Hahahaha. Ha. Ha. If only this topic was as easy as a blog post. Really, if I had the answer to this I’d be making millions thousands as a Catholic speaker. I’d be the rockstar of Catholic mom bloggers with baby’s on their hips and disheveled dad’s bouncing their kids between baseball practice and karate recitals. “Chris, Chris, Chris.” They’d whisper chant my name so as to not wake up the baby, but I’d take it.
So to be completely transparent, I am not a parent. I have never raised a kid, Catholic or not Catholic, which also means I have not completely messed up yet. I’m set to get married in a month or so, so fatherhood could be on the horizon in the next (twenty) years. I do, however, have experience with Catholic youth.
I work as a youth minister for both middle school and high school level youth. My best job description would be as follows: I strive to provide programming and activities that will guide the youth in their faith journey. I want to help create authentic, dynamic disciples of Christ while diving into what a personal relationship with Christ looks like. Catechesis will flow freely when the youth are evangelized. In reality, my job is a lot of planning youth nights, conferences, retreats, and laser tag nights while being present in the lives of as many youth as possible. It’s easily the best job in the world. With all of my experience, it’s still extremely difficult to predict if a youth will continue to practice their faith after Confirmation and college. I’ve seen youth from really shady families become leaders in youth groups and youth with amazing Catholic pedigrees fall off the face of the Earth once they graduated. There are two things I have noticed that are general indicators to whether a youth will practice their faith as they grow older.
They come from families who pray together. This is important because it doesn’t say that they come from families who know a lot about Jesus or families who can quote a catechism. Kids who are staying Catholic are exposed to prayer outside of Mass and youth group. They see the power of a personal prayer life in their parents and siblings. Youth who are drilled in the rubric and rules are not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but in my experience, are often hurt more deeply and stay away longer after major changes. It’s harder to find a Mass that follows their strict rules, a catechism program completely in line with their views, a social justice group doing the “right” thing. Youth with a personal relationship with Jesus can continue to pursue that relationship anywhere and work to change and improve a community while still maintaining their Catholic identity. Youth must be taught that prayer is vital to their spiritual wellbeing. Unfortunately, my sphere of influence as a youth minister extends to at most a couple of hours a week over the youth. I can proselytize until I’m blue in the face, but if the youth aren’t being formed at home, it rarely sticks too long. The hours of facetime parent’s receive is so vital to a youth’s spiritual formation, and I encourage all parent’s to be open and forward with faith practices at home. Our faith is not an hour long Mass a week, and only parents have the power to change that perception
They have Catholic friends who challenge them in their faith. Second to family, friends have a massive sphere of influence on the youth. Unfortunately, it’s also something we don’t have as much control over. We can’t force our kids to hang out with Catholic kids in high school and college, but we do have some influence in their lives, especially when they’re younger. Becoming involved in your parish community will do wonders for your younger kids. They’ll be surrounded with other Catholic families, become normalized to a Catholic culture, and begin to feel at home. If we spend only an hour at Mass, how will they ever know how important their faith really is? Drop them off at youth group when they’re young, encourage them to attend retreats and conferences for young people, find a Catholic summer camp in your area. Give them the resources to make Catholic friends, and it won’t be a fight. They will begin to surround themselves with people who can challenge them when their faith wavers, understand them on a deeper level, and love them completely. When our kids know how important those Catholic influences are in their lives, even when they start a new chapter they’ll begin to look for those new Catholic influences. We can gently remind them how important getting involved in the Catholic community is without nagging, because they’ve experience that before.
The last thing I want to mention is that a parenting advice blog would be incomplete without a mention of St. Monica, the patron saint of overwhelmed mothers. She did everything she could to raise a kid who loved God and himself, and more than likely, nothing she did pushed Augustine away from the church. Sometimes youth go through a phase, and the more we push, the more they withdraw. In those moments, as our youth drift away from the Church and the faith we must trust God. God will continue to put people in their lives to bring them back. He will constantly put reminders on their heart of His perfect love and mercy for them. If your kid, through no fault of your own, has fallen away from the Church, know that there is hope. It may not happen when they’re 21, 35, or even 50, but God works in the most powerful ways. He knows what it’s like to lose a son. Pray. Pray without ceasing. Let your kid know they are loved, fallen away or not. They will always be accepted into your family, whatever their religious beliefs are. If we love with .001% of the mercy God has for us, we can win hearts back.