4 Ways Parents Are Essential for Keeping Kids Catholic [Infographic]

4 Ways Parents Are Essential for Keeping Kids Catholic

Parents, want to know the secret to keeping kids Catholic?

Get involved in their religious formation.

This isn’t a new idea. The Church has said it for decades.

The Vatican II documents say parents are the “first preachers of the faith” to their children, and their influence is “incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.” Yet for the most part, parents don’t know how to do faith formation and parishes don’t help them.

In my new book Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making it Stick, I argue that parents are indispensable in the process of handing on faith to children. And, there’s scientific research to prove it!

From 2002 to 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, conducted a nationwide study of teen religious involvement. Their findings are reported in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

Here are four ways, drawn from Smith and Denton’s research, that parents prove essential and irreplaceable for keeping kids catholic.

1. Keeping kids Catholic through influence

Near my house there was a billboard I saw every day. It was the image of a rear-view mirror and in it you could see the face of a sad little girl looking up at you from the backseat.

The caption read something like, “Even when you’re not talking to her, you’re teaching her. Calm down when you’re behind the wheel.”

Ouch! That one used get me because I’m not the calmest (or cleanest-mouthed) driver. It also got me thinking about other areas in my life where I wasn’t a good role model.

Parents matter…a lot! In fact, according to Smith and Denton, it’s not a question of if you are influencing them but what kind of influence you are having. If you’re not careful, it could be negative.

So, lesson #1 for keeping kids Catholic is be a good role model.

“For in the end,” Smith and Denton explain, parents “most likely will get from teens what they as adults themselves are.”

2. Keeping kids Catholic through relationship

Handing on faith effectively requires a strong relationship and deep level of trust. Otherwise, your efforts fall on deaf ears.

The rapport and intimacy you have with your children, poises you perfectly to teach them about life from a religious perspective. Think about that, you can affect them in ways no one else can.

You speak to your kids about sports and movies, you advise them on school and careers, why not teach them about religion? My guess most parents would say because it’s uncomfortable.

I get that. The little voice in your head says you’re too “out of touch” to reach your kids after a certain age, and it’s better to turn them over to the “experts” at the parish. That little voice is wrong.

“Parents,” Smith and Denton write, “need . . .to develop more confidence in teaching youth about their faith traditions and expecting meaningful responses from them.” They found that deep down kids are willing to be taught by parents…even though they don’t act like it.

If you can extend your comfort zone, you have the potential to influence your kids in profound ways.

3. Keeping Kids Catholic through articulation

Here’s another interesting thing that surprised Smith and Denton, teens across the board had a hard time articulating their faith. They easily discussed opinions on drinking, doing drugs, or avoiding STDs, but couldn’t explain their faith in God.

I think it’s because their parents talked to them at length about the consequences of a DUI or loss of virginity, but remained silent about the eternal consequences of a mortal sin or loss of faith?

If you want your kids to have real faith, you have to discuss it with them. And, that doesn’t mean just telling them “don’t do this because it’s wrong.” Your parental relationship puts you in a unique position to do this.

Articulating faith means internalizing it, owning it, and making it a part of you. That requires dialogue.

Above all else the faith must be something personal, not abstract. They must reflect on how a topic affects them, in their lives, not just how it affects people in general.

4. Keeping kids Catholic through religious practices

There’s a direct correlation between increased faith and faith-related activities like daily prayer, Bible study, and charitable service. These religious practices act as faith catalysts, speeding up and propelling faith development to new levels.

Smith and Denton observed this phenomena in religiously active teens saying, “Faith for these teenagers is also activated, practiced, and formed through specific religious and spiritual practices.”

How do you get teens to do these religious practices? At some point, you have to make them. That sounds harsh, but the reality is you are responsible for forming your children in virtue.

If you don’t teach them the value of discipline, service, and time management by making them do hard things, they won’t learn it. Similarly, you have to schedule time for religious activities and build these habits into them.

When they’re young, you are the keeper of the schedule. If you wait until they’re old enough to do it on their own, they won’t.

This essential aspect of religious formation, more than any other, is dependent on parents. The school or parish can’t do this for you. They may schedule the events, but you must get your kids there.

It’s time to turn the tide

Most Catholic parents aren’t interested in being a part of their children’s faith formation. I understand. We’re all busy and none of this is easy. However, our kids are leaving the Church once they leave the house, and at that point we’re nearly powerless.

The current religious education system is largely failing, but we’re asking it to do too much. The most effective aspects of faith formation need the involvement of parents.

