By Prof. Michael Ogunu
International President of the
World Apostolate of Fatima
Meaning and Purpose of Family Catechesis
Family Catechesis is the education of children in the faith by parents, which begins from a tender age. This faith formation also extends even to the adults in a Christian family, whereby members of a Christian family help each other to grow in faith through witnessing to the Christian values within the family. Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that Family Catechesis precedes, accompanies and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith (CCC #2226). In family catechesis, all family members, adults as well as children, work, learn and grow together in the Catholic faith. This does help in conscience formation. Therefore, catechesis constitutes one of the elements of such formation, and it is essential to the work of the new evangelization. When we talk of family catechesis, we can distinguish three meanings.
It is the religious education made by parents in the family. This is an occasional catechesis par excellence, and precedes every other form of catechesis.
It is the evangelization or the religious education made to the family, in practice to parents, e.g. the preparation of parents for the sacraments of their children, and the spiritual family movements.
It is the evangelization aimed at parents to make them grow in the faith and to make them catechists of their children. This meaning has a double aim which is first directed to the parents themselves, and then to the children.
The implication of the family catechesis as expressed by Pope Paul VI is that, the Christian family builds up the Church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of rebirth of baptism and education in the faith, the child is also introduced into the family, the Church.
In order to establish a healthy future family, the building of family catechesis is necessary because so many families are staying apart, which endangers the upbringing of children of broken families. The life of a Christian family is essentially apostolic. By sanctifying themselves, couples are in word and example the first preachers and teachers of the faith to their children. This pastoral priority is understood from a double point of view. From the chronological point of view, it is in the family that the education of the children in the faith begins where they are taught to make sign of the cross, taught first Christian behaviour and values. From the basic point; it is the parents and guardians who have the most essential responsibility to educate their children in the most basic ways.
As stated in the ACTS of the Fifth Plenary Assembly of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar, 24-30 (July 1978), page 122, the aims of family catechesis are basically:
To equip parents and guardians to give religious education in their family by leading them more deeply into current thought and life of the local community of faith alongside with the positive traditional values.
To deepen the married couples spiritual life.
To make the family understand that it is a domestic church.
To make the modern family realize and understand its missionary vocation to itself and other families within and without the Small Christian Communities (zones).
To present the Christian vision of family and marriage in the context of African tradition and modern society.
To offer special attention also to single parent families.
To encourage prayer and the reading of the Bible in the family.
To help integrate African values into Christian marriage and Small Christian Communities (zones).
The responsibility of the family regarding initiation into Catholic culture cannot be overemphasised. First of all, it springs from the status of the Catholic family as it is defined in the goals of marriage. Referring to Canon 1035, para. 1, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines marriage as:
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC, 1601).
The welfare of spouses is no doubt emphasised. There is, however, an equal emphasis on the procreation and education of children. This is an obligation that Catholic parents cannot jettison. This is worth pondering about, especially in our generation where the education of children is given over to complete strangers (nannies and school teachers) with little involvement from the parents. This is especially the case with religious education. In the words of Pope John Paul II:
In matrimony and in the family a complex of interpersonal relationships is set up, married life, fatherhood and motherhood, filiation and fraternity – through which each human person is introduced into the “human family” and into the “family of God”, which is the Church. Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the Church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God’s family, which is the Church.
The New Evangelisation
Christ came to bring hope, peace, and salvation to the world. As baptized Catholics, we are all called to share Christ in our families and daily life. The New Evangelization is realized through announcing the Good News to those who have never heard of Christ (called missio ad gentes, the mission to the nations), engaging in ongoing catechesis, and “re-proposing” the Gospel to those who, although baptized, have drifted away from the Church.
By deepening our relationship with Christ and experiencing his love, we renew our faith as disciples in a community of believers, grow in confidence in the truth of the Gospel, and then share our faith in Jesus Christ joyfully with others. The New Evangelization invites all Catholics to see the world as an opportunity to bring people to Christ and to grow closer to Christ themselves.
The New Evangelization is focused on three areas or dimensions of sharing and living the Gospel. One area applies to the ordinary pastoral ministries within parish life. Another dimension is directed towards evangelizing and proclaiming Christ’s message of salvation to those who do not know of Jesus. The last concerns itself with baptized Christians who have fallen away or become distant from the Church. (Strategies for the New Evangelization: Connecting With Families, Published September 20, 2014 by Steve Botsford).
Why Family Catechesis is an Imperative to the New Evangelisation
The first and most important reason why Family Catechesis is an Imperative for the New Evangelisation is because the family is the place where the Gospel is first lived and transmitted and from which it radiates out to the world as stated by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio. Parents, “by word and example, are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children” (Lumen Gentium, no. 11). Also called the “domestic church,” the family is a small version of the Church. The family receives its life from the Church and in turn mirrors the life of the larger Church. In the family, children first learn about God, love, and the Church. Mothers and fathers are indispensable in sharing the faith with their children. When parents practice and live their Catholic faith, children receive a sure foundation to assist them in difficult life choices. As parents and families learn and live their faith, they grow in confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his Church and are nourished by the sacraments and desire to share. The family has an invaluable role in passing on the faith in a joyful and bold manner. Children will learn that they are members of the Body of Christ and have a valuable role in the Church.
