I wear a lot of different hats when it comes to the daily or weekly grind, but none of those roles is more fulfilling than being a father to my three sons. At the same time, there is probably no other role that is more difficult because of the great responsibility put on the shoulders of the person these three young boys call “Dad”. I’m sure virtually any father reading this can agree.
Our love for God and for our spouse move us to do well for our children, so that they may be able to enter into this ever changing world with a good head on their shoulders, as well as with a heart that desires union with our Lord Jesus.
The thing that all parents, especially fathers, have to keep in mind is that their children are not merely their own: they are God’s children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us as much in its section on “the duties of parents”:
“Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law” (CCC 2222).
While mothers and fathers both must contribute to the upbringing of their children, each parent offers something different that the other cannot. So what can fathers specifically do in order to sanctify their families? The main thing they can do is practice their faith in front of their kids. As one priest I know puts it, we can no longer be “secret agent Catholics”, especially in front of our kids. We need to be bold in practicing our faith, especially if we profess that we love our kids so much. Let’s take a look below at seven reasons why fathers absolutely should practice their faith in front of their children.
1. It will evangelize them.
In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelli nuntiandi, Pope St. Paul VI said:
“The presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved.”
As the laity also make up the Church, we as fathers are not exempt from this appeal given by the saintly pontiff. If we are called to witness to the faith to our peers, how much more so to our own children?
We need to make it a point to inject into conversations throughout the day things that pertain to the Catholic Faith. How can Jesus help us in this situation right now? What are we thankful for today? Have we prayed together today? These are all questions we should be asking ourselves and our children.
If we are not giving testimony to the love we have for Jesus to our children, then the testimony of their peers to the ways of the world will be what attract our children instead. The Catechism tells us that we have “receive[d] the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing [our] children” (CCC 2225). Let’s not squander that by living the Faith quietly. Be courageous so as to evangelize your children!
2. The Word of God tells us to do so.
Scripture is very clear: one of a father’s most important tasks in life is to ensure the religious upbringing of their child. If we won’t take the Magisterium or Sacred Tradition’s word for this duty we have, then let us at least accept what the Word of God instructs us to do.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, we see how important it is for fathers to pass on the Faith in a visible way. Teaching the commands of our Lord to them should be second nature to us:
“Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 11:19).
Getting back to “secret agent Catholics”, we cannot allow our children to only see us practicing the faith for one hour at Mass each week. The Faith needs to resonate with us all week long. Even though the Scripture passage above was delivered thousands of years ago, it’s still very salient today. Our faith needs to be like the air we breathe, permeating everything we do. Children will catch on to that and make such a lifestyle into their own, hopefully.
3. It will show them that not only women are religious.
I remember finding myself in a Catholic bookstore at one point a few years back, and found a book on the Rosary. It was aimed specifically at men, with the same point being hammered in throughout:
“The Rosary is not the ‘feminine’ prayer that you might think is.”
I remember being very confused, because I never saw the Rosary as something that only old ladies in the back of church did. But after talking with more of my Catholic peers following my reading of this, I found out that this was indeed the understanding that many Catholic men had.
It was then that I realized what had made the difference for me. My own father. And his father, who, praise God, is still living today. They would often pray the Rosary, and to such an extent that it seemed normal to me. My dad, a pipefitter, would often work long hours as I was growing up, but I would still see him sitting on the couch by the lamp each night with his prayer book in his hand as he said his novena or chaplet.
It was this practice of the Faith, front and center, which helped me to see this as the way a man of God lives. My mother, who is also devout, prayed often as well. But that didn’t have the same effect on me as seeing my dad do it. Studies have shown that children tend to continue practicing their religion if the father is devout and fervent in his faith. If you are lukewarm in your faith as a father, how can you expect your child to do any better? It’s great for mom to practice her faith, but the proof is in the pudding: if dad is bearing witness to love of our Lord Jesus, it will have a better chance of “rubbing off” on your children as well.
