You can't give away what you don't have

By Steven J. Givens

There’s an old faith-sharing conversation starter that goes like this: If you were arrested today for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Let’s try a new twist on that for today’s Catholic parents: If your kids had to decide today, based on the example you set, whether or not to become members of this great Catholic and apostolic Church, would they?

That decision, of course, is what is supposed to happen at the Sacrament of Confirmation. Our kids are supposed to stand on their own two feet and, based on what they have been taught and what they have experienced in their homes and their parishes, make a decision about following Christ and His Church.

But is this what is happening?

Sadly, many times it is not. As a person who has taught in and run parish schools of religion in three parishes over the past 25 years, I’ve experienced all too often the mass exodus of the newly confirmed from the life of the Church.

Confirmation, for many of these young people and their parents, has become the sacrament of departure instead of the Sacrament of Initiation that it truly is.

Somewhere along the line many of these teens have been told by their parents that if they will just "make it through Confirmation" then all will be well. No more religion class. No more PSR. No more rules.

"Go to Mass or don’t after that," they say, "whatever turns you on."

But going through the paces of Confirmation doesn’t make your children Catholic. It might make the grandparents happy and proud to see the grandkids get the chrism and the hands of the bishop laid on them, but as filled with grace as the Sacrament of Confirmation is, it’s not a magic pill that makes 14-year-olds Catholic. Catholic schools and parish schools of religion don’t make our kids alive, vibrant Catholics, either.

Parents make their children Catholic.

When a man and woman marry, they promise to accept children lovingly from God then raise them according to the laws of Christ and His Church. They promise to "pass on the faith" to their children, to raise up a new generation of people to love and serve God.

But in an age of satellite television, MTV and video games, how can we hope to compete for the hearts and minds of our children? How can we convince them that faith matters and that God is real?

The answer is that we must show them. Sending them to religion class won’t guarantee they receive the faith any more than taking them to soccer practice will make them professional athletes.

They certainly need to be educated about their faith, but if that’s all they get something’s missing. They will grow up thinking that "Catholic" is something we "are" because we’re born with it, like being an American or male or female.

What they need to learn is that Catholic is something we "do."

As parents, we need to remember that faith is "caught" more often than it’s "taught," because how we adults live our faith is always more important and powerful than demanding our children to "go to church." If we say, "go to Mass" but never go ourselves, if we say "go to PSR" but never show a speck of interest in educating ourselves more about our faith, guess which lesson is being learned?

Never doubt that our kids are watching us. If our children never or rarely see us at prayer, they are not very likely to grow up to be adults who pray.

But when they see in us a spirituality that is a cause of joy and peace, they will see something that they want to have, something worth seeking. They won’t be able to imagine their life without it.

And that’s the only kind of faith worth passing on.

*Reprinted with permission from the [St. Louis Review]( Givens is a member of St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant and the author of several children’s books on faith issues.*