As I walk around Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Strasburg, I often ponder a stained glass window that portrays Mary as a child with her mother, Anne. The young Mary is standing by her mother’s side with hands folded in prayer, looking up at her mother. Her mother, in turn, is pointing toward heaven. The suggestion is that Anne is teaching her daughter to pray. Imagine if she’d never learned to pray. Imagine Mary never developed a deep relationship with the Lord which allowed her to say, without hesitation, “May it be done to me according to your word,” when Gabriel told her she was to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:38). History would be very different.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The Son of God who became Son of the Virgin also learned to pray according to his human heart. He learns the formulas of prayer from his mother, who kept in her heart and meditated upon all the ‘great things’ done by the Almighty. He learns to pray in the words and rhythms of the prayer of his people, in the synagogue at Nazareth and the Temple at Jerusalem” (CCC 2599).
I also recently came across an image of the Holy Family. In this particular image Joseph is hard at work, sliding a block plane across a piece of timber that’s resting atop sawhorses. A young Jesus is there, watching intently and holding a hammer. Years later he would be recognized by others as “the carpenter” from Nazareth (Mark 6:3). It is from Joseph, then, that Jesus learned a trade and perhaps the virtue of hard work. It was under Joseph’s leadership, along with Mary, that Jesus was brought to the Temple where he learned to worship in the Jewish community.
We can see in the lives of Sts. Anne and Joachim, Sts. Mary and Joseph, and in the life of Jesus himself, the role family has in forming good, virtuous, and holy persons. We can see that one set of holy parents learning the faith, living it, and passing it on can have repercussions that will last for generations.
All of this entered my mind as I thought about the beginning of a new year of religious education in our churches. I’m sure all of our churches have “Sunday School,” “CCD,” or some form of classes for the young people in our congregations. These are good and essential programs. That said, I know from experience a student can be forced to go by their parents, year after year, and gain almost no benefit at all. When Sunday worship isn’t important to parents, when prayer doesn’t happen in the home, and when God is never mentioned in conversations at home, why would a child care what a pastor or teacher has to say in a classroom?
Again, the Catechism reminds us of the importance of faith in the family: “Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children…. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life. Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years…. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God” (CCC 2226).
Pope Francis noted with sadness in a recent Wednesday Audience that “there are children who have not learned to make the Sign of the Cross! But you, mother, father, teach your children to pray, to make the Sign of the Cross: this is a lovely task of mothers and fathers!”
Parents, I beg you to continue to learn, develop, and practice your Christian faith! Your pastor is here to help not just your kids, but you also, to learn the faith so you may bring it home. Your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren will be eternally grateful.
So as we now begin this year of religious education for our youth, let’s follow the example of the great saints, and of our Lord Jesus, in sharing the faith first of all at home! Amen.