We can turn this around, but it’s going to take a shift in thinking–a partnership between parish and parents.

When we parents take our rightful place in our children’s faith formation, by doing what only we can do, we will be successful in keeping our kids Catholic.

Note: This article was originally posted on CatholicMom.com

5 Ways to Parents are Essential for Keeping Kids Catholic

Infographic courtesy of Heather Glenn, Ave Maria Press.

Image credit: Drew Hayes (2015) via Unsplash, CC0

Learn to Love Like Jesus: Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones

Learn to love like Jesus - Review of Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong OnesChristians love like Jesus…

Isn’t that right?

Community is the hallmark of Christian discipleship, however…

The elements of community–friendship, accompaniment, fraternal love, service, and self-gift–don’t come easily.

Jesus loved everyone perfectly. But the simple fact of being a Christian doesn’t guarantee you can love like him.

Baptism doesn’t instantaneously infuse you with all the virtues, and perfection doesn’t come all at once. Grace builds on nature, and sometimes that takes a while because, when you’re starting from a pretty low place like me, grace has a long way to go.

We’re sinners. We’re selfish, we make mistakes, and make decisions in our own best interests. Often that ends up hurting loved ones, destroying relationships, and alienating friends. We all need help.

Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones: Eight Ways to Love as Jesus Loves Us by John and Therese Boucher is that practical help for the Catholic Christian who feels the demand to love like Jesus, but doesn’t always quite know how to make it happen.

Filled with practical advice, illustrative how-to’s, and step-by-step guides, this is a Catholic primer for developing relationships. It’s a field manual for implementing spiritual practices that will lead to deep friendships and lasting connections with others.

The human side of spirituality

What I like about this book is it gets at the human development that’s needed to support and undergird that working of grace I just mentioned. Usually people only present the supernatural side of spirituality–pray the rosary, go to Mass, and the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest. But that’s not what the saints do.

Sure, grace is primary, but holiness requires a level of human effort as well. This is the work of building virtue. Saints work on ridding themselves of character faults, bad habits, and sinful tendencies. They actively prune their personalities for holiness.

The Christian advantage is that grace elevates and matures that human effort. We don’t have to do it alone…and that’s a good thing. Even though some people think they can, no one will ever achieve saint-like virtue without grace. However, grace needs something to work with.

The healing that leads us to love like Jesus

This is a concept I implemented this year in my own ministry. At the Bishop Helmsing Institute where I work, we came up with a course for the Year of Mercy on forgiveness. We called it “4Given” because it highlights a 4-step process (get it?) for forgiving others.

Jesus says we have to forgive others and there’s all kinds of spiritual benefits that come from it. But sometimes people have a hard time forgiving. They feel hurt and powerless and unforgiveness seems like their only weapon. Hearing Jesus say they have to forgive only brings more resentment.

A lot of times, before someone can accept the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to work in them, they need healing or a practical process of steps to get them to a place where healing can happen.

We need evangelization resources that help people overcome human limitations…sort of like pre-evangelization. Work that takes people to a place where they can begin to love unselfishly, begin to open, begin to be vulnerable and allow the Holy Spirit to change their hearts. This book is that kind of resource.

Eight spiritual practices

Mending Broken Relationships highlights eight spiritual practices that help you love like Jesus:

  • Intercessory Prayer
  • Respect
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Affirming Others
  • Patience and Forbearance
  • Truth and Honesty
  • Healing Presence

Each chapter connects a practice to Scripture to learn how Jesus fit these into human life. The Bouchers also share about the difficulties and struggles involved in living with these practices. Finally, there are action plans…step-by-step guides to implementing them.

The authors, John and Therese Boucher, share deeply from their own personal experience. Through stories and insights drawn from their own lives, they illuminate the struggles, difficulties, and triumphs they’ve had with these practices.

The keys to happiness

Take a look at Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones. More and more I think good relationships are a key to real happiness. And, as I always tell my kids, making yourself good “friend material” is the best way to have good friends.

It was said of St. Thomas More that he was a man made for friendships because he possessed all the virtues to a high degree. Of course, that’s the mark of sainthood isn’t it? Try practicing these eight areas of strong relationships to improve your life.

NB: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Of Suicide, Culture, & The Essential Mission of Catholic Parents


Two days ago, my administrative assistant talked a friend out of committing suicide.

It was midnight when he called. When she got there he was on the floor of his bedroom, curled up in the fetal position with a knife in his hand. Until a few months ago, he had no religion. He wasn’t baptized. Last summer he started going to Mass with her and then joined the RCIA. Now, as he got closer to joining the Church, the spiritual warfare was rampant.

