As I prepare to begin my third year teaching an 8th grade CCD class, the lyrics of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, “Teach Your Children Well,” pop into my mind.
Teach your children well
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by
Can you hear and do you care and
Can’t you see we must be free to
Teach your children what you believe in.
Make a world that we can live in.
The lyrics emerged from the counterculture of the 60s and 70s when the media was reporting daily about the “generation gap”. While the lyrics, written by Graham Nash, relate to his oftentimes difficult relationship with his father, they take on a universal meaning that goes far beyond the original intent. They are a reminder to children and parents alike that while each has their own experience, it is important to share our lives with one another. It is important to TAKE THE TIME to understand one another. It takes TIME for parents to understand their children and the world they live in. Concurrently, it takes family time for children to understand the world their parents live in.
I have to admit I was frustrated last year with my teaching experience. The approximately 20 students who made up my class were largely disinterested, disruptive and shockingly ignorant of their Catholic faith. Most did not fulfill their Sunday obligation to attend Mass. When asked to share why, many reported that “Mass is boring,” “My parents don’t like this church,” “I have soccer every weekend,” and similar excuses. Now I don’t place the predominant blame on these 14 year olds. After all, they don’t drive and most don’t live near enough to the church to walk to Mass.
But I asked myself the question, “Why do these children’s parents place importance on getting their teens to CCD classes most weeks, but not see it as important to attend Mass?” Asking around the parish, the only answers I came up with were shallow at best. Perhaps it was important to the grandparents to attend a Confirmation ceremony, so the parents obliged them (albeit superficially). At best, the parents saw SOMETHING good and valuable in their Catholic faith and hoped that would rub off on their children in CCD classes.
But the fact of the matter is that parents need to be the first and primary teachers of their children. The Vatican II document, Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on Christian Education), states this simply, but eloquently:
As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family. They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education … It is therefore above all in the Christian family, inspired by the grace and the responsibility of the sacrament of matrimony, that children should be taught to know and worship God …
Children learn the living nature of their faith in the home, not in CCD classes. Don’t get me wrong, I did my best to make class engaging and interesting, while covering the basics. But the foundation was lacking. Sadly, over half of my class could not even find their way around the Bible. One conversation went thusly, “Turn to the Book of John. Where’s John? Well … it’s one of the Gospels. Okay, where’s that?” Really?? I was floored.
You may think that we have a poor group of catechists at our parish to have such ill prepared youth. That’s not the case. Our catechists represent that which a second Vatican II document, Ad Gentes Divinitus (Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity) describes as an “army of catechists” who are “imbued with an apostolic spirit”. Their training is “in keeping with cultural progress” in order that they are able to perform their task “as well as possible, a task which involves new and greater burdens.” They are filled with a love for their faith. But the challenges appear to worsen with each passing year. Where are the parents?
We have a new curriculum this year and it appears on its face to be a good choice. But the fact remains that the best curriculum in the world will not be good enough to teach the faith to these teens. It MUST start in the home. It MUST begin with the parents. It must start when children are young and continue through their years living in the home. If the parents don’t value their Catholic faith and their Church enough to take it seriously, engage in their own lifelong learning and practice it consistently, then why on earth do they think their children will? If children grow up in nominally Catholic but realistically secular homes, what can we expect will be the outcome? If parents are too busy or too lazy to make it to Mass on Sunday then why do they think their children will care? If the parents let a soccer game, gymnastics meet, or a trip to Busch Gardens over the weekend serve as an excuse to skip Mass, then how seriously do they think their children are going to be about their faith. The fact is the children will be as lukewarm regarding their faith as they’ve been taught in the home. Is that what parents really want for their children? I don’t think so.
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