(Read Part One here!)
I think saying the rosary regularly is also extremely beneficial for our families’ faith. My husband said it is such a good thing to review the mysteries of Christ’s life regularly, and to follow the instruction of our mother to do so. Mary has told us the efficacy of the rosary and we have had ample proof of that historically. The rosary was responsible for our winning the Battle of Lepanto, for the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Austria after the Second World War, and for the retrieval of the Nigerian women from the Boko Harum. (If you haven’t seen the Youtube video of that Bishop talking about his vision, watch it here!)
We should be saying the rosary daily. I have to be honest here, too. This has always been hard for me. Where going to Mass is a delight, saying the rosary is a discipline. I know that is not true for everyone. I have friends who delight in saying it. I am just being honest. When I was young and my children were young we found we had to have a regular time that everyone knew about in order to make it happen. We decided to say the rosary in the 15 minutes before dinner. So the food had to be basically ready, we would say the rosary and then go dish up. Of course, that time is not going to work for everyone because sometimes the kids are so hungry they are cranky. We were also pretty successful with a rosary just before bedtime, after our read-alouds.
Sometimes we said the rosary on the way to and from Mass. Because this was harder for me, Mark was generally the moving force for the Rosary. In my older age, that is now, I find that saying the rosary at the beginning of the day, before I go off to morning prayer and Mass, is best for me. I can pray for the day to come, for each of the children and grandchildren, for each of you, and meditate on the mysteries. It’s become much more delightful for me now, but I need to do it in the morning. At night I am just too tired, and it’s a chore. I think picking a time that is generally good for you and your children, and sticking to it, is helpful.
Some of my children have developed their own family faith formation traditions. One of them decided to try working up to the full rosary. They say a decade each night. One of them reads some Scripture before every meal, and as part of night prayer. This is a beautiful witness for the children to the importance of God’s word. Of course, in the Mass and the rosary we are being exposed daily to scripture as well. When my children were little we made sure to remind them that as the Scriptures were written by God, He knew not only what He wanted to say, but He also knew who would hear them and when. When I wrote Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum , on the other hand, I knew what I wanted to say, but I had no idea who, if anyone, would read it, and certainly no idea of when whoever read it would do so. God is not like a human author. He knows who will read or hear the Scriptures and when. Each of us was in His mind as He inspired the human author to write. So, we told our children, it is true to say that God wrote this word to you, as a personal letter, when you hear it at Mass or read it for your classes. He wrote it for you, specifically, to encounter today. Listen to it that way.
I asked a number of my children what came to their mind when I said ‘family faith formation’. One of them said things like our Advent Preparations came to her mind, and a number said daily Mass, but everyone said the Baltimore Catechism. It certainly was a big part of our lives for many years, and we all learned everyone’s Q&A for the year, because we were doing them in one room. I think my children’s response reflects the doctrine in the Q&A: “Why did God make you? God made me to know, love and serve Him in this world, so that I can be happy with Him in the next.” Knowledge precedes love, because you can’t love what you don’t know. Teaching our children the doctrine of the faith is definitely a foundational part of their faith formation. As they get older we move on to more developed expressions of that doctrine, as found in Fr. Laux, the Catechism, various encyclicals, and St. Thomas, but the doctrine never changes.
There are also practices that develop out of that doctrine that reinforce it. I taught my children to say to themselves, “Blessed be His Holy Name,” whenever someone around them took God’s name in vain. It reminded them of what is owed to God, and provides a positive practice contrary to the negative practice they are encountering. I think it is at least partly responsible for the fact that none of my children take God’s name in vain, even as adults. Another practice in our house, not suggested for the children, but modeled for years, was nodding one’s head at the name of Jesus. Both Mark and I did that in response to the scripture that says, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We didn’t tell the children to do so, but some of them do, and I think it was clear to them that this was another expression of the supremacy of God, His Church, and His Son in our lives.