As they mature, reading from Scripture and the lives of the saints can touch their hearts and imaginations. Parents teach children to live the virtues (Gal 5:22-23) and love the Lord with their whole hearts (Mt 22: 27). When children see their parents committed to the Lord and his Church, they are much more likely to do so themselves. Families are uniquely qualified to invite their family members, friends, and neighbors to return to the Church or to consider becoming Catholic.
Catechesis in the family is imperative to the New Evangelisation because the family is the place where the Gospel is first lived and transmitted and from which it radiates out to the world as stated by Pope John Paul II in his great document, Familiaris Consortio. Family Catechesis is also imperative to the New Evangelisation because the success or effectiveness of the New Evangelisation is dependent on the extent of the fulfillment of the mission of the family which includes the following as outlined by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio:
to form a community of persons and live that communion with fidelity
to reflect God’s love for humanity and Christ’s love for His bride the Church
to serve life by procreation (‘transmitting the divine image from person to person’) and caring for ‘the little ones’
to share goods, lives, joys and sorrows
to educate each other, understand, forbear, pardon, reconcile
to practice hospitality, especially to the needy
to be dedicated to the good of society and a sign of unity and peace to our world
to share in the life and mission of the Church, witness to the truth and evangelise the world.
We must pass on this Gospel through a New Evangelisation driven by a sense of mission, since “missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church”. “I dream”, says Pope Francis, “of a missionary option, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures, can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than her self-preservation”.
In other words, we’re called to be what the Holy Father dubs “missionary disciples” within our families and with them to the world beyond. Fully consistent with the Second Vatican Council’s reminder to us of our priestly, royal and prophetic dignity as baptised Christians, the Pope argues that it is our baptismal right and obligation to follow the path of missionary discipleship: in the New Evangelisation “every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelisation”. If we commit ourselves to the New Evangelisation – if we commit to pronouncing the Way, Truth and Life who is Jesus Christ by deed and word in our families – then we can hope that there will be a renaissance of faith and morality, leading people to genuine happiness.
What are some practical implications of the idea of the missionary family? If the family is to be an evangelising community, welcoming and announcing the word of God:
it must be founded on marriage well prepared-for remotely and proximately, well celebrated sacramentally, well supported by other families, parishes, movements and Church agencies
the members of the family must always search out and seek to live well God’s plan for them
they must be regularly re-evangelised through continuing faith education, church practice, and supportive groups such as Couples for Christ
they must be ready to give and receive catechesis within the home, aware that they are educating their children for a human life and a divine vocation
they must persevere in face of adolescent and cultural resistance through living witness and encouraging words
they must collaborate with other evangelising and catechetical activities of the local Church and
they must be a luminous sign to others of the presence of Christ, radiating the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii gaudium) and the confidence of saving hope (Spe salvi).
Present Challenges to Family Catechesis and their implications for the New Evangelisation
Many parents are willing to mentor their children in the faith but they are distracted by the need to work and take care of their families adequately. Income is never enough when compared with expenditure: school fees, house rent, car maintenance, care of members of extended family and etc. As a result both parents sometimes work to ensure the provision of these needs. It is worst when both of them work in the private sector. In this case, sometimes they are up early, when the children are barely awake and return late, when the children are already asleep. There is therefore, virtually, no interaction between them and their children. To assuage their guilt for being absent in the lives of their children, they give the children the best money can buy. This translates to expensive toys and lavish monetary gifts. But money cannot make for presence. These children are not only starved for parental attention, exhibited sometimes in unruly behaviour but they are also denied the possibility of religious education that should take place in the family and the modelling that goes with it. These children may attend religious education programmes in the parish but it is never enough because they lack the basic foundation.
Another factor that distracts parents from their educational role is over-volunteering in church activities. It is not uncommon to find one person volunteering as a catechist, a choir member and a leader in one of the societies. Such a person will usually be active in attending morning Masses as well. Such people wake up early, while their children are still asleep to go to the Church and go back to Church immediately they close their businesses or their offices for the day and remain there well into the night engaged in one societal business or the other. By the time they get home, their children are already asleep. Such parents are consumed with the need to serve God in the parish but forget their primary responsibility to their children, who belong to their primary constituency.
We live in achievement oriented society where children are expected to excel academically. Parents strive to ensure the fulfillment of such goals. They put their children in expensive schools and ensure that they also attend extra lessons at the close of the day. It is often the case that they are so saturated with academics that there is hardly any room in their head for anything else. By the time it is evening, they are already comatose and ready only for sleep. The goal mapped out for them is purely academic without any room for spirituality. This has resulted in situations whereby we have many educated professors, who possess only elementary knowledge of their Catholic faith. Parents need to hear anew the saying of Jesus: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul” (Matthew). Catholic culture is a totality of life that embraces the material and the spiritual to keep life in a healthy balance. Parents need to be aware of this fact in educating their children.