Dear Father Joe: My kids don’t always agree with the Church on some moral issues. How can I explain why some things are sinful if they don’t accept the Church’s definition of sin?
Our concern for our kids’ faith is a gift we give them. Too many of us are voluntarily bogged down with that which doesn’t matter and we neglect the things that are eternal. Here you are, wondering how to show your child the wonder and beauty of what we believe and why – bless you. I’m going to present a plan based on you talking to an older high school student up to college.
I would start with letting them know that you want to work through this with them. Let them know that you have two things you love: your faith and your kids. You want these two loves to match up. Let them know you want to engage them in a series of discussions about why we believe what we believe and that you will not yell (I’m looking at you!) or get angry at them. Set up a time and make it fun; you’re both going to learn a lot through this.
Once you sit down, begin a conversation with them by asking them to articulate what their struggles are. What don’t they believe? Why don’t they believe it? Give them freedom to express the doubt in their heart and mind. When they express their doubts or struggles, try your best not to react or defend. Take notes. Show them that you are taking this seriously by, you know, taking it seriously!
When they finish, ask any questions you need to so that you can understand their struggles better. Don’t defend anything, explain anything, just let this be about them getting it all into the light.
Thank them for using the beautiful heart and mind that God gave them and for wanting to make sure their faith is real, not simply the recitation of what others have given them to believe. Give ‘em a hug. Eat some popcorn. Pray for the Tigers.
Now, you’ve got their list. You know what is on their hearts and minds. It’s time to pray, then act.
Every time their struggles come to your mind, pray for them. Pray that God opens their hearts to the truth. Pray that God strengthens their Christian convictions. Over and over, give your child to God.
Now, it’s time to get to work. Pick one of their struggles and start your research. Find out why the Church teaches what she teaches. Dig deep, get out your catechism, check out online resources (www.dioceseoflansing.org/general/catholicism) and put together a sort of mini presentation for them. Make it fun: did I mention popcorn? Let them know how grateful you are that they are willing to engage you in this.
Do this once a week, twice a month, whatever. Make sure you have time set aside to put all the distractions aside and focus on each other and on their faith development. Set a time for it to end so that it doesn’t turn into a fatigue-inducing blur on arguments. This is two people who love each other trying to find the truth together … how cool is this?
Walk through this together and make it a joyful time – you won’t regret it.
With that in mind, allow me to give you a couple things to hold on to in your heart. In my opinion, you’ll need confidence, patience and humility.
You’ll need confidence, not in you, but in the truth and wisdom of what the Church teaches. It is my honest and most sincere conviction that, given enough time and information, any reasonable person will come to believe what we believe. I have confidence in what we believe. It is strong, it is true, it is beautiful. As lovers of Jesus, we don’t have to employ tricks, manipulations or fear-mongering to get people there. We need to be loving, faithful and informed. Patience – we must be patient! Conversion takes time. Bringing someone to believe what we believe is not an overnight thing. Conversion is a process that will last until we see Christ face to face. You have been engaging in this process the entire life of your child: by your faithful attendance at Mass, by taking them to religious education and by your example. What you are doing now is simply taking the time to intentionally do what you have been subtly doing all along. Finally, be humble. This process will reveal how much there is to learn and it can be a great gift you give your child to say, “I don’t have all the answers, but I know I can get them!” It’s not a failure that you don’t know everything; it’s only a failure to reject an opportunity to learn. If I know young people, your child will, at times, drive you nuts during this process, fighting for what they want to be true, instead of finding out what is true. God is bigger than that – he broke through for you and me, that means he can break through for anyone.
In the end, it’s all about planting seeds. Most of the time, we won’t see any growth until much, much later. Our comfort is not in “success,” but in faithfulness. Be faithful, be confident in the faith, patient with the process and your child, and humble as you engage both. God will use you in ways you can’t imagine. Enjoy another day in God’s presence!