The Advent practices that my daughter recalled fondly also came out of a doctrinal understanding of the importance of the incarnation. We had a Jesse Tree, not every year, but sometimes, so that the teaching of salvation history and the beautiful scripture passages were familiar to the children. We usually had Secret Santas to encourage the children to think about the needs and desires of one another without expecting thanks. We had a practice of Advent sacrifices where the children could make Jesus’ manger soft by making a sacrifice and then putting some hay into his manger in our nativity set. We always had an Advent calendar that was scripturally based and the children would take turns opening the door each day. We always had an Advent wreath, marking the weeks of Advent, and some years we made a real effort to sing Advent songs as we lit the Advent candles. We had special prayers for Advent that Mark would read before we lit the candles. Mark was initially very firm about not having Christmas music until Christmas, though as the children got older that relaxed somewhat, first to Gaudate Sunday, and then even earlier. We didn’t get our tree until the week before Christmas and some years we didn’t decorate it until Christmas Eve. We wanted the children to be really clear when and what we were celebrating, which is why as they got older we weren’t quite as strict. They knew Christmas was a celebration of the Incarnation.
For Lent we would offer up some sacrifice as a family (usually no dessert) and then each person would also do something specific. They would tell me, usually, but not the rest of the family. We would say the Stations of the Cross during Lent, instead of the Rosary, at least on Friday. Sometimes we would join the parish Stations of the Cross. We vigorously celebrated the saints’ days that came up during Lent, which I thought was a good idea, as it would highlight those saints, and everyone rejoiced greatly because we would have dessert. Some years we abstained from meat on Wednesday as well as Friday, and Mark and I always followed the former practice of the Church during Lent of fasting for the season of Lent, that is, only one full meal a day, and only having meat at that meal. The children did not do that, but they knew we did.
Our goal was to take seriously the liturgical seasons provided by the Church. We would also find books that were appropriate to the season and to the saint’s day, whatever it was, to use in our read-aloud time, or our directed reading time. The book lists in our current MODG K, 1, 2, and 3rd grade syllabi come from that practice.
Saint books were very formative in our house. I collected all the Vision, Mary Fabian Windeatt, and Louis de Wohl books I could, and other good, now out-of-print saint stories. I think all of my children read all of the books. They developed a love for particular saints, and discussed their great deeds at dinner. The saints provided heroic example, showing us all what ordinary people could do with God’s grace.
My children read those books at Holy Hour (at other times, too, but almost always at holy hour). We would go once a week, and I would often take just one or two of the children. Spending that time with Our Lord in real companionship was formative for them. After the holy hour we would go out to get an ice cream together, and have a chance to talk. I had great conversations with my children after Holy Hours.
Our homeschooling community had Holy half hours for the children on First Fridays. We would have the young children have the first Holy half hour, and then they would have a little talk for the next half hour, while the older children had a talk for the first half hour and then made their Holy half hour for the second half hour. Then we would all go to the park. That was a faith formation opportunity for my children, because they got to talk to Jesus, hear about the faith from a wonderful holy older woman in our community, and then see that there were a whole lot of other people who also thought this was important.
The natural moral order was addressed, in my house, with stories, as well as with directed activities. Aesop’s Fables, the stories in the Moral Compass, and good stories like those recommended in Monica Speech’s PACE Program were all read in my house. I read them aloud, I gave them to the children as directed reading, and I had a shelf for individual children with books like those that I thought they would particularly like. We read Pollyanna, Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch, Understood Betsy, Heidi, The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Good Master, The Chestry Oak, The Singing Tree, The Open Gate, The Blue Willow, Strawberry Girl, All of Kind Family, the Hilda Van Stockum stories, Reb and Redcoats, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, The Lost Prince, The Letzenstein Chronicles, They Loved to Laugh, Eight Cousins, A Rose in Bloom, An Old Fashioned Girl, Jack and Jill, The Five Little Peppers, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Anne of Green Gables, the Marion Taggert books, Marion Renick’s baseball books, and The Lord of the Rings, as well as stories that more directly deal with the supernatural order, like the Narnian Chronicles and Father Finn stories. All of these stories dealt with moral virtue. Modeling is important for all of us. Stories are one way to provide that modeling. Our own practices are another way to provide modeling. The formation of the will as oriented to God and to others is learned from models.