4. They will learn how to pray effectively.
This dovetails nicely with the previous points above, as prayer should be something instilled in children from a young age. As a catechist, I have sadly encountered (as have my fellow catechists across the country) children as old as junior high age not know basic prayers such as the Our Father and Hail Mary. How sad is it that their parents have not given the great gift of prayer to their children, either through private prayer or communal prayer at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Let’s look to the Eastern lung of the Church for a moment. The Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Christ Our Pascha, has this wisdom to impart:
“The family as a blessed community grows in the spouses’ personal communication with God and between themselves, that is, in prayer. Having arranged a place in their home for prayer (the icon corner), the family also sets aside time for prayer. According to Christian tradition, the family prays in the morning and in the evening, before a meal and after it… During family prayer, the children learn as they pray with their parents: they listen to the daily prayers and progressively absorb them. As they grow in common prayer, members of the family overcome the temptation to mutual estrangement and egoism. Family prayer prevents domestic quarrels and divorces; it reduces generational conflicts and teaches reconciliation and forgiveness” (CUCC 659).
It truly is amazing what prayer can do. How often do we utilize such a powerful tool in our daily lives? If we do not pray with our children at least at the end of the day and at dinner time, we should certainly reevaluate how we can find the time and make a better effort to do so.
5. They will see that Dad loves God.
If you’re a dad then you know one thing is very true, and that’s that your young child will basically copy everything that you do. From the words that you say, to your manner of speech, to even your bodily mannerisms and how you react to certain situations. Suffice it so say, kids like to emulate their dads. We’ll often hear that boys will learn how to respect women by seeing how their father treats the son’s mother. The same can be said for how the father treats our loving God.
If dad dismisses things like confession, grumbles when he goes to Mass with mom and the children, and doesn’t encourage the child to foster a relationship with God our Father in heaven, then the child will most likely follow suit.
Going back to my own father, he would tell me when I got scared as a young child at night that God gave me a guardian angel to protect me. He even put a statue of a guardian angel that he had as a boy on my nightstand, to help quell my fears of that particular moment.
When I had a big test to prepare for, he’d tell me to write “JMJ” at the top of my paper, trusting that the Holy Family would guide me.
Most importantly, he’d take me to Eucharistic Adoration every Tuesday at our local parish for the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
When he bowed his head as the priest gave us benediction, I could tell that my dad deeply loved Jesus. He also acted kindly to virtually every stranger we met, seeing Christ in each person, always giving the benefit of the doubt. What do we do today that tangibly shows how much we love Jesus? What will our children emulate from our behaviors?
6. You promised you would pass on the Faith at their baptism and your wedding.
When your child was baptized, you as a father were asked this question by the priest or deacon administering the sacrament:
“You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”
If you and the child’s mother answered “we do”, then you made a solemn promise before God. As I mentioned above, the privilege of being a parent is also a great responsibility. But we can go back even further in time. If you and the child’s mother were married in the Catholic Church, then you may remember that you answered in the affirmative to the question below, before God and the Church:
“Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”
We’ve seen above that the law of Christ and his Church is to evangelize. That includes our children. These promises made during each of these sacraments should not be taken lightly. Witnessing to the faith each and every day will help you keep the promise that you made on each of these occasions.
7. You are the head of your domestic church.
In closing, we must remember that as fathers we lead the Church within our homes, that is, the domestic church. Just like the priest at your local parish is the head and pastor of the community there, so too are you the head of your little community of your wife and children. If your pastor is expected to live the Faith heroically, as an example to those he has charge of, then you must do the same in your home. Christ Our Pascha lays this out beautifully:
“The family is a community of love, which Saint Paul often calls the domestic church (see Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15). In this community, the husband and wife, the parents and children, liturgize: they render worship to God by serving one another …
“The domestic church is a miniature community, united by blood and spiritual bonds … The family as a domestic church is the primary cell of the Christian community, because it possesses the three principal ministries of the Universal Church: sharing the Good News, praying, and witnessing with one’s life. This means that the parents are the first evangelizers and educators of their children. The family is a community of prayer, conversing with God in everyday life, and as it builds new relationships grounded in evangelical love, the family is called to become a school of social solidarity” (CUCC 654. 656).
What better way to serve our children than by bringing them into closer union with God. We as fathers must always strive to better ourselves, and to put others before ourselves. That especially includes our children.
If there have been times when our efforts have been less than adequate, let’s use this opportunity now to resolve to do better. If we’ve already been doing some of these things, what else can we incorporate? None of us are perfect. (I know I am still struggling to be the best witness for my children.) Nonetheless, we have to at least try our best so as to reach that ultimate goal, which is heaven. God has given us a great gift in our children. We should work diligently to ensure that this gift is returned safely to God one day as well.
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About Nicholas LaBanca
Nicholas is a cradle Catholic and hopes to give a unique perspective on life in the Church as a millennial. His favorite saints include his patron St. Nicholas, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Mary Vianney, and St. Athanasius of Alexandria.