Should children share their parents’ faith?

When the child reaches teenage or young adulthood, he or she has the choice to embark on their own spiritual and religious journey. Factors that influence their decisions in life are plentiful, and will probably not be attributed to their parents’ faith.

May 12, 2023

Reminiscing Church - Richard Chia

This question is really a no-brainer. This was one of the many questions put forward to parents living in the United States of America, in a survey conducted by Pew Research Centre from September 20 to October 2, 2022. (HERALD, Feb 19, 2023). In the Pew Research report, it states that only 35 per cent of Catholic parents think it is very important that their children have similar religious beliefs as them, and 34 per cent say it is not at all important.

In Malaysia, many parents raise their children in the same faith as themselves, and perhaps their parents. They may not explicitly teach them the faith as how teachers teach in school, but the parents’ actions, culture and beliefs will be seen, mimicked and perhaps practised by their children. The act of taking the child to church (or temple or place of worship) from a young age, despite them not understanding what is going on, is one such action the child will remember. The culture of celebrating religious festivities is another. The recitation of specific prayers or phrases during prayers could be another. All these actions by the parents, seen and heard by the child, will eventually rub onto the child, and will form the basis of their initial faith.

Of course when the child reaches teenage or young adulthood, he or she has the choice to embark on their own spiritual and religious journey. Factors that influence their decisions in life are plentiful, and will probably not be attributed to their parents’ faith.

A more apt question to ask, in my opinion, is, “Should parents share their faith with their children?” In Malaysia, and perhaps much of Asia, this question is also a no-brainer. It should be an overwhelming YES. But, not so in the western world, where freedom of choice, individual rights and independence, is valued more than parental duties, culture and tradition. Of course this is a generalisation only, as the Pew Research report states that 35 per cent still hold on to this tradition and culture of passing on the faith and religion. It is the other 65 per cent that seem to think that pro-choice and individual rights of freedom is more important.

Our Catholic Church has in place many “mechanisms” or opportunities for parents to utilise to share their faith and religious beliefs with their children. At birth, a Catholic parent can avail themselves of the Sacrament of Baptism for their infant child, and at an early age, register the child for catechism. Of course this implies the parent has to faithfully send the child for classes, usually once a week for 1.5 to two hours, approximately 40 times or so a year, for a period of 10-11 years. This is no different from having to send their child to regular school. Can a parent say no, let the child decide later if he/she wants to study?

Even if the Catholic parent(s) seldom or never attend regular Sunday Mass, they have another opportunity. The Children’s Liturgy of the Word (CLOW) is an initiative of the Church, separate from catechism, for children aged eight and below. In several churches in Malaysia, CLOW is facilitated by a team of lay volunteers, typically parents of young children themselves, where at the start of the Mass, after the Opening Rites, the children are invited to gather at an adjacent hall or building. There, the young children will be introduced to the Liturgy of the Word for that weekend, presented in a manner they can understand easily. They are then brought back to the main Mass celebration at the end of the Liturgy of the Word, typically after the homily, to re-join their family for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

What this means is that the facilitators of CLOW have only 20-30 minutes (including time to settle the children down, move from church to the adjacent hall or room, and back) to impart the Gospel reading message for the week in bite-size, child-like manner. To do so calls for a clear understanding of the Gospel message and to impart the message in simple words and actions. Parents involved in CLOW have the opportunity to learn to summarise, simplify and share their faith with their children in a short burst of time. This skill will certainly enrich the parents, as well as bring their faith closer to their child.

Someone I know once said this, “Faith is something that cannot be taught. It has to be caught”. Who else better for a child to catch their faith from than from their parents? Sadly, these days, many children obtain their knowledge from the Internet, social media and online apps. The role of parents in their faith life is minimal, except perhaps once a week when and if the family attends Sunday Mass together.

The Church also has another opportunity for parents to learn how to share their faith with their children. While catechism is going on, some parishes organise parents’ group gatherings. It need not be formal classes with structures, topics or speakers for the day. Rather, this could be a support group where parents of similar aged children come together during catechism days, to share and fellowship with each other. If there is a facilitator or coordinator, they may invite occasional speakers to speak on specific topics of interest. Or, it could just be a simple Bible sharing session, using the Gospel reading for the weekend. These informal sessions among parents could provide a channel where parents could learn from each other, develop their own spiritual faith, and perhaps learn a thing or two from each other about their faith. After all, this form of learning is less imposing on our time than having to register for a full course Bible study or Bible sharing session, a weekend formation or a spiritual retreat. Parents of school-going children are stretched for time, and seldom can commit to time away from the family.

Returning to the Pew Research report, it would certainly be very interesting to know the outcome if the study asks the question, “Should parents share their faith with their children?” Sharing our faith with our children is not merely saying “Do what I say, not what I do”. Spirituality, faith and beliefs need to be seen alive and active in the family before it can effectively be passed down to the next generation.

(Richard Chia has been actively involved in Church since young. He held full-time corporate jobs while serving in ministries and groups at various church levels for the past four decades.)

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