He was bombarded by doubts, fears, and messages of despair. He was alone, he told her. He was worthless and no one loved him, he cried.

Lies, she told him. All lies. Exactly the message Satan, and the world, wanted him to hear. Exactly the opposite of what God wanted him to know…that he was planned from the beginning of time, that he would never be alone if he was with God, and that he was worth so much Jesus died for him.

Sometimes, I get discouraged. So many people outside the Church reject this message. So many people inside the Church are indifferent to it. I wonder if it really is making a difference in the world, if people really need it.

I know how much of a difference Christianity has made in my own life. I know in my heart that following your own course through life, or the one the world maps out for you, is often destructive. And, I say it often…but am I exaggerating? Is it actually not that bad?

Then I run across a story like this and I know it’s true. Catholicism is a true roadmap for life. Life charted by our fallen whims and desires does not fulfill in the end. It can lead to dissolution and despair, sometimes even to the brink of suicide.

No, people do need Christ and the Truth he reveals through the Church. Of this there is no doubt. And, while proclaiming this in foreign countries, door-to-door in your neighborhood, or even to co-workers in your office is admirable, as Catholic parents your primary mission field is your home.

Your first duty is to your children. You have to make sure they get this message and not the counter-message of the culture. It’s not enough that they go to CCD at the parish. You can’t be sure they’ll get it there. They may learn lots of great things about God, but not the way they’ll learn it from you.

You have to teach your kids. You can’t afford to leave this up to chance. The culture is toxic. They must know their great worth in God. Their faith must be nurtured and grown to maturity by someone who knows them. Eventually they must face the world on their own, but not before they’re prepared.

This is your mission, should you choose to accept it. Are you ready?

Image credit: Volkan Olmez, Unsplash.com, Creative Commons

This post first appeared on CatholicMom.com.

Complete Your Spiritual Goals This Year


It’s the new year…again.

Around this time of year, everyone online starts talking about goal setting and resolutions.

How to make goals, how to keep goals, how everyone breaks their goals, and how this year you can finally be the most productive person on the planet.

I used to think all that was useless, but now I’m buying into to it BECAUSE I started thinking about this in terms of spiritual goals.

So, here’s a post on how to set spiritual goals for the year, get started on your spiritual life, and motivate yourself to become the most spiritually productive person on the planet (or at least spiritually productive). This is what I’m going to use this year to get off my butt and start praying more, although I’ll probably still be on my butt while I’m praying.

Big resolutions don’t work

About 12 years ago, someone in my Bible study group asked if spiritual New Year’s resolutions were a good idea or just a waste of time. My answer was—are any New Year’s resolutions a good idea?

Let’s face it, big change is hard, and resolutions to make massive changes don’t work. Why do we make them?

Because in the beginning it’s cool. Think about starting a new workout program. You visualize how you’ll look different, feel different, and be different at the end. However, when you start working out it just hurts. That’s no fun.

I think Olympic athletes must be masochists, or at the least they have an incredible tolerance for pain.

What does work?

I ran across this idea of Kaizen, a Japanese word for the process of achieving sustained success through small, steady steps. You do this by building a habit of doing something very small, tiny even, everyday without fail until changes takes place. You’re not even committing to the big goal. You’re committing to the tiny habit.

There’s a book on this by Robert Maurer called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. There’s also Mini Habits by Stephen Guise.

The problem is getting started is uncomfortable. Doesn’t matter what it is…working out, writing, praying. The hardest part is overcoming the inertia at the beginning.

But committing to a micro-habit isn’t that difficult. Think something on the order of walking ten minutes a day, writing 50 words a day, or reading a small section of the Bible or spiritual book.

Then, once you’ve started moving, it’s easier to keep going. After a while, you’ll likely stick around longer. Once you form a solid habit, you’ll start thinking of yourself as someone who does this particular thing. And then, you’re off and running.

My Kaizen moment

I experienced the power of small, incremental change first hand last year when I started P90X. Now at first this doesn’t seem like a good example, in fact it sort of isn’t. P90X is a big, honking, scary workout program that lasts for 90 days, and I’m not much of an athlete. But, they have this principle built in.

At the beginning, they don’t emphasize the number of reps you do, how strong you are, or even if you can finish. They emphasize moving and gradual improvement. They tell you to learn the exercises and go at your own pace. You can work harder later.

