To pass on the Faith

The baby is due this week.  Last Saturday, my wife and I met with the priest for baptism preparation.  He quizzed us on our knowledge of the Faith, and we did okay.  The whole thing has put to the front of my mind the soul of my unborn daughter, and how I fear for it.

I’m not one for false hope on this blog.  Not being in a position of command, I don’t have to rally the troops.  I can call it as I see it, and as I see it, Christianity is pretty much doomed.  Our liberal enemy is overwhelmingly more powerful than us in terms of money, media, expertise, and sheer numbers.  What’s worse, a majority of the clergy and a vast majority of the laity is effectively on the other side.  The liberals are relentless in attacking Christian morality, and our priests refuse to defend it.  The churches are basically in free-fall collapse.  “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the Earth?”  Not likely.

We must now ask whether we can even hope that the faith will be kept by our own children, with the schools, television, and atheist civil bureacracy against them.  It’s a problem that was tormenting me a year ago, when it was looking like my wife and I would finally be able to have children.  Is it right to bring new souls into the world, if you don’t think they can make it to heaven?  If all we can do is make reprobate souls, wouldn’t they be better off not existing at all?  Perhaps Christian couples should simply live celibately and spend their barren lives mourning the triumph of godlessness.  For a while, I was seriously considering this.  I knew I would be miserable if I gave up on my life-long ambition of fatherhood (perpetual celibacy didn’t sound so fun either), but the reasoning behind it seemed sound.  In the end, I simply through these thoughts away, thinking “but not having children is crazy, so I must be missing something.”  A healthy mind throws away morbid thoughts even when it can’t disprove them.  Now that my baby is born, it bothers me that I couldn’t disprove them.

So we come to the problem:  how does one instill the Christian faith in one’s children?  We are placed in a very difficult situation.  Christianity is a subtle faith.  You can’t really understand it all (to the extent that we ever understand it this side of the grave) until you’re mentally mature.  But that’s exactly the time that children go off to college (or at least leave home), and their minds are handed over to atheist professors and media celebrities.  All you can give them when they’re growing up is a child’s faith, and then their professors will have no trouble proving to them that their faith is childish.

I don’t know the answer to this dilemma.  I know that I have some readers who are Christian mothers and fathers, and I would very much like to hear your advice.  I have come up with a few ideas:

  1. In the home, act like God exists.  The family should pray together before meals and before bed.  I’ll teach my daughter to, from time to time, think of her blessings and thank God for them, and to examine her conscience and ask God for pardon.  Who we talk to, we assume exists.
  2. Tell children saints’ stories, especially (once they’re old enough) martyrs’ stories.  This may sound like it’s just a Catholic thing, but traditionally Protestants have used it to (e.g. Fox’s Book of Martyrs).  The important thing is to get across the idea that the faith has enemies, and it is heroic to defend it.  Then, when they go to college and their faith is attacked, they will have a mental template to understand it with.  They won’t think “I’m being criticized for being a Christian; therefore, there’s something wrong with being a Christian.”  They’ll think “I’m being persecuted like Saint Stephen!  I must be brave like he was.”  I think that preparing them psychologically for the attack is even more important than preparing them intellectually.
  3. Let children know that there’s more to the faith than what they’ve been told.  You can’t train your child, or even adolescent, as a Thomist able to untangle all the supposed antinomies of natural theology.  Their minds can’t handle that yet.  But you can let them know that Christians have thought about these things, and that, when they’re older, they’ll be able to understand these grown-up things.  That will make it sound exciting and mysterious.  You may even drop a few names.  The thing is, when their atheist professors ask them questions about their faith that they can’t answer, we want them to go and consult the Christian intellectual tradition rather than just assume that Christians are idiots who have never considered these questions.
  4. Through stories and example, show them the nobility of masculinity and femininity.  Stress the sublime self-sacrifice involved in being an exemplary man or woman.  When they become teenagers, they will want to prove how grown-up they are by pursuing some beautiful ideal, and we must give them an alternative to atheist, communist nihilism.
  5. When they’re old enough, introduce them to paganism.  I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming!  I don’t mean New Age BS, I mean Greek mythology, Confucian maxims, things like that.  What they find will sound much more like the gospel than like the equality-and-diversity crud they get in school.  Let them know that it is the Church, not the Left, that speaks for the consensus of all mankind.
  6. Do not let them revere Leftist heroes like Susan B. Anthony or John Lennon.  Let them know right up and often that these are enemies of the faith, and the effects of their ideas have been ruinous.
  7. Rebuke irreverence in church or in talking about God.  As Aristotle–a great pagan for them to admire–said, we must train the sensibilities before we can train the mind.
  8. Make God a part of happy occasions through prayers of thanksgiving and the like.  This will help build up positive associations in their minds.
  9. Keep careful track of what they’re being told in religious education classes.  It will help them learn if they have to summarize what they’ve been told, and, as we all know, post-VII catechesis is not to be trusted.
  10. Pray for them, since salvation is the work, not of man, but of the Holy Spirit.

