The Eleventh Commandment
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he added a postscript for parents: passing on the faith makes parents the first – and most important – educators.
Over a period of 24 years, our five children attended Catholic education across six schools. These schools included the local parish school, two private schools, and three regional high schools (plus one year of home schooling).
Like most parents, when we thought about our children’s education, we associated it with paid educators teaching from textbooks or smartboards. In other words, we generally believed education is what someone else provided for our children.
At times this also applied to religious education. Our children’s religious formation is one of the reasons we choose Catholic education for our children – after all, we reasoned, the more the better when it comes to our faith.
Parents are first educators
Yet both scripture and the teachings of the Church make it clear that religious formation is to take place first and foremost in the home. This is a long tradition going back centuries before Jesus walked the earth and schools were even a thing.
Remember the story of the Israelites roaming in the desert after leaving the slavery of Egypt? After God provided Moses with the Ten Commandments, God told the Israelites:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is your God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
These words are not only for the ancient Israelites: they are for all God’s people, including us. God commands us to live his covenant faithfully and diligently so that the ways of God become the very culture and atmosphere of our homes – even part of the architecture and our attire.
Everything – at home and away, morning and night, even the most mundane activities – are opportunities for us to live our faith and to pass it on to our children. We could say it’s the eleventh commandment.
Wisdom from the Church
Likewise, the Church recognises parents as the primary educators of their children, especially when it comes to formation in our faith.
“Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2225)
We parents have the responsibility of creating an atmosphere of faith and establishing traditions of devotion in our homes – the most influential place of learning. Devotional traditions, knowledge about the faith, and virtue development are all part of our responsibilities.
We would maintain, however, that the most important aspect of raising our children in the Catholic faith is to help them establish a personal relationship with the Lord.
Too often we reduce our parenting to setting up our kids for a ‘good life’. This primarily translates as having a decent mastery of the virtues and enough education to earn an living.
Some will also read them bible stories, attend Sunday Mass and create family celebrations on significant feasts like Easter and Christmas. But what we often overlook is the most fundamental aspect of transmitting faith to our children: a personal relationship with Jesus.
Knowing and loving Jesus – not just knowing about him – is the key to establishing life-long devotion. It’s also the key to true and enduring happiness.
Knowing and loving
We can’t give what we don’t have, so nurturing our own relationship with Jesus is a necessary precursor to effective evangelisation of our children. There are as many ways to do this as people on earth, but it helps to have a faith community to accompany us.
Our children will learn far more by our example than by our words, so seeing and experiencing our own lived faith is fundamental. We do that primarily in two inter-related ways.
One is by relating with tenderness and mercy, firstly to each other and then to our children. By this they see and experience ‘in the flesh’ God’s love. The other is by praying with them, which puts this ‘in flesh’ reality into words and expresses our desire to love and serve the Lord.
Merciful service, combined with personal and family prayer, is the foundation of ‘loving the Lord’. It’s also a powerful means of transmitting the faith to the next generation.
As good as our schools are in supporting parents raise their children in the faith, they can never replace this fundamental and powerful parental influence.