A predicament I often discover with how parents raise their child is the question about the child’s overall development. I argue most parents want to be sure their child is appropriately cared for and that their overall physical, physiological, mental and academic development is on par. However, a parent’s consumption of the physical, emotional, and educational development of their child at times may dwarf the concern for the child’s religious development.
St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians describes his relationship with Christ as a journey toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God is Jesus Christ. What St. Paul conveys is that the centrality of why we exist and live is Christ. The goal is complete union and intimacy with Christ that prepares us for Heaven. He completes his discourse by reminding everyone that our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.
If what St. Paul says is true, then what should a child know and understand about his Catholic faith? Where does his religious development begin? St. Augustine provides us with an initial answer to these questions where he explains that the premise of religious instruction is to know and understand that Christ came to teach us about His Father’s love for His children. If this premise is true, then the entire Paschal Mystery i.e. the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ would serve as a central basis for both learning and teaching the Catholic faith.
Where Do I Start?
A first teaching principle any child should receive about the Catholic faith is that he is part of the family of God by way of baptism. A child’s first experience of God’s family reflects his own family and how each member strives to live an active relationship with Christ and His Church. It makes sense to offer a genuine motive or reason of credibility to believe in Christ. This is where an active Christian life rooted in the weekly reception of the sacraments (Holy Eucharist) and a devotion to some form of Christian prayer e.g. Our Father, Adoration, Litany to the Saints, Rosary, reading Sacred Scripture etc. provides a wealth of spiritual opportunities for a child to grow and mature in his Catholic faith.
A practical example of establishing a genuine Christian community within the home may consist of praying with and over our children every day. Examples such as making a simple sign of the Cross on your child’s forehead and asking Christ to bless your child, reciting a blessing before every meal, recitation of Sacred Scripture every evening, creation of a sacred space where everyone can gather as a family to pray and offer intercession for one another. Another practical approach is adopting a patron saint that represents the family and invoking the intercession of the saint within your home. These elements serve as entrance ways toward living an active sacramental life rooted in Christ.
It is important that the end goal of a child’s religious formation is for him to eventually see God in Heaven face to face i.e. the Beatific Vision. This requires a two-fold approach of proclaiming the kerygma i.e. the Word of God and then explaining the Creed i.e. Catholic doctrine rooted in the Word of God. Central toward this preparation is active participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and reception of the Holy Eucharist every Lord’s Day (Sunday). It is not enough to simply proclaim the Word of God and evangelize a child toward a relationship Christ without a proper creedal-doctrinal instruction in the Catholic faith that not only maintains the faith but strengthens it throughout the child’s life.
What Should my child know?
The premise of any religious formation and instructional process for a child is to know that he is loved by God and is part of His family. This central tenet is based on the act of the will from parents and guardians who seek to care for the soul of the child along with his physical nourishment. Any child should have the opportunity to explore God and be open to His grace. The home I argue reflects what St. John Paul II called the “church of the home.” This means that a child intimately experiences his faith at home by witness of a parent’s Trinitarian love.
Here is a list of basic Catholic doctrines with their associated article references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church* that a child at a bare minimum would benefit from in learning about the Catholic faith:
- The Blessed Trinity and identifying who is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, the person one Divine Nature, CCC 26, 50, 199, 232-237; (Baptism-CCC 1214-1216; 1223-1233)
- Creation, CCC 290, 295-301, Angels, CCC 328-349 and those who rebelled, CCC 391-395
- Creation of Man, CCC 355-379
- Temptation, the fall-original sin, Satan our enemy, CCC 385-390, 396-412; (Reconciliation, CCC 1422-1432, 1441)
- Salvation; God’s promise to save mankind; The Paschal Mystery, CCC 571, 577-667 (Sacraments of Initiation Baptism, CCC 1214-1216, Confirmation, 1285, 1289, 1297, Holy Eucharist, CCC 1136-1166).
- God’s Revelation, CCC 50-67
- Mary-perfect model of holiness and obedience, CCC 484--501
- Incarnation, CCC 456-461, 470; (The Mass and the Holy Eucharist)-CCC 1136-1166; 1324
- Redemption, CCC 516-521; 599-618; 1042-1048
- The Church as the Family of God, CCC 758-774; 781-782
- Jesus will come again, CCC 668-679; CCC 988-991; 1042-1048
- The Four Last Things (Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell), CCC 1020-1041
I conclude with the following reminder from St. Augustine:
How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears, distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face-tears that did me good
Confessions, 9, 6, 14; CCC 1157
 Phil 3:14
 Ibid, 3:20-21