Leading by example
Our own generosity in life forms our children. In the encyclical Dies Domini, Pope St. John Paul II tells us that in addition to celebrating the Eucharist with our parish community, generous sharing of our gifts is appropriate to our Sunday celebration. Giving food to the poor, visiting those in nursing homes, doing something for single moms, mentoring young Catholic moms, providing extended family dinners are all ways of revealing the generosity of heart that comes from living the Gospel. Pro-life work done on any day is a good model for how to live out the Gospel. I think, in our day and age, it is important for the children to have an opportunity to participate in pro-life work. Abortion is the greatest evil of our time.
A Gift from God
I have two final thoughts about family faith formation. The first is “what is given is a gift”. One of my former students talked about this in a ‘testimony’ she gave about homeschooling. She said that, among other things, homeschooling had taught her that what was given was a gift. She was talking about family life, specifically. She said that when she was in a brick and mortar school she thought of family as something one could choose to participate in or not. If it was fun, or nothing ‘better’ was going on, then she would participate in the family’s activities. But once she was homeschooling she couldn’t get away from her family. She had to participate all the time. She had to work out disagreements, and she had to make her family life fun, or there would be no fun, most of the time. Her family was given to her, full time. And she came to realize it was a gift from God. She learned how to live in a family, and how to work together with people of different temperaments. She learned how to make activities fun, even if they weren’t what she would have first chosen. She came to see that she had been given a great gift in her family.
I think this is an important concept for our children. What God has given us, in our natural and in our supernatural lives, is a gift from Him. We need to embrace our lives, with their particular circumstances, as a gift from Him given specifically and individually to each of us. Seeing that will help them embrace their faith.
The last item I would like to speak about is ongoing religious formation. Again, I think it needs to be modeled and discussed. We do not want our children to think they know all there is to know about the faith when they graduate from MODG. They don’t. We want them to think that they are to work for daily conversion of life, and continue to learn about the doctrine of the faith, for the rest of their lives.
I think it is a good idea for us, as parents, to continue to improve our knowledge of our faith. I think our children need to see us model that one never stops learning about the Faith, and that we are continuing to try to improve our knowledge of and correspondence to the teaching of the Gospel.
Further, though I know this is not popular in some circles, I recommend that our children go to truly Catholic colleges. This is a way of making clear to them what we think is most important in life. I understand the concerns about expense, and sometimes it is just not possible to afford an expensive Catholic college (though I want to mention that Thomas Aquinas College has excellent need-based scholarships). But if we don’t send our children to Catholic colleges because it is too expensive, though we could manage, with sacrifice, we are telling them what is, in our opinion, more important in life. We are saying that to be debt-free is more important than to have a truly Catholic education. (Remember I am talking about truly Catholic. I wouldn’t spend my hard earned money or have my children go into debt for an education that is Catholic in name only.) My own children all graduated from TAC with some debt, and some of them who went on to graduate school in Catholic colleges and universities accumulated additional debt. They have had to pay off those debts slowly, over time. Mark and I paid everything we could toward their undergraduate education. But we were not able to cover the entire cost. We thought it was very worthwhile for them to accumulate some debt when that was necessary to form them more deeply in their faith. I think we should all think about that when we are thinking about family faith formation. Remember the dad I spoke about at the beginning of this talk. He worked two jobs so that his children could have a Catholic education. That was, by itself, real family faith formation.
Questions for Reflection:
What have been the best practices in your family for faith formation?
What made the biggest difference in your own life?
I didn’t mention movies, but we did watch some good religious movies. Have you done that?
What challenges have you faced in providing faith formation for your family?