Despite my most valiant hopes, the unexecuted Saint Patrick’s Day activities and recipes lay dormant within the World Wide Web. For the fourth year in a row, I threw candy (and not even green candy) at my kids while they watched a cartoon depiction of this incredible story in celebration of Saint Patrick’s feast day.
I had hoped that this was the year I would utilize one, just one, of the abundant resources available to me through a multitude of channels to connect my children to the Universal Church and the awesome witness of the saints in a more compelling, exciting, memorable, or just plain effortful way.
I wanted them to see the value in Saint Patrick’s story through the time and attention given it by their mama, who—let’s face it—is at this point the most compelling witness they’ve got.
Witness of the Parents
How I wish I could abdicate this portion of parental responsibility and hand it off to St. Gianna Molla, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, or their kindergarten teacher.
And yet—though God-willing one day the stories of the saints, apologetics of Lewis and Chesterton, and theology of John Paul II and Aquinas will take center stage—the foundation of faith and roots of a relationship with Jesus Christ flow first by grace through the witness of the parents.
Is there a way to be a good Christian parent that is not so much darn work?
Yes! And no. Though social media activates the anxiety of many a well-meaning mama, the work necessary to teach our children about Jesus and plant the seeds of a fruitful, lasting faith bears uncanny resemblance to the work necessary to keep Christ front and center in our own hearts and lives, children or no children.
It is no bad thing, and in fact a very good thing, to live the liturgical year in the kitchen and in the craft room, but I am living proof (Lenten fish stick Fridays and Vacation Bible School crafts aside) that it is the faith of the father (and mother, but as the saying goes…) that will be mirrored in the child, however well or poorly packaged.
Enriching Our Children’s Faith
And perhaps other parents have no problem with crafts and King cakes yet agonize over personally elusive strengths born in other temperaments: charismatic worship, bold evangelization, biblical proficiency, or any host of other poignant expressions of the living faith.
And of course we want to enrich our children’s faith lives in diverse and plentiful ways. And of course we can and should stretch ourselves to do so. Yet we can share our faith with our children and instill in them a familiarity with God, proclivity for faith, and Christian worldview without venturing too far out of any given comfort zone.
We do this by putting our relationship with Jesus first, and bringing our children along for the ride. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). The “things” added unto us must include better parenting, for we are promised “all… things!” As we seek to know, love, and serve the Lord more and more, it will show, and our children will see it. The best gift we can give our kids is to seek sanctity. It is not the finest activities or educational opportunities that they need, it is parents deeply in love with God.
Vocalizing Our Faith
We do this by vocalizing the silent prayers we think throughout the day. However short, inarticulate, irreverent, or incomprehensible to a toddler’s ear. The witness of ongoing dialogue with God is a message in itself. A few months ago, I realized that my children were aware of most of my daily frustrations but unaware of the resulting conversations I had with Christ, so I starting saying many of my prayers out loud. For years we had been sharing mealtime and bedtime prayers, but how could they know that God was present and interested in every moment of their day, through every joy and sorrow, if I did not tell them? And how better to tell them than to show them?
We do this by displaying virtue in our actions and our relationships. The fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—apologies if the list is condescending, I had to look it up) speak for themselves. They not only evidence the Holy Spirit in family life, they bring the Holy Spirit—living and breathing—into the home and the hearts of all children living within it. In our household, patience and self-control could use a shot of adrenaline most days, but I firmly believe that the goodness and faithfulness my children witness as they watch their mother apologize to their father, their siblings, or themselves is awakening their hearts to “his mercies… new each morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23) and the prevailing power of joy and peace.
Pray, Hope, and Do Not Worry
It is incredibly easy to feel discouraged as a parent. The number of times I recognize what I did not do, or did not do well, to instill faith and exemplify virtue in any given day is depressing. Yet recognizing the same truth that applies to my personal salvation—that I cannot succeed apart from Divine intervention—is perhaps the most appropriate place from which to parent.
At the end of every day, God can fill what we miss, patch what we nick, and fix what we break. These kids are his, and he is more intimately invested in their good than we are. So I offer my parenting and my children to him, and in the meantime follow the encouraging advice of St. Padre Pio: pray, hope, and do not worry.