FAITH FORMATION AT HOME
Is there life after baptism? REV. PAUL BOUDREAU
Q. We have many parents bringing their babies for baptism, but few of them continue as regular members of the church. Do you have any suggestions for how we can better serve these families?
A . What name do you give your child?” Okay, so I’ve asked that question maybe 10,000 times over the years, and I admit to becoming a little jaded by the answers. I’ve ceased being surprised by the range of responses. After all, we’re now into the second generation of not-a-saint names. The proud parents in this family were Tyler and Melissa. So I was expecting maybe Destiny or Jasmine, or perhaps Kayla.
Since the advent of face-to-face confessions, we priests have developed a certain control over the movement of our eyebrows. Even so, it was all I could do to hold ‘em down. Where on earth, I said to myself, did they come up.... Then I remembered that cute little movie star who was fabulous opposite Sean Penn in I Am Sam, carried Tom Cruise all the way from New York to Boston in War of the Worlds, and was disarmingly creepy as Emily in Hide and Seek. Now Emily — that’s a nice name. Why can’t they name this poor kid Emily? But the rules say only that the name can’t be offensive to Christianity So if the Sioux Indians don’t mind, I guess I don’t mind either. But what will they call the next one if it’s a boy? Sitting Bull?
I moved on: “What do you ask of God’s church for, um Dakota?”
No response. I glanced up to find Melissa fussing with Dakota’s bonnet, and Tyler was mugging for the video guy. Clearly, these folks were out of their element. Just a few moments before when they came in from the foyer, I could tell by their upward scan of the ceiling and the pursing of their lips into the beginnings of a “wow” that this was their inaugural trip through those doors. And the godmother had the apprehensive look of one who might be expecting that widely rumored bolt of lightning to strike at any moment. I “ahemed” softly to get their attention, gave them the look, and repeated the question.
Then I rattled off the thing about them accepting responsibility for training Dakota in the practice of the faith and how it will be their duty to bring her up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. I finished with, “Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”
I’m not sure Tyler was clear because he was on his cell phone. Melissa was rummaging through the diaper bag in search of Dakota’s binky because the little papoose was starting to get antsy in anticipation of chow time. Godmommy and goddaddy? He was doubling as the video guy, and she was having trouble with her lip gloss. If there was a Department of Homeland Security for the Ecclesia Domestica, these folks wouldn’t make it past the ticket counter. But I wasn’t worried. We’d get them down the road.
You see, that parish had a real crackerjack director of faith formation. She had instituted an at-home catechetical program for the parents of the kids we baptized. Over the next few years, teams would be stopping by periodically with age-appropriate presents for little Dakota and materials to help Tyler and Melissa fulfill their Christian responsibility as parents. The program concentrated on three areas:
Teaching social justice
Kids aren’t born prejudiced. Nor are they brought forth in bigotry. Racial slurs and ethnic epithets are learned growing up. Sexism and intolerance toward the poor, the lowly, and the stranger are taught first in the home. By the same token, when parents realize their responsibility to embrace and teach the sacred dignity of all human life, some of that has got to rub off on their kids. Sure, we’re not going to get everybody onboard with this, but we’ll get some.
Imagine the impact on children if every month they were invited to sit down with their parents and go over the allocation of resources. Paying the bills can be a family affair. This is how much money we took in. This is how much was taken out for taxes, Social Security, medical insurance, and savings. This is how much goes to the mortgage, the car payments, the electric bill, and so on. This is how much we give to the church, Catholic Charities, CRS , Food for the Hungry, World Wildlife Federation, and so on. This is how much time we are given. This is how much we give to work, to leisure, to learning, and in service to the community volunteering for the school, the soup kitchen, Habitat for Humanity, church organizations, and so on. Dad is good at fixing things, and he maintains the boiler at church. Mom is bilingual and teaches English as a Second Language at the community center. The traditions of sharing time, abilities, and money are learned at the dining room table.
Catholic identity is learned in the home. Kids can be taught the meaning of the crucifix hanging on the wall, the image of the Madonna on the table in the corner, the Saint Christopher medal pinned to the visor of the car. Kids are fascinated by those big, full color pictures in the family Bible and can be told the stories they represent. Grace before meals, celebrated meaningfully with no pressure on the kids, imparts a world of meaning to the kids. Getting reading for Sunday Mass, done leisurely and joyfully, helps children embrace their family religion. And a trip to the ice cream parlor or donut shop after church creates memories that children will hold dear.
Post-baptism family catechesis not only builds community for a growing household, it also invites parents to take that big step toward becoming responsible Christian men and women who will form the next generation in faith.