Teach Your Children Well

This May--when our oldest, Luke, is confirmed and our third, Peter, makes his First Communion--marks the biggest burst of sacramentality in the Shea household since I was received into the Church. During those memorable four days in 1987, I managed to cram in five of the seven sacraments (Confession, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, and Matrimony). The other two sacraments--Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick--I did not want, for reasons I'm sure you understand.

You may ask how I managed to get so many sacraments all at once? Well, it comes of being mixed up mostly. You see, the church I belonged to before I became Catholic had no sacraments (not even Baptism). I won't go into the reasons why, but suffice it to say that, as a new believer in Jesus, all I had to go on was what they taught me and, since they said sacramental baptism was not necessary, I took their word for it for several years. Eventually, however, I started to notice that we were the oddballs in the larger Christian world. Everybody else was baptizing and Scripture did not, now I came to think of it, have an expiration date on the practice. So I asked my then-bride-to-be, Janet, to baptize me. She obliged, but there was no record of the event. Consequently when the time came for me to be received into the Catholic Church a few years later, I needed to do a curious combo two-step of Confession and Conditional Baptism. Confession was to cover all my sins back to Jan's baptism of me (in case that baptism was valid), and the Conditional Baptism was to make sure I was reallio-trulio baptized (in case Jan's baptism wasn't valid for some reason). After that it was on to Confirmation, and Eucharist, and somewhere in there we also had our marriage regularized and sacramentalized in the Church too.

And the whole thing happened in the days before the fourth Sunday of Advent 1987, not during the Easter Vigil. Confused yet? So was I, a little. I didn't know what the protocol was supposed to be, so I just skipped over RCIA (two horrible experiences convinced me that I would never be taught the Faith there) and hung with a Seattle Catholic Study Group that I had helped start with friends in order to learn the Faith that RCIA teachers were so reluctant to inform me about. Finally, a priest had pity on us, conducted some interviews to see if we really knew what we were signing on for, satisfied himself that our self-education process had done the job and received me and a friend into the Church. I was delighted to get in. It wasn't till later that I realized what a weird and jumbly path I'd taken to get there.

So why all this autobiographical digression? Because I'm not the only one who will have kids confirmed, shriven, eucharisted or married this May. Lots of us will bring our children to the sacraments (or watch them take themselves). And I'm here to plead with you to "make level paths for their feet" as they go. Don't make them go through the twisty-turny paths of ignorance that I had to walk to get to Christ. Take a hand in your child's catechesis. It doesn't just happen, kids need to be taught.

Amazingly some people think a) somebody else will take care of it or b) "Children must be allowed to discover the truth on their own, without parental interference." To the first notion, I can only say somebody else will not take care of it. Oh yes, there are religious educators in our parishes and (if we are blessed) they might even be good ones who will not substitute PC drivel for instruction about the sacraments they are receiving. But their work is strictly supplemental to yours. Your instruction is the meal, theirs is the vitamin pill.

To the second notion, I can only say that you may as well stick your child out in the middle of a dark wood and hope that he or she will find their way home. For our culture is a dark wood, and expecting them to "discover the truth" without guidance is trusting to an awful lot of luck. Luck favors the prepared mind. More than that, God blesses the good parent, who makes sure his or her child will have all the riches of Christ at his fingertips. Teach them well.

Copyright 2003 - Mark P. Shea