Parents as first evangelizers to children

Children and faith“Matha, Pitha, Guru, Deivam”—the four common Indian words make a saying, proverb or phrase. It is the first proverb taught to children in school. Matha is mother, Pitha is father, Guru is teacher, and Deivam is God. In order one leads to another. The relationship that a child begins with the mother leads to father, later to teacher, and it is culminated in God. In the same way education that is initiated by mother culminates in God who becomes the ultimate teacher.

It is a stage or a process of education which is vital for the integral growth of a child. Without any prejudice or stereotypes, we can also say that Mother offers biological and emotional wellbeing, father offers social security, teacher offers intellectual maturity and God becomes spiritual sanctuary. The process ought to be an unbroken chain and no one is dispensable. For a healthy formation the stages should be maintained in order. In fact God has built this process within our human nature.

This ancient Indian wisdom is further developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs. According to him when a child is deprived of one of the sector of learning or one of the human need is not met or deprived the child will have a restrained growth. Once the harm is done, it is close to impossible to put things in order or to compensate it. Hence, the integral formation of the child is a consorted effort of many different indispensible stakeholders.

The Evangelist Luke beautifully summarises the upbringing of child Jesus in the family of Nazareth in a little verse: “…the Child grew in stature, and was filled with wisdom; and found favour with God and people.” (Lk 2:40). The holy family created for the child an atmosphere of physical, intellectual, social and spiritual formation—an integration growth. The gospels are silent about the rest of Jesus’ 30 years of family life. But this little summary seems to be enough to know the upbringing and early life of Jesus. This excellent formation was good enough for Jesus to begin his God given ministry of redemption of humankind.

Given to our context in Uganda, where families have an average of at least five children, the parents have enormous tasks to perform. In a large family child rearing becomes a full time job especially for the mother. There are many questions to answer: Are the parents emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and financially prepared for this crucial responsibility? As children did they themselves undergo such an experience of learning? How do they cope up in situations of separation from their spouses, single-parenthood, and cohabitation? Are they prepared to handle issues of urbanisation, migration, and several other changes that come with the progress of education, information technology, etc.?

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When we ask a child who taught him the basic prayers and the rudiments of faith, most often the child will mention the name of a catechist. The education process has been disturbed; mother and father have not done their initial duty. Parents are in a better position to give the child the taste of faith better than anyone else. Because it is given with love and witness. They are taught with familiar language and in a loving atmosphere which will make a permanent impact on the child. The child too will be proud to learn the life-giving lessons from the persons who love him the most.

In the Church document, Evangelization in the Modern World, #41we read, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Now many parents report that they have failed to make religious proposals to children… it may be because parents themselves do not give good religious witness at home in church attendance, sacraments, etc. So there is an urgent call to the parents to live a life of witness in front of parents, which is their prime duty.

Imparting of faith is enshrined in Christian marriage. At the rite of Christian marriage parents promise to educate and bring up children in faith and they become official guardian of faith in the family. Children are the fruit of intimacy between the husband and wife and it is the reflection of intimacy that Christ has for his Church. This intimacy should lead the children to have intimate relationship with Christ and his Church.

St. John Bosco used to say, “It is not enough children are not loved, they should know that they are loved.” Giving faith will enhance the love they received and faith will remind them that they are loved in eternity. Giving faith to children will also enhance parents’ own faith in God and spousal love for each other. In return life of witness in family will be made more fruitful.

I remember my mother teaching me to hold the rosary and recite the prayers. We used to revise the mysteries of the rosary before we begin it. In the first week of the month my mother insisted that I make my confession. Perhaps my seminary formation was only something added to my religious training which my mother gave me when I was only a child. Indeed it was faith and formation given through love!

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