24 Responses

  1. This is a great list. I just have a few margin notes and examples. On Halloween, before they go out, we pray the Litany of the Saints as a family and discuss what Halloween is and what All Saints Day is. We discuss how the dawn of All Saints Day is like the coming of God’s army to help us banish all the nasties we see on Halloween.

    On 4 and 5, this is particularly easy with boys. They tend to love ancient history. I got mine interested playing Rome Total War on the computer. My daughter was quite interested in St Perpetua and St Felicity. Also, you can do this with movies. I will let my children watch adult movies if they are the right kind of movies. “We Were Soldiers” or “Master and Commander” or “Gladiator” etc.

    7 is hard, but do it anyway. Just because little Suzie in the next pew is walking around, working the room, playing with dolls, and reading books, does not mean that you can. Another thing is to (quietly, well before Mass) use the statues, windows, murals, etc as they are intended. Who is that (pointing)? Why is her picture here, do you think? Want to know what she did in life? Why do you think all those working class people at the turn of the century willingly gave of their meager wages to build this giant neo-gothic Cathedral?

    Relatedly, do things that make you look geeky and do them with total confidence (assuming here that you go to a Novus Ordo parish). Perform a minor bow at our Lord’s name at Mass, especially if nobody else does. Perform a major bow at the Incarnatus and before receiving (or receive kneeling) especially if nobody else does. Genuflect so that your knee actually touches the ground, especially if the prune-faced church lady scowls at you for it. Cross yourself when the processional crucifix passes. Cross yourself at the conclusion of the penitential rite.

    9 is less of a worry than it might seem. They don’t actually teach anything during religious ed anyway, and the children have contempt for the women teaching the classes. As long as you are teaching them yourself, don’t worry about this (unless something gives you cause of course).

    I would add memorizing prayers. They won’t do this in religious ed, so if you want them to know the Hail Holy Queen, you gotta do it. Also, they get a feeling of accomplishment out of memorizing the longer ones.

    I would also add undermining their teachers. In a properly ordered society, we should be teaching them to respect authority. But schoolteachers are such vicious agents of The Machine that you just have to demonstrate over and over that they are lying and not to be trusted. Anti-bullying programs are a particularly good avenue for this kind of thing—kids see what bullshit they are, and this can be exploited.

    Abortion. Explain what it is as soon as they are old enough to understand it. Resist the urge to protect them too much, while also not making a big drama show out of it. Just tell the truth. They need to understand that the “other side” embraces this monstrous evil. My children were horrified.

    Finally, the research says that the father’s behavior is the best predictor of the faithfulness of children. So, *you* go to Mass every single Sunday. If you are traveling on work, tell your kids about the parish you visited and the funny way that parish priest’s eyebrows went up and down during the sermon.

    Do you have a particular book in mind for 2? This is something we should do more of.

  2. Dear Bill,

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience. Not having applied them yet, I have no way of knowing how my ideas will work out.

