Sometimes parents ask me things like, “Father, do you have any advice on how we can live our Catholic faith better as a family?”
At times like these I smile and tell them I’m so glad they asked because boy do I ever!
Since I know that most parents reading this blog are looking precisely for this kind of thing—assurance, affirmation, and the odd piece of golden advice—I thought I’d lend my guidance to you too, unsolicited though it may be.
You may already be doing some of what I suggest, though it’s rare to meet a family that has implemented all of these “tips” as much as they can and should, so I think it’s safe to say that these will challenge all of you, albeit to different degrees.
Knowing how precious little time parents have, I’ll share these with you in bite-size chunks, spread out over my next three articles.
Let’s dive in!
1. Come to Mass every Sunday! (Unless you have a valid reason not to.)
I know this seems like a real low bar but we have to start somewhere!
Your commitment to Sunday Mass signals to your whole family how important God is in your life. Now, I think it goes without saying that sometimes there are valid reasons why you may not be able to attend, or not attend as a whole family. Family situations, illness, pandemics … these things make it difficult for us to fulfill this obligation, so I want you to understand that when I say “Come to Mass every Sunday,” I am certainly taking these things into consideration.
Nevertheless, Sunday Mass is so important to God that He made it one of the 10 Commandments. It’s also one of the precepts of the Catholic Church (CCC 2042). Canon law says,
“The Christian faithful are to hold the Most Holy Eucharist in highest honor, taking an active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice, receiving this sacrament most devoutly and frequently, and worshiping it with the highest adoration. ” (Canon 898)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Eucharist the “Source and Summit” of the Christian faith. (CCC 1324)
Don’t worry if you get distracted during Mass because your kids are all over the place making cow or dog noises. Come anyway!
Give God the best you can, and be at peace.
God cannot be outdone in generosity.
2. Bring the kids, stress-free! (Don’t worry about what the priest or people think.)
I know that most parents have at one time or another been nervous to bring their babies or young children to Holy Mass.
But what’s the worst that can happen? …
OK, maybe don’t take that rhetorical question too far lest your imagination get the better of you. What I mean to say is, who cares if the kids make noise! Your priest doesn’t, or at least not the majority of priests. And shame on any priest who makes it difficult for parents to fulfill this profound appeal made by Jesus Himself:
“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15)
A good priest welcomes the noise that comes from the children sitting in the pews because he knows that “a Church without crying is a Church that’s dying.” So don’t be too self-conscious about your children’s behaviour because of the priest or because of the other parishioners for that matter.
Why not, you ask?
A) If others don’t recognize the sacrifice you made to bring your children, then that is nothing but an unfortunate display of the brokenness of the Church. I urge you—do not let other people’s sin separate you from God.
B) The majority of priests are more happy to see you than you realize, and they may even use your presence as a great opportunity to say something to the congregation about how wonderful it is to see families coming to Church. Be assured that he is pleased and impressed. C) Remember that you come to Mass to be with God and you and your kids will get so much out of just being in His presence.
D) Most importantly, God not only desires but deserves to be worshipped—think of all that He’s done for you! And He wants to do more still, if you give him the chance.
So bring your kids! Your priest will be so happy you are there. I'm a priest, and I'm telling you, having kids at Mass is wonderful and not at all the kind of distraction people imagine.
But, if after all this you are still nervous about the prospect, then I strongly encourage you to talk to your priest about it.
3. Take your kids’ faith formation seriously—priests and schools can only do so much.
I wish I could bilocate like St. Padre Pio, or at least freeze time, but I can’t. Odds are that your priest(s) can’t either, or anyone else involved in raising your kids. And even if they could, that still wouldn’t take away your God-given mission and vocation to raise your children in the Faith. Listen to this verse from Ephesians 6:4 on parenting:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
God wants you to take this task seriously. You are not just one more member of the catechesis team, volunteering to teach your children. You are their primary educators! Your priests would love to see each and every parent deeply commit to this mission. The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about it:
“Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel.” (2226)
Canon Law (226) talks about it:
“According to their own vocation, those who live in the marital state are bound by a special duty to work through marriage and the family to build up the people of God. Since they have given life to their children, parents have a most grave obligation and possess the right to educate them. Therefore, it is for Christian parents particularly to take care of the Christian education of their children according to the doctrine handed on by the Church.”
“Ok Ok”, I hear parents say. “I’ll educate my children in the Faith, father. But where do I begin?” Well, first and foremost, with the most basic aspects of our Faith: teach them how to pray and the importance of prayer, both by word and example. Remember, “faith is more caught than taught.”
“The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the “domestic church” where God’s children learn to pray “as the Church” and to persevere in prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church’s living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 2685)
If you’re looking for more on this topic, read (perhaps with your partner) the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 2196 to 2257.
That’s it for today. These are the first 3 simple things I would love for you to start doing with your family if you aren’t already doing them. And if you’d like a deeper look into why these are foundational family practices for living the Faith, check out my previous article.
The Lord just asks that we do our best. Our best is enough for Him. It may not turn out as we had envisioned it would, but don’t worry—if we did our best, God is very pleased. And so are your priests!
Besides, if we keep on doing our best, our best will just keep getting better and better.
Father Gregory Merkley
Father Gregory Merkley is a priest of the Diocese of Hamilton, in Ontario, Canada. Having grown up in a family where the faith was not very practiced, he lived for some years as a practical atheist. After his return to the Catholic Church, he gave his life to Christ and was ordained a Catholic priest on May 4th, 2019. Father Merkley is interested in anything Catholic, with a special love for evangelization, apologetics, Catholic Tradition, and canon law. When he is not praying, he is most typically involved in some form of evangelization or ministry. You can learn more about him at his personal website.