Returning to Faith and Family this Fall

This week, as we prepare for the beginning of a new school year, we renew our commitment to our Catholic faith and to one another, striving to better know, love and serve Our Lord in all that we do.

By: Ashley Sheridan Fox, Guest Contributor

Just yesterday it seemed we were getting out of school and entering into the relaxed routine of lazy, summer days. Beach vacations, pool parties, and late evenings spent outdoors were on our minds.

Then, we blinked. Television and radio commercials broadcast back-to-school deals and steals, and school supplies started to pile up around the house. Saying goodbye to summer is never easy, but it can be made more bearable by turning our attention to, and discovering the real meaning of, one of the many activities children will return to this fall: religious education.

So, what’s the point of religious education anyway? Isn’t it just another activity that requires registration and a textbook?

The Catholic Church has a long-standing tradition of education in America, dating back to the 1700s. That said, the Church believes in the importance of catechesis, encouraging its members to not simply love and serve God, but to truly know Him by learning about His Church. Beginning in September, parishes in the Diocese of Arlington will offer catechesis to all school-age children in the form of weekly classes.

However, these classes should not serve as the primary source of religious education for children. During his Wednesday Audiences, Pope Francis often speaks on the family referring to, “an essential characteristic of the family, the natural vocation to educate children so they may grow up to be responsible for themselves and for others,” while acknowledging, “it is hard to educate when parents only see their children in the evening, when they come home tired from work.”

That said, it must not be understated that parents must be the first educators of their children in the faith. Parish catechesis should be seen as supplementary, building upon the already strong foundation at home.

However, this can be a difficult undertaking for parents who feel that they were not given strong catechesis themselves. Parishes understand this and provide assistance to parents by providing opportunities of study and education under the umbrella of adult faith formation. Parents should view the faith education of their children not solely for the children, but rather as an opportunity to learn together as a family. As the saying goes: “If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward.”

If, and praise be to Jesus when, we get to heaven, we will never cease to learn about God in all His majesty. It will be a wonder and delight far greater than any happiness the world could provide: even the relaxation of late summer evenings and fall bonfire parties. The Church in Her wisdom offers us the opportunity to begin that heavenly journey now by learning more about the faith at an adult level, and then teaching it at the level of those God has given to our care: our children.

As parents, God first wants what is best for us – to be full and complete in His love, continuing our conversion and study of the faith – so that from our fullness, the joy, delight, and inexhaustible learning of the Catholic faith overflow to our children.

This fall, let us open ourselves to the love God pours out to us by participating in the adult faith formation activities at our parishes, and by taking on personal study of the Catholic faith in the home with the goal of teaching it to our children.

This year, make a plan to learn and grow alongside your children: Ask your parish religious education office for a copy of your children’s lesson plans, and study the week’s chapter with your child every week before class. Consider volunteering as one of the teachers in the religious education program. There is no greater way to learn something than to teach it to others, especially to your children.

Jesus says, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” We are all His children; while we go back to school this fall, let us also guide both our children and ourselves back to Him.

Ashley Sheridan Fox, M.A. serves as Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church and the Secretary of the Catechetical Leaders of the Diocese of Arlington.

Find Ashley on Twitter @ashleyspfox

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