Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. ~ Exodus 20:12 NIT

Lisa MladinichIt's been a hectic season. We're all a little burnt out and in need of refreshment. So it may seem unkind to give you a task to perform, but it's very important. Let's take some time to prayerfully write brief, but sincerely loving thank-you notes to the parents of all our students.

Here's what I'm thinking. I teach workshops for catechists, and I've had a number of conversations with DREs and catechists that indicate that they feel a real and understandable frustration with some of the parents they meet. They don't take their children to Mass . . . they don't know their own prayers . . . they skip religious ed whenever it conflicts with (fill-in-the-blank)! Some of them are so blasé about religion that, if catechists and DREs were not so dedicated, they'd be tempted to ask, "Why do you bother?"

It's a huge problem, but I have great sympathy for those parents, having once been like them. After Vatican II, a lot of well-meaning experimentation resulted in religious education being dumbed-down and sugar-coated for the masses. The anti-authority movement of the ‘60s and the "me" and "money" generations of the ‘70s and ‘80s gutted our culture's connection with the teaching authority of the Church. Many went their own way and generations of Catholics were lost.

As a result, the parents of many of our students have been robbed of their religion. They don't have a fire for the Faith, don't understand why they feel like they're on the outside looking in, and don't have a clue what they're missing. They are the spiritually poor among us and they need our help.

Some parishes are addressing the problem through whole-parish catechesis and other innovative models designed to educate parents along with children. But most of us are handed a child-centered curriculum and asked to fight what seems an uphill battle. So what do we do?

First of all, we stop criticizing and start honoring. Parents, on the whole, no matter how poorly catechized, love their children and work very hard, making sacrifices to give them everything they think is important for a good life. They're awfully good to us catechists, too. In spite of a bad economy, they buy everything on our supply lists, and bring us gifts at Christmas and at the end of the school year. They're doing the best they can with what they've got and it's not appropriate for us to judge where they are on their spiritual journey.

Second, since many children and their parents are "un-churched," recognize that you as the catechist are the face of the Church to them. Everything you do to either welcome or distance yourself from them affects their impression of what the Church is, what it stands for, and whether or not they are welcome to join in as members of the family of God.

A big problem? Yeah, you bet. But we don't shy away from those. We've got all of heaven on our side! When we trust in the power of God, graces flood in. So try some of these methods for reaching out and leave the rest to Our Lord. He will be faithful to water the seeds you plant.

  1. Greet them warmly every time you see them.
  2. Pray for them and their families, making small sacrifices for their intentions.
  3. Ask for their help and advice where needed, to better serve their children.
  4. Praise their children when appropriate.
  5. Send home weekly notes that keep them up-to-date on what their children are learning, fostering lively discussions at home. Include (at various times): excerpts from the catechism to help them understand the concepts they may never have been taught themselves; the texts of any prayers the children are learning; reminders of approaching holy days of obligation; fun ways to celebrate Catholic culture in their homes; lists of great websites, children's Bibles, books of saints' lives, or other resources that might enrich their life of faith; your personal testimony of faith in small, appropriate doses. Encourage feedback by providing your contact information and do clear all communications with your program director.
  6. Get their email addresses at the beginning of the school year, so you can send them a copy of your weekly summary when they are unable to attend. Hint: they can easily hit "reply" and let you know what is going on at home. If the child is ill, the class can pray for that child and you can let the parents know this. If the family has experienced a tragedy, you can offer prayers or other support as appropriate. In fact, if you can possibly manage it, attend wakes or funerals. Seeing your face in the crowd can mean a great deal to the family.
  7. Send home thank-you notes for gifts and other kinds of help or involvement.

By honoring parents in small ways throughout the year, your caring outreach may provide a bridge back to the sacraments for those who have fallen away, and might just fan into flame a spark of faith that will draw the whole family into the heart of Christ.

God bless you!