    Your idea of undermining teachers sounds like a good precaution. I remember that my younger siblings would revere their grade school teachers; I guess that’s a natural thing. Here’s one example. My younger brother’s first grade teacher was on a crusade against disposible diapers, and for some reason she would preach to her students about this. My brother would then go tell my mother that she should be using cloth diapers on my sister, to be good to the environment. My mother would reply (from her experience with me) that cloth diapers lead to more rashes, and they’re worse for the environment anyway, when you take washing into account. Whether or not these were good arguments, my brother wouldn’t listen to them, because THAT’S NOT WHAT THE TEACHER SAID. This is a dangerous level of authority over our childrens’ minds to be held by one of the enemy.

    On the other points: I will indeed try to (discreetly) make a point of my own observance. I don’t know of any good saints’ lives books. Most of what I know comes from Church history books, and that’s all stuff I’ve read as an adult. The important thing is that it should be cool and heroic, like the reading at last weekend’s Mass from 2nd Maccabees. Now those were some tough dudes.

  3. I would advise slowly introducing them to the mystical and esoteric aspects of the Christian religion.

  4. In the De Correptione et Gratia Chapter 17 [VIII.], St Augustine says
    “Here, if I am asked why God should not have given them perseverance to whom He gave that love by which they might live Christianly, I answer that I do not know. For I do not speak arrogantly, but with acknowledgment of my small measure, when I hear the apostle saying, “O man, who are you that repliest against God?” [ Romans 9:20] and, “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways untraceable!” [Romans 11:33”]
    And again
    “”I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith fail not”? [Luke 22:32] Will you dare to say that even when Christ prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail, it would still have failed if Peter had willed it to fail; that is, if he had been unwilling that it should continue even to the end? As if Peter could in any measure will otherwise than Christ had asked for him that he might will! For who does not know that Peter’s faith would then have perished if that will by which he was faithful should fail, and that it would have continued if that same will should abide? But because “the will is prepared by the Lord,” [Proverbs 8:35] therefore Christ’s petition on his behalf could not be a vain petition. When, then, He prayed that Peter’s faith should not fail, what was it that He asked for, but that in his faith Peter should have a most free, strong, invincible, persevering will! Behold to what an extent the freedom of the will is defended in accordance with the grace of God, not in opposition to it; because the human will does not attain grace by freedom, but rather attains freedom by grace, and a delightful constancy, and an insuperable fortitude that it may persevere.”

    St Thomas, too, says in Ia, q. 20, a. 3: “Since the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things, no one would be better than another if God did not will a greater good to one than to another.” Likewise, in article 4 of the same question and also in Ia, q. 23, a. 4: “In God, love precedes election.” Already it is evident that the man who, in fact, observes the commandments is better than the one who is able to do so but actually does not. Therefore, he who keeps the commandments is more beloved and assisted. In short, God loves that man more to whom He grants that he keep the commandments than another in whom He permits sin.

    This principle of predilection is valid for all created being, even free beings, and for all their acts, natural or supernatural, easy or difficult, initial or final; in other words, no created being would be in any respect better if it were not better loved by God. This truth is clear in the philosophical order, for it flows from the principle of causality and of the eminently universal causality of the will or love of God. In the order of grace, this principle is revealed by several scriptural texts, for instance: “I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please Me” (Exod. 33:19); and “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7.)

    This principle of predilection presupposes, according to St. Thomas, a decree of the divine will rendering our salutary acts intrinsically efficacious (Ia, q. 19, a. 8). For, if they were efficacious on account of our foreseen consent, of two men equally loved and helped by God, one would be better in some respect. He would be better of himself alone and not on account of divine predilection”

    Such is the Catholic teaching on invincible, efficacious grace

  5. I think fear for our children’s souls and the part we have to play in their salvation is always a concern to a loving Catholic parent – now more than ever. Sometimes when I think of their salvation at some future point, the possibility of them losing their faith, I am daunted by fear, by how overwhelming the task is of giving them a good foundation to be faithful and persevering Catholics.

