As a trained catechist, and Catholic apologist, I’m frequently asked by Catholic parents how to keep their kids Catholic. Let me begin by saying you have to do it yourself!
You can’t trust Catholic schools or parish catechism programs to do it for you. We have 50 years of failed history as an example. If we trust the religious education of our children to anyone, besides ourselves, we’ve lost them already.
So here is a step-by-step program for keeping your kids Catholic. Follow this, and the odds of your children staying Catholic will go up exponentially. Keep in mind that nothing is foolproof. There are no guarantees in life. Catholic parents can do everything right and still lose their kids to Protestantism, Agnosticism, Atheism, Paganism or Materialism. But if you can increase their odds of staying Catholic exponentially, wouldn’t you do it? Here’s the process…
Kids can smell hypocrites. If you’re not living the faith yourself, they will grow up to be just like you — backslidden and spiritually lazy. If you want your kids to grow up to be good Catholics, you have to be good Catholics too. If you’re not one yet, it’s time to start. You can start today.
Find a good and traditional Catholic parish. Seriously, if you’re going to a watered-down, Protestantized parish, where the focus is “don’t judge and be nice” then it’s game over before you even start. Your kids will hate this stuff, especially when they’re teenagers. Today’s youth crave a challenge. They’re more sophisticated than their elders. They want Catholic Tradition! Not watered-down fluff. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a Latin Mass, but it should be along that line (read more here). See below for suggestions on where to find a Latin mass and similar types of traditional Catholic liturgy. Find a traditional Catholic parish, of some type, and go there. Basically, you have four options. Sorry, but this is the state of affairs in the Catholic Church today. You want the truth, I’ll give you the truth, but it might be a little harsh. Here it is. You need to pick one of the following…
Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) — find one here
Divine Worship Mass (DWM) — find one here
Eastern Divine Liturgy (EDL) — find one here
Traditional Contemporary Mass — good luck! (I know they exist but they’re tough to find.)
Get the Baltimore Catechism and start teaching your kids from it. Get your parent/teacher copy HERE, and your children’s copies here: ages 3 to 7, ages 8-12, ages 13-17. You don’t need any training. Simply read the lesson number in the parent/teacher version the night before, then work with your children on the same lesson number the next day. Note: the ages 3-7 version won’t match the lesson numbers of any other version. It’s just a brief overview of the faith. Read it together with your kids. You should read an age-appropriate Catechism every year with your children. Once is not enough. Repetition is the key to success.
Read the Bible with your children every night. Make sure you cover the Old Testament while they are children, then you can zero-in on the New Testament when they’re teenagers. For children (12 and under) I recommend either the The Action Bible or The Complete Illustrated Children’s Bible. Use this Action Bible or Illustrated Bible to read through the Old Testament while they’re young, then the New Testament during ages 11-12. For teenagers (ages 13 and up), I recommend the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (large print), or the Revised Standard Version — Catholic Edition (regular), or the Revised Standard Version — Catholic Edition (compact). I ONLY recommend the Revised Standard Version — Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) for teens and adults because it’s the best quality English version on the market. It uses intelligent modern English, and is based on the time-honored King James Version. No other English version compares to its dignity, faithfulness to the original Greek/Hebrew text, and readability. It is also approved for personal use by English-speaking Catholic bishops around the world. You should make it a habit to read no less than one chapter from the Bible every night. The Baltimore Catechism strongly recommends regular reading of the Bible, and even promises indulgences from the Church for doing so. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
Get a good Catholic prayer book for your family and use it! Learn the prayers therein, and use it frequently, so your children become familiar with them. The St. Gregory’s Prayer Book is the new standard for English-speaking Catholics, especially if they attend the Divine Worship Mass (DWM). If, however, you go to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), you’ll need the prayer book called Blessed Be God or better yet, the Complete Roman Missal with prayers included.
Focus on the Eucharist. Ours is a Eucharistic faith. That is the source and summit of the Catholic Faith. The transubstantiation is the core of Catholic teaching, and it is what separates Catholicism from all the Protestant denominations. If your kids don’t understand the Eucharist, you’re going to lose them. They must understand that the Eucharist really is the literal body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. That it’s not symbolic but literal, and that only a properly ordained Catholic priest can confect the real Eucharist. Drill this one into their little skulls. It’s essential.
Pray the Rosary. Reliance on Mary is essential for battling the evil around us. Set up, minimally, one full rosary night a week, but make sure you’re praying at least one decade with with kids every night. Make it part of your regular devotions. Here’s a short how-to guide to the rosary. Understand that the younger the kids, the shorter their attention span. Limit prayers to one decade of the rosary while they’re young. Teenagers are more capable of handling the full five-decades per day.
Prepare them for the onslaught. Read the apologetics section of my blog for answers to tough questions, and email me with some ideas for more blog posts that might be helpful to your families. Specifically, I’m looking for apologetic questions about the faith, that I haven’t written about yet. Then talk to your kids regularly about the things you read here, so they can be prepared for the onslaught of challenge and doubt the world will undoubtedly throw at them as teens and young adults.