It worked! I just kept moving and stuck with it. At first I couldn’t imagine even finishing all the exercises in the first part, but eventually I could. Then when I started the advanced phase, I couldn’t imagine finishing those exercises, but eventually I could…with strength to spare.

Gradually, and incrementally over time, I did it.

This really resonates with me. I think this kind of goal setting will work. I seriously think it can work for spiritual goals and growing closer to God this year.

Getting started on spiritual goals

So what spiritual goals can you commit to this year? I’m going for at least ten minutes of meditative prayer everyday where I converse with God and listen to what he’s saying.

Something I’ve done for the past few years (that actually does fit the bill) is the Gospels in a Year program from Flocknote.com. Sign up for the mailing list and you’ll get a little snippet of gospels in your email inbox everyday. At the end of a year, you’ll finish all four gospels. Forget about reading the whole Bible. That’s a great goal, but it’s just too much.

There’s also a program for the Catechism.

Really, this is not that hard. Just read an email a day. All you have to do is click and it’s there.

What you do doesn’t matter. Just commit to something. Make it tiny and easy to manage. Don’t over think it or over shoot. That will undermine the entire thing. Make it short, simple, and sweet.

Here’s to spiritual goals and productivity.

How to Know You Have a Relationship with Jesus


I was already a little tipsy when I started this conversation with Andre Regnier.

That didn’t make it any easier.

Marcel Lejeune and I had already indulged in a few beers at the social before we went over to Damon’s, a sports bar at the bottom of the hill Franciscan University is perched on.

It serves as the main hangout after activities at the  St. John Bosco Conference are finished.

Andre was at my talk earlier that afternoon and I was anxious to hear what he had to say. We had discussed evangelization the day before and he was intrigued by my topic–how to build conversion into your catechesis.

The conversation

“I loved your talk but something was missing,” Andre told me. I found out later he has this conversation with a lot of Catholics speaking about evangelization.
[Read more…]

Book Review: Under the Influence of Jesus


I don’t think the average Catholic has a clue what difference Jesus makes.

Oh sure, they’ve heard homilies, listened to gospel stories, and read about the doctrines about Jesus in their CCD classes as children.

But do they understand what Jesus can do for them? Why it’s better to believe in him? How he can change them?

I’d say no. That’s because Catholics talk a lot about the “what” and “when” and “where,” but precious little about the “why” and “how” and “how come.”

But Joe Paprocki’s out to change that.
[Read more…]

How to Get the Catechetical Recharge You Need This Summer


Okay so…it’s the end of the year. Your classes are over, or they will be soon.

You’re tired, burned out, and ready for summer.

But you’re DRE is already asking if you want to teach again next year! Really? How can you get ready for that?

You need that fire back before Fall. You need energizing. You need a conference!

And I’ve got just the thing for you.
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Why the Fruit of the Spirit Is Missing From Your Life

Transformation: Fruit of the Spirit

Here’s something I’ve learned about saints.

They believe what the Bible says. Not just that the Bible is true, but that it’s true for them.

St. Francis read that Jesus told the apostles they should go preach the gospel and take nothing with them, so he did.

St. Anthony read that to be perfect you should sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and radically follow Jesus, so he did.

St. Augustine read about how the Holy Spirit transforms believers and changes their behavior so he converted.

So what should you make of this passage in Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-33)?

Is that for real? Can you really have those qualities as the fruit of a Christian life? If so, how?
[Read more…]

Breaking the Silence: Forming Intentional Disciples and the Catholic Family


In my last post, I related some insights from a one-day workshop I attended that was given by Sherry Weddell.

Again, her book Forming Intentional Disciples is really creating quite a stir in the catechetical world.

It’s getting diocesan staffs and parish leadership councils all over the country thinking about discipleship and considering parish evangelization in new ways.

Sherry presented some alarming statistics at her workshop about Catholic belief. The situation’s not good.

But one problem she highlighted particularly struck me, and I wanted to consider it in different terms, beyond the parish. I wanted to think of it in terms of the family.
[Read more…]

Forming Intentional Disciples, the Resurrection, and the Name of Jesus


I recently had the privilege of meeting Sherry Weddell and attending her one-day workshop for Forming Intentional Disciples.

Her book is wildly sweeping the catechetical nation and creating quite a stir.

There’s so much to talk about from this workshop, but there’s one thing in particular that hit me.

It’s a problem I never recognized and then, after I heard it, didn’t believe it was a problem. However, now I’m convinced and see it as an essential element in parish evangelization.

That problem is this–Catholics don’t speak the name of Jesus.
[Read more…]