Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, February 24, 2018

cram_halfIt is, arguably, the most common question that Catholic parents ask one another: How do you get your kids to go to church?

It’s the wrong question.

We should be asking, "How can I get my kids to fall in love with Jesus?"

The former is just a body in the pew. The latter is a relationship that lasts into eternity.

Let’s say your child or grandchild or niece or nephew has a serious heart defect which, if untreated, will be fatal. Would you periodically bring your kid to the hospital waiting room, sit for an hour, then return home? Or would you want the child to have a personal encounter with a surgeon or cardiologist who will give him or her life?

The answer is obvious: it does no good to be in attendance if one is not also healed.

It’s the same with faith.

My family became Catholic in the late 1990s when the kids were in elementary and middle school. Until that time, we’d been active in born-again churches, and not once during those years did I hear a parent ask how to get kids to church. Going to church was non-negotiable, like brushing their teeth. Rather, we exchanged ideas about introducing our children to a relationship with Jesus – a relationship that would excite the child and make him or her want to be at church.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a theological genius to lead a child into a lifelong relationship with God. In our family, we began with a terrific children’s Bible story book called The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories. As the child learned to read, we moved to My First Study Bible, by Paul Loth. The stories are fun, and colorful, and can be digested in small pieces. They make great bedtime reading.

Smart parents make use of car rides to play Christian children’s music or Christian story tapes, or to pray a rosary. My favorite product for small children is the "Psalty the Singing Songbook" series, which is stories set to music. They’re simple and fun for 2- to 8-year-old children without driving the parents crazy. Later, we invested in "Adventures in Odyssey" story CD’s, produced by Focus on the Family. The stories are aimed at 8- to 14-year-olds, and they’re outstanding. Many car trips passed in luxurious peace as we listened to "Adventures in Odyssey."

Some families pray a family rosary after dinner, or gather with other Catholic families on Friday or Sunday nights. Such activities introduce the kids to other children of faith, and foster a devotion to the Blessed Mother.

I recommend the Richard and Renee Durfield book Raising Them Chaste: A Practical Strategy for Helping Your Teen Wait Till Marriage. Young people are bombarded with images and suggestions of unchaste lifestyles, so it takes enormous effort to combat such input. For when a child reaches about age 14, I strongly recommend the Jason and Crystalina Evert DVD "Romance Without Regret." The speakers present chastity in an appealing and, at times, hilarious light. I’ve shown it to hundreds of teenagers and it has made a profound impact on many of them. Some parishes have the DVD available in the CCD office.

A good Catholic youth group is essential once a child reaches middle school. You may have to search beyond your own town, but honestly, is there anything more important than nurturing a deep relationship with God? I can scarcely imagine my own life if I hadn’t had such a fantastic high school youth group. Just be sure to seek a group that does more than fund-raisers and bowling trips. And don’t forget Steubenville East summer youth conferences. These weekends have changed thousands of lives.

Most important is to pray without ceasing for any child or teen within your sphere of influence. You might be surprised at how many adult Catholics are living the faith today because their grandparents prayed for them and took them to church.

Having said all this, I grant that some kids will still reject the faith. And so, once again, we pray without ceasing, remembering how greatly God rejoices when a lost sheep returns to the fold.

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6)

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.