    I have to say overall, despite all of the wonderful things on your list (and truly, they are wonderful), there is one rule Catholic parents should be guided by. I and my spouse are young parents, working on our third child, but I have to hand it to my mother-in-law as being the person by whom I have come to understand this rule with regards to my own children: The family must have a Catholic culture.

    Unbelievably, despite knowing all of the doctrinal necessities, loving all the beautiful things about our Faith, the Mass, etc., living a Catholic culture can be difficult for a traditional Catholic who was not raised in a traditional Catholic setting/milieu. And it’s not all about using every occasion as a didactic moment to teach the faith, but simply to inculcate the Faith, God, in everything we do, consider, etc. I remember one of our priests speaking about how we should go about our lives living in the presence of God, as a man walks in the sun.

    My difficulty lies in learning how to make the family revolve around the Faith and God, rather than around the day to day concerns or gratifications – in many instances it simply does not occur to me to think of a situation with my child relative to our religion, whereas with my MIL, she’ll somehow manage it four different times in a two hour period, seemingly without making a conscious effort (as would be with me) to do so.

  6. I’m ashamed to say it, but my first thought was, “This ‘bonald’ fellow is far better father than I am and his daughter’s not even born yet!”

    All I could add would be to pray the Rosary daily, especially praying for our children during the Joyful Mysteries, all of which relate to raising a child and presenting the Faith.

  7. Just a point of order, first, vis-a-vis that issue raised by Mr. Paterson-Seymour:

    That is not so much an exposition of the Catholic teaching on invincible, efficacious grace as it is an exposition of the teaching of Thomists of the Strict Observance. As for me, I think that God wills all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4) and that he wept over Jerusalem because, although He wished to save it, it was unwilling (Matthew 23:37). Of course, given that this is one of the most hotly argued topics in the history of Christendom, a comment on a blog will not solve it; I just think it is important to point out that the exposition above is not Catholic dogma but a particular and highly controversial exposition of it. For those who are interested in this subject, in an examination of St. Thomas’ texts, an examination of the relevant Church documents, and an examination of St. Augustine’s contradictory texts on this matter, I would heartily recommend Fr. Mosts’ book on predestination. And for a slightly more cynical look at the Thomist position, vis-a-vis the Jansenists, see Pascal’s Provincial Letters.

    For those who don’t have the time to slough through so many pages, however, I simply quote the fourth canon of the Council of Trent’s documents on justification:

    CANON IV.-If any one saith, that man’s free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.


    That matter behind me . . . I’m not a father, nor likely to be one soon. This list that you give is good. However, I would just like to mention a few practices that I’ve seen at Catholic households before.

    One is that parents bless their children before their children go to bed; this seems like a really great idea, especially for those who understand the family as the domestic church.

    Another would be to throw out the television, or at least put it by itself somewhere in the attic. When you walk into a home that doesn’t have a television, it seems you almost immediately know that the family is closer to each other–it makes houses feel more like homes.

    And finally. . . homeschooling? I looked at the topics list on this blog and can’t find it, so I don’t know if I’m preaching to the choir. It isn’t possible for everyone. But schools are really bad places. Argument to this effect is not possible in so short a space . . .

  8. Hello Mr Scott,

    The only thing I worry about here is, can this really be done with children, or does it require a level of maturity they won’t possess until they’re out of the home?

  9. Hello Mr. Paterson-Seymour,

    I’m sure you’re not suggesting that I don’t bother with my daughter’s religious education at all and just wait for God to hit her over the head with a dose of efficacious grace. Even in the order of grace, the efficacious grace is the exception and sufficient grace the rule.

  10. Dear trent13,

    Thank you for the advice. This sounds like an important point. Could you give me an example of everyday family life “in the presence of God”?

  11. Western Confucian,

    Thanks for the advice.

