Parents were quite dismayed and perturbed that they would now be required to serve as the primary religious educator of their children. As too often the case, the parents’ mindset was to have their children run though the parish religious education process until they had received all their sacraments. What grieved these parents even more about this process was that the entire religious schema had changed; parents were now asked to naturally serve as the primary religious educators of their children and lead formal catechetical instruction at home and at the parish every other week. Part of this new family religion model would also entail a monthly communal gathering of all families and their children for the celebration of the sacraments of confession, the holy sacrifice of the mass, communal meal, family lesson, and conclude with Eucharistic adoration.
As I began the first series of catechetical lessons that focused on the delivery of the kerygma within the home, many parents expressed an unwillingness to participate in the first lesson mostly due to a transparent fear of having to teach their own child something they themselves might not know about the Catholic faith. Noticing the immediate tension in the room I made the following statement:
Do not forget, by nature of your God given gift as a parent you serve as your children’s very first spiritual director. What you do, how you pray, your behavior toward one another, and most importantly toward Jesus Christ is what your child will see, observe, and apply in his relationship with Jesus Christ. The moment these parents heard my message, all were silent and sat stunned at the thought. This was a role that most had never considered.
Parent as Spiritual Director
I would argue that most parents hope that their children display a desire for Christian holiness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:
Desire for true happiness frees man from his immoderate attachment to the goods of this world so that he can find his fulfillment in the vision and beatitude of God. “The promise [of seeing God] surpasses all beatitude. . . In Scripture, to see is to possess. . . Whoever sees God has obtained all the goods of which he can conceive.
Through their role as Spiritual Directors parents are engaged if they so choose in a battle to protect the soul of their child from falling into the depths of sinful behavior. As custodians of our children’s spiritual development, we are naturally placed in the position to provide counsel, spiritual guidance, and the practice of how to discern God’s will in our children’s own lives.
Whether you implement the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Introduction to the Devout Life from St. Francis De Sales, the Imitation of Christ from Thomas A Kempis, or a time for family prayer and conversation about Jesus Christ, these elements of faith are essential is assisting your child discern his relationship with Jesus Christ.
We are reminded that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness: Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.
The Wisdom of Spiritual Direction
The book of Wisdom provides us with a sound spiritual blueprint of how to exercise our role as the primary spiritual director for our children:
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; the stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you; understanding will guard you; delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil; men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways. You will be saved from the loose woman, from the adventuress with her smooth words, who forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God; for her house sinks down to death, and her paths to the shades; none who go to her come back nor do they regain the paths of life. So, you will walk in the way of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will inhabit the land, and men of integrity will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.