor, or drawn out of the Church by aggressive evangelical Protestants who challenge their Catholic beliefs using the Bible. Or, if their children don’t abandon the faith for some substitute ideology (atheism, skepticism, secularism), it sometimes happens that the kids just succumb to the wiles of the world, which the Bible speaks of as “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
We’ve all heard the more popular rendition of this as “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.” However you describe it, the truth remains the same: There are lots of moral and spiritual dangers waiting for your children when they go to college. So we fathers have to prepare our children to face the challenges not with fear but with heads held high, as Catholics who love Jesus Christ and who are not afraid to be a light shining in a dark place (Matt. 5:14-16). We must teach them how to lead others to Christ, not to be themselves led away from him.
I believe very much in the practice of “inoculation.” Prepare your kids now for what they will face later. I tell my kids what atheists believe and what skepticism and relativism are, and I seek to give them the answers to these and similar challenges. I also tell them about the errors of Protestants and how to answer their challenges right from the Bible. Your kids may not immediately understand the importance of everything you tell them at the time, but believe me, when they do come against these challenges (and they will), your efforts to prepare them ahead of time will have a good effect. They will remember what you said and this will only reinforce in their minds the fact that you, their dad, are someone who knows about the world and how to deal with it. They will be even more confident in coming to you about other important matters, such as sex, marriage, career and money, because they see you as credible and reliable, someone with knowledge and wisdom. And what dad wouldn’t want that!
FFG: Does the average Catholic dad have this wisdom and knowledge?
Madrid: I believe that, yes, most dads who love the Lord and are serious about their Catholic identity do. But even for those who may not be fully prepared in this way, getting prepared is not difficult, if you know what to do. We live in an information age, and there is a vast amount good Catholic resources right at your fingertips, far more than at any time in history. God has put you on this earth at this time, and given you these children, and I am convinced that he expects you to make good use of these resources to help your children grow and become strong in the faith. I am convinced that when we die, at our individual judgments, God will ask each of us if we did our best to pass on the faith to our children.
So, become familiar with solid Catholic sites like catholicscomehome.org, catholic.com, ewtn.com, fathersforgood.org, newadvent.org, and envoyinstitute.net. Share the information with your kids. Just Google-search away. And of course, there’s also the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the shortened Compendium, which, in addition to your Holy Bible, should be standard “tools of the trade” to lead your children toward heaven.
Invest in some CDs by great Catholic teachers like Peter Kreeft, Scott Hahn, Ken Hensley, Father Corapi, etc. Give them to your kids before they go off to college, make sure they listen to them. Upload those kinds of talks to their iPods so they can listen in their spare time. In other words, make sure they are inoculated! You won’t regret it.
The bottom line: Fatherhood is a great joy and a great privilege, but we must never forget that it is also a great and awesome responsibility given to us by God the Father. As a Catholic father, ask yourself what greater joy could you possibly have than to pass on the riches of the Catholic Faith as a permanent, priceless inheritance to your children. If they have their Catholic faith and a true love for God, they have everything. And they will eventually rejoice with you in heaven, thanking God and thanking you for the ineffable fatherly gifts that you bestowed on them. That is your mission as a father. That and nothing less.