  12. Mr. Wilhelmsen,

    Thanks for the advice. Blessings before bed is something that I’ve really been wanting to do. My wife insists that we keep the TV, but when we moved to Washington, we decided to put the television near a corner of the living room instead of in the center. This deemphasizes the thing somewhat. In most living rooms (including our last one), the television is the obvious focal point, and anyone who sits on the couch feels almost obliged to turn it on. Finally, there hasn’t been any discussion about homeschooling on this blog. It’s something I haven’t thought about.

  13. It is a bit counter intuitive, but faith often thrives in cultures that are most pagan. Perhaps we can even say that true faith is more likely in a completely pagan society, than in a Christian theocracy.

  14. Hello Justin,

    Thanks for commenting. I’m a big fan of theocracy myself, so I don’t know if I’ll go along with your point there. In any case, a completely pagan society would be something much better than what we’ve got, which is a nearly godless society. The evidence seems to be that Christianity doesn’t thrive well in these environments.

  15. Hm, well, for example, when I have my daughter color, she colors saint or religiously themed coloring pages (usually) and when I tell her to make it look beautiful for Blessed Mother, it amazes me the greater amount of effort and care she will put into it. Or, we have certain Christmas books (two I think) which give the idea that Christmas is only special for all of the superfluous “feel good” stuff – good on a natural order, but entirely bereft of the point of celebrating Christmas – she knows (by our influence, of course) that those books do not present a proper image of Christmas.

    Expecting them to take rosary as seriously as you do is another one – I am surprised at how many parents don’t realize their child can learn to be respectful at their prayers at a much earlier age than they are given credit for. My youngest is almost 2, my eldest is 3 1/2. The younger one mumbles along and usually kneels (sometimes it’s a fight), the elder always kneels and is beginning to participate in saying the responses.

    I am always touched by how my children consider their father’s religious involvement with them a treasure. He reads our Saint of the Day and has one of them get the book, and then the rosaries – if they say a good rosary, they get to blow out the candles. I cannot fathom being able to raise these children firmly in the Faith were it not for their father’s influence and example.

    Music helps also, the exposure to Catholic hymns, ones for Our Lady, Our Lord, and directed to special feast days of the Church. But so much of their daily exposure to the Faith really devolves on your spouse as she will have the care of them.

    When my husband was about five he and his brother would very seriously celebrate mass – at one point in order to make the house appear more of a Church, he put a large red cross on every wall of the house. Not that I am advocating a child doing something like that, but how mad can a parent get at it? I think the only way a child would take their religion so seriously and believe it so entirely is by almost literally being steeped in it.

    I recently read J. Pieper’s book, Leisure the Basis of Culture and he makes a great point in there that wonder is at the heart of philosophy – children must be natural philosophers, it’s just eventually bred out of them. As parents I think what is important is where we take the direction of that wonder, that it doesn’t remain purely secular, but that they learn in all the little things and all their questions, that our lives revolve around and are held up by God.

    I just think the daily experience of the faith, not excluding it to certain periods of time, categorizing it (in essence like what is done in certain schools), and at all other times religion is excluded, is what makes strong Catholics – if that makes sense? But just as importantly I intend on schooling them fairly intensively in apologetics and doing everything I can to ensure they do not take their Faith for granted – I’ve seen a lot of that even among traditional cradle Catholics.

    Sorry the post was so long!

  16. Hello trent13,

    Thank you for the examples. I really appreciate your sharing your experience.

  17. No, of course not; I just wanted to show that there is no room for despondency, where the order of grace is concerned

  18. Dear Mr. Paterson-Seymour,

    Thank you for the encouragement. A pessimist like myself can’t be reminded too often that there’s no hole we can dig ourselves into that God can’t pull us out of.

