SKEANS: Family-Based Faith Formation - How’s it going in your home?

January 12, 2021

After more than a year of COVID-19 unsettling our world and our daily lives, a moment of reflection compels us to pause and examine our faith, especially the lifelong faith formation of each of our family members. Similar to my twin nephews’ households, most families are juggling jobs for both parents, supervising public and Catholic school online learning for their children, and maintaining a new routine for their family unit.

The Church has always considered the family as the “domestic Church” (CCC#1666). “…Each family member… contributes toward making the family a community of grace and of prayer, a school of human and Christian virtue, and the place where the faith is first proclaimed to children.” (Compendium: CCC#350)

The catechetical departments of our Archdiocese — OEC and OACE — have spent hours “Zooming” with parish catechetical leaders to problem-solve constructive ways to continue their mission of supporting parishes to provide faith formation to families.

How might families enter the Lord’s vineyard and accept more responsibility for the faith journey of their children? Are they expected to replicate the use of the new curriculum and lesson plans correlated to published resources shared in recent years?

While the Catechetical Framework for Lifelong Faith Formation — promulgated by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo on Aug. 6, 2013 — remains our cornerstone resource for learning our faith, family faith sessions in the home cannot mirror on-site religious education.

Upon reflection after many of these “Zoom” conversations with parish catechetical leaders, I was reminded of the “one-room schoolhouse” concept described by my mother when sharing her first year of teaching in the 1930s in Dobskyville, Texas, just southwest of Victoria: one room, one teacher… with students of multiple ages, grade-levels and abilities. While I never asked about the details of which subjects or concepts this Houston native discussed with her rural learners, I am certain that she taught more than the three Rs.

So, how’s it going in your home today during this challenging year? While public school — and probably Catholic school — teachers have emailed you a myriad of online resources to use, lesson plans to follow and evaluations to provide your children for all subject areas, pause and reflect on a more global view of faith formation.

As parents/guardians, the Church asks you to strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ and then to share that bond, that partnership, that friendship with your children. In turn, they and all baptized Christians have the obligation and responsibility to go forth and share the Word with others in their lives. Discipleship is our end goal!

Being a disciple of Christ means making Christ our North Star, our inspiration and hope. Just as the North Star is a sky marker that guides many to a purposeful destination, Jesus directs us to His kingdom.

Our Archdiocesan curriculum contains four overarching questions that we refer to as “big ideas”:

1. Who is Jesus Christ?
2. How do we get to know and love Jesus Christ?
3. How does Jesus Christ teach us to live a moral life?
4. How are we called to become missionary disciples of Jesus Christ?

These questions become the organizing principles for our Archdiocese’s faith formation curriculum sequence from “womb to tomb.” Family faith formation sessions should focus on each question in this order, and parents — with the help of the Holy Spirit — should discern when their home-based conversations proceed to the next question.

Gathered as a family, pose the first question: Who is Jesus Christ? Your task as a disciple for your children is to facilitate an authentic discussion. Allow time for each family member to respond, pausing long enough to allow other family members to ask questions based on the answers shared.

Be sure that you also answer the question from your heart to your children. Being able to articulate our faith to our family is the first step in becoming disciples for others in the world. Use these “big idea” questions as springboards for deeper discussions. Each is purposefully broad so that family members of all ages can respond to them again and again throughout their lives; faith formation is lifelong.

The family unit, the “domestic Church,” strengthens as the sessions occur regularly, and the discussion continues. For example, “How do we get to know and love Jesus Christ?” might elicit individual responses, which in turn lead to more questions.

Responses could range from prayer and talking with God, reading Scripture, going to Mass, or helping people in need. Any of these responses automatically necessitate a follow-up question. Sharing answers to that follow-up question by each family member regardless of age becomes the focus for the remainder of this specific home-based faith session, as well as possibly the next session.

Like my mother’s teaching in a “one-room schoolhouse” in the country, sharing ideas with students of all ages, and learning new concepts together, your family-based faith sessions result in reaffirming and extending faith concepts and introducing new ones. No lesson plans nor textbooks are really needed; utilize those as resources to confirm answers to questions shared and to clarify misconceptions about our Catholic faith.

What a blessing it is for faith-filled parents to pass on the faith to their children by probing and enriching their relationship with Jesus and recognizing God’s purpose in our lives! †

Sharon Skeans, Ph.D., is a catechetical curriculum consultant for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald.)