Here is a piece I wrote yesterday for Pittsburgh Catholic Parent magazine (a quarterly publication of the Diocese of Pittsburgh) on some simple ways parents can help their kids (and themselves!) get more out of their experience of the sacraments.
Supporting the Sacraments: What Parents Can Do to Help Their Kids’ Faith Stick.
Dr. Greg Popcak
Whether, Baptism, first Confession, First Communion, or Confirmation, preparing to receive the Sacraments is a big step in our children’s lives and a huge opportunity to do more in our families to help deepen their experience of the faith.
The Church calls families “the Domestic Church” which means that the vast majority of our faith is lived in our homes. The Church tends to assume that there is a continuity and a complementary relationship between the way we live our faith at home and the way we celebrate our faith in the Sacraments. The best way to make sure our children own their faith is to do everything we can to maintain this continuity by looking for ways to connect our kids experience of the Sacraments with our daily life as a family. Here are some examples.
-Our baptism is the day we were born into the family of God. Find out your children’s baptism day and celebrate it for the birthday that it is. Have a special meal and a special dessert. Dig out the photos you took of your child’s baptism and share the story of that special day every year.
-Does your child know his or her patron saint? Traditionally, Catholics would give their children the name of a particular saint so that he or she could be an inspiration to their child and pray for their child. Even if your child was not named after a particular saint, you can help your child choose a saint to be his or her patron. Read stories about the life of your child’s patron. Make sure to ask that saint to pray for your child when you pray together at night or other times.
-Confession represents your child’s growing awareness of right and wrong and the need to take responsibility for his or her actions. Most importantly, it is an opportunity to experience God’s love and mercy and his willingness to walk alongside us as we work to become the best version of ourselves. Does your family go to confession regularly? Make it a habit to go together at least once a month.
-During your child’s nightly prayer time with you, help your child make a simple examination of conscience. Gently ask your child to think about the times he struggled to be obedient to you or kind to his brothers and sisters. Help your child ask God for help to do better with those things. Encourage your child to confess the things he consistently struggles with so that he can receive God’s special help to do even better.
-If baptism is our birth into God’s family, communion is when we actually become God’s flesh and blood. What an incredible honor to be able to share so intimately in God’s life! Do you take time to prepare for Mass as a family? Make the effort to get to Church early so that you have time to pray before Mass and get yourselves ready to participate the incredible honor of receiving Christ’s body and blood.
-Take a few minutes to at least read the Sunday Gospel reading as a family the night before. Use a good children’s bible to make it more accessible to younger children. Discuss the reading and ask your kids how it applies, practically, to their lives.
-Although it’s a different sort of meal, making regular time for real family meals (where you actually sit and talk to each other) will give your kids a deeper appreciation for the intimacy they can experience at the Table of the Lord.
Confirmation is not a Catholic Bar-Mitzvah or graduation ceremony. Some dioceses do it before First Communion, in fact, and the Eastern Church does it at the same time as baptism and communion–in infancy. Confirmation is the sealing of the Holy Spirit and a kind-of commissioning that empowers us to proclaim with our words and actions that “Jesus Christ is Lord!” (see, 1 Cor. 12:3)
-Teach your children how to lead family prayer. Give them opportunities to lead grace at meals, the rosary, and other family prayer times. Teach them that they have an important contribution to make to the family’s spiritual well-being!
-Review the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, self-control, and chastity). Ask yourself on a regular basis, “Which of these virtues would make our family stronger this week?” Ask each child to identify one thing they will do to work on that virtue. Talk about your efforts over dinner.
-Talk with your children about the ways their good choices proclaim that “Jesus is Lord!” at school or with friends. Talk with them about the fact that God has a mission for their lives and that whether at home, school or with friends, they are called to lead by example and try their best to bring out the best in others.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Use your own creativity to identify more ways you can celebrate your family’s connection to the sacramental life of the Church. The more you do, the more you can enjoy the good fruits that, nurtured by sacramental grace,
will grow on your family tree.
For more information on how to help your kids get more from their faith and celebrate a grace-filled home life, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.