  19. […] the child-oriented presentation and naturally conclude that Christianity is childish.  I’m still trying to figure out a way around this trap. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", […]

  20. […] times a day. Scourge your back till it bleeds. Spend 30 minutes or more a day reading the Bible. Set up this kind of environment for your kids, too; if you can find no kindred spirits in the world, make your own, and form them accordingly! […]

  21. Hmm…couple thoughts:
    1) As counter-intuitive as it is, I do not think you should give them Bibles/read them Bible stories, or if you must stick to the New Testament. An immature mind will easily be lead astray by the figurative language in the Bible. As a kid I used to think of the Old Testament as a history book (hence I was, gasp, a sort of creationist). The New Testament is far more clear-cut, but can still be twisted/interpreted superficially against the Church. In all honesty I think your essays explain Catholic morality/teaching a lot better than the Bible itself does. A commentary or theological work (I had the devilish thought of giving my children Aquinas’s Summa as soon as they could read), like yours, will be far clearer and less easy to misunderstand.

    2) Teach them about the birds and bees as early as possible, so that you can form a moral backbone for them. Trust me, in this day an age you can only shield them from this knowledge for so long, and it is best they get it with the associated philosophical and theological baggage rather than the liberal pop culture view.

  22. Hi John,

    I agree with #2. If you start building the context early, there shouldn’t be too much awkwardness. (Not that I’ve tried it yet.)

    That I didn’t think of #1 shows how far Protestantism is off my radar screen as a potential threat. My assumption is that a child’s main temptation will be to secularism. Reading the Bible, one might get all sorts of ideas about how its teachings are different from the Church’s teaching and practice, but–especially if you read the Old Testament–one would never get the idea that the difference is that the Bible is liberal.

  23. I encountered your opinion that the overwhelming majority of souls in the modern world are reprobate (and, as a logical implication, Christians should refrain from bearing children entirely….) fairly early in the (long, painful, still ongoing) process of my conversion, and I’ve been thinking about it on and off for the past year or so. The chain of logic you present certainly both appears sound and is intuitively completely insane.

    On the Orthodox side (I have been looking far more into Orthodoxy than Catholicism), there have been good, sound theologians whose stance on such questions was basically an agressive quietism. Thus you will hear, say, Theophan the Recluse rebuke those who worry about the reprobate, effectively saying that this was not a valid question to make conclusions about:

    “You ask, will the heterodox be saved… Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins…”

    A similar response would certainly be directed to your case, but it’s not an actual answer. I suppose I’m very unOrthodox in disliking deliberate vagueness on such burning questions, because the Orthodox saints seem to resort to giving vague or even self-contradictory non-answers to a lot of these kinds of inquiries.

    (Another favourite bit of non-logic: “everyone will be saved; I alone will be in Hell”.)

    So, if I had to justify my optimism in refusing your reasoning, I would say the fallacy appears to me in thinking that the human soul is entirely indivisible, and based on God’s judgment either the entire soul is saved or the entire soul is damned; and the judgment is applied to the soul as it exists at the time of death. This always struck me as a strange assumption, because it makes all sorts of issues out of otherwise irrelevant phenomena like memory loss, or multiple personality disorder, or personality-altering brain damage. If I discard that, I can say that most of the reprobate will be damned, but the part that matters will be saved; and this is true on the level of a single reprobate person just as much as on the level of the massive crowd of apostates.

    However, I seem to be out of luck that this view has not arisen in the Church as a sufficiently notable opinion for it to be either affirmed or definitely refuted with any clarity. So I neither have the ability to expand on this intuition in any convincing fashion (because that would put me in the business of formulating doctrine), nor to definitively discard it (because I haven’t found enough ammunition against it — that I can recognize — in existing Church doctrine).

    I suppose, a different approach to resolving this is to point out that God still brought even someone like me into existence even though you’d have said my chances of salvation are infinitesimal on the face of it. So, clearly, even if neither of us understands it, God seems to not only have considered such an insane-looking risk worth taking (whereas you doubt), but also found a way to try and make it work, rather than just leaving me to my own devices. (What that way consists of, you should know even better than I do.)

    And I really, honestly, have infinitely less justification to exist than one of your own children. So based on that alone your doubts are a bit silly.

    That seems to me the most encouraging thought that is still within the bounds of acceptable doctrine. It’s perhaps still too close to an Orthodox non-answer.

  24. I think that you must be right somehow. I sometimes know when I’ve reached a crazy conclusion even when I don’t see the error in reasoning.

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