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Handing down the faith through conversation and play

As Catholic parents, we share our faith with our kids as a way of offering them the joy that comes from knowing Jesus and what he has done to save us.

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As we wrestle with how to hand on the faith, knowing that we are facing a general breakdown in its transmission, we can point to some things that clearly work.

First and foremost, we know that parents have “paramount” and unparalleled importance in the faith lives of their children, one that “trumps every other influence,” as the sociologist Christian Smith demonstrates in his latest book, written with Amy Adamczyk, Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion to the Next Generation (Oxford, 2021, 3). Smith notes that the role of parents has become even more crucial, given the lack of a strong culture and community to support the transmission of faith. In an individualistic culture, with so many possibilities, finding faith has become bound up with a general discovery of self, with parents as central mentors in this process.

Even though we have long known the unique influence of parents, Smith and Adamczyk found that simply talking about faith had a larger impact than any other factor: “Parents routinely conversing with children about religious matters during the week exerts such a crucial influence on successful religious transmission” (83). Just by talking about it at least once a week shows that religion should not be confined to an hour a week at church and has an impact on life more broadly.

When these conversations are marked by “openness, warmth, and mutuality,” they give youth the opportunity to be self-reflective and make their own personal connections, though in relation to their parents (43). In a time of cultural confusion, this space for conversation helps young people to figure out their path with the help of faith and family.

Parents, as reported in Smith and Adamczyk’s interviews, express their desire for their children to learn morality and values from religion, as way of initiating them into a larger tradition — helping to learn how to think about life and make good choices. As Catholics, we know that the greatest truth that our kids need to learn is the infinite love of God, who made us in his image and likeness, became one of us in the Incarnation, and died for us on the Cross to save us. Jesus offers us a new path, a way of holiness and happiness in learning to live in this love.

As Catholic parents, we share our faith with our kids as a way of offering them the joy that comes from knowing Jesus and what he has done to save us. Our conversations need to share what God has done for us and how he can help them through the difficult journey of life.

This journey has become more difficult with the spiritual and intellectual thinness of our culture. Along with our faith, therefore, we have to transmit a vision of what it means to be a human being, preserving the wisdom transmitted across cultures throughout history. Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian convert to the Catholic faith, wrote a book with his son Max in mind, thinking of the wisdom his young son would need to learn: The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos (Convergent, 2021).

The book sets out to face a challenge: “Here, then, is the dilemma of a young father: How do I transmit to my son the value of permanent ideals against a culture that will tell him that whatever is newest is best, that everything is negotiable . . . that there is no purpose to our common life but to fulfill his desires?” (16).

His answer also consists in conversing, telling stories of great figures across world history who found wisdom in relation to faith, family, nature, and tradition. Masterfully narrated, Ahmari presents both familiar and lesser-known figures — C.S. Lewis, Thomas Aquinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Victor and Edith Turner, Howard Thurman, St. Augustine, Confucius, St. John Henry Newman, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrea Dworkin, Hans Jonas, and Seneca — who each typify one aspect of the great tradition. “Throughout this book, on our journey from medieval Europe to Soviet Russia, ancient China to tribal Africa, the Jim Crow South to Weimar Germany, we went searching for wisdom — the traditional wisdom of limits” to show that happiness comes not from doing whatever what we want, but in embracing the reality of God’s natural and supernatural order (246).

The home is the place to share this wisdom with our children, providing an anchor in this search, through talking, telling stories, and living life together. And in a busy world, time becomes a precious gift — just being together and showing love through our presence. Taking time to unplug so that we can eat and talk together sends a major signal on the priority of the family and strengthens relationships and trust. If we do this, we can share the faith in a natural way, as conversations will arise more readily.

And with this in mind, I would suggest that a great way to stimulate conversation is to make time for family play. Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is a time of leisure, a day reserved for the things that matter most — God, family, and re-creation (renewal). True leisure is not simply entertainment or relaxation but doing things that are worthwhile for their own sake, not for a practical end, including play.

Playing games shows that we are willing to stop and enjoy time with each other. I have discovered a lot of great games with my kids, including some that have a connection to Catholic culture.

One, called Cathedral, a fast-paced strategy game, focuses on placing shapes to build a town around a cathedral, while crowding out your opponent. My boys’ favorite, Carcassonne, uses tiles to build whole landscapes of roads, towns, and abbeys, reminiscent of the medieval French countryside. Sagrada assembles stained glass windows resembling Servant of God Antoni Gaudí’s modern masterpiece, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia basilica.

Talking and playing are two healthy components of family life, and also help parents to fulfill their central mission: to hand on the faith to their children. From within the domestic church, they are best positioned to accomplish this mission.


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About Dr. R. Jared Staudt 21 Articles
R. Jared Staudt PhD, serves as Associate Superintendent for Mission and Formation for the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor for the Augustine Institute. He is author of Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option (Angelico Press) and the editor of Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press). He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.

2 Comments

  1. Huge Congratulations Dr Staudt!

    Such an excellent article and with references to powerfully significant books. This is the heart of how the ever-encroaching ‘faith malaise’ must be healed. The days are long passed when we could largely depend on faithful nuns, priests, bishops, and catechists to do the heavy lifting of faith education.

    You can’t give what you don’t have! Parents need to prioritize a lively, informed, and ever developing relationship with King Jesus Christ; not only for the sake of their own souls but also for the sake of the souls of their precious children.

    We Catholic parents and grand parents have much to catch-up, as can be seen in this YouTube video of last Sunday’s family service at an Anglican (Episcopalian) parish in Birmingham, UK.

    In the massively important matter of faith education of our children we need to draw on every possible source of genuine Christian inspiration . . .

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHTCi_6W5vg

  2. This recent archiepiscopal instruction strongly affirms Dr Staudt’s great article:

    BALTIMORE, Md. — While the Catholic Church’s position in the world has altered, its evangelistic mission: “Does not change with the culture, or politics, or the spirit of the age,” Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles reminded his fellow bishops Nov. 16 at their fall assembly.

    “Again and again, Pope Francis reminds us: The Church exists to evangelize. There is no other reason for the Church. To be a Christian is to be a missionary disciple. There is no other definition,” said Archbishop Gomez, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    “The Church’s position in society has changed. We cannot count on numbers or our influence in society. None of that ever really mattered anyway,” he said. “We are here to save souls. And Jesus promised us that if we seek his Kingdom first, everything we need will be given to us.”

    “What is the best way to help our people to live and work and minister as Catholics in this moment? How can we help our people to raise their children and engage with their neighbors and the culture? As a Church, how should we evangelize and go about the task of striving for justice and the renewal of our society?” Archbishop Gomez asked.

    “Many of the differences that we see in the Church these days are rooted in the different points of view that we have over how the Church should answer these basic questions,” he said.

    “There is a reason for this,” Archbishop Gomez continued. “It is because we are living in a moment when human society seems to be losing its ‘story.’”

    Archbishop Gomez’s address touched on some of the same themes he raised in a speech he delivered by video Nov. 4 to the Congress of Catholics and Public Life in Madrid, Spain. His remarks then sparked both praise and criticism for his critique of “workerism” and other ideological social justice movements that he said run counter to the Church’s understanding of humanity’s God-given dignity and freedom.

    “For most of our history, the story that gave meaning to our lives was rooted in a biblical worldview and the values of our Judeo-Christian heritage. It was the story of the human person created in God’s image and invested with an earthly vocation to build a society where people could live in freedom, with equality and dignity,” Archbishop Gomez said Tuesday.

    “This story underwrote America’s founding documents. It shaped the assumptions of our laws and institutions, it gave substance to our everyday ideals and actions,” he said.

    “What we see all around us now, are signs that this narrative may be breaking down. This is one of the consequences of living in a secular society. We all need God to help us to make sense of our lives, so when we try to live without God, we can become confused,” he said.

    “Many of our neighbors are searching. They are looking for a new story to give meaning to their lives, to tell them what they are living for and why,” Archbishop Gomez said.

    “But my brothers (and sisters), our neighbors do not need a new story. What they need is to hear the true story — the beautiful story of Christ’s love for us, his dying and rising from the dead for us, and the hope he brings to our lives.”

    Archbishop Gomez began and ended his remarks by referring to an address given in 1889 by Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minn. titled: “The Mission of Catholics in America.”

    “The next century of the life of the Church in America will be what we make it. … As we will it, so shall the story be. … There is so much at stake for God and souls, for Church and country!” said Ireland.

    “The duty of the moment is to understand our responsibility, and to do the full work that heaven has allotted to us,” Ireland said. “With us it will be done, without us it will not be done.”

    “Brothers (and sisters), two things strike me about this address,” Archbishop Gomez observed.

    “First, Archbishop Ireland teaches that every Catholic shares responsibility for the Church’s mission. Bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious & consecrated, and lay men and women — we are all baptized to be missionaries,” Archbishop Gomez said.

    “Second, he understood that the Church’s purpose does not depend on forces outside the Church. It does not change with the culture, or politics, or the spirit of the age,” he said.

    “The Church’s mission is the same in every time and place,” Archbishop Gomez said:

    “It is to proclaim Jesus Christ & to help every person to find him & to walk with Him.”

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