A New Faith Formation Plan

I don’t blog as much as I wish I did about our domestic church. In part, that’s because we are not all of one faith in this house, and which sometimes makes things complicated, and I don’t want to dig into the messier parts of our private life.

But we’ve started something new that I am pretty pleased with, and I wanted to share.

A little bit of background: Violet recently announced in a group of friends that she does not believe in God. I was upset.

After a few days of calming myself down (after all, my doting 4yo has also been known to shout “I hate you forever!”), we talked about her faith formation program, which we do in a home-based way with materials provided by our parish, meeting monthly with other families who do the same thing. This is a kind of substitute for Catholic school (though we have a nice parish school, many families go elsewhere or homeschool) or Sunday school (which we don’t do for 1st grade and beyond). She confessed that she considered the program pretty ridiculous and meaningless. Every lesson was the same in her eyes: God created you, God loves you, God forgives you. While to an adult who can understand those things in a larger context, those might seem like grand concepts, to Violet they were empty statements that didn’t seem to have much bearing on her daily life or the rest of her education.

How much was I failing my daugher intellectually, let alone spiritually, if she could tell me with a straight face that she believed in the Big Bang and therefore there was no God?

I felt some relief just knowing that she had thought enough about the issue to give me her critique. But I did not feel at all capable of creating a curriculum of Catholic apologetics that would be appropriate for an eight-year-old who is at once very bright and totally juvenile in her conception of morality, sin, love, death, relationships, and forgiveness.

I am so far pleased with what we have tried. I ordered the Prove It: God book by Amy Welborn, which comes from a series for teens. I read the introductory sections aloud to her as she drew a picture of a fairy. She was intrigued from the start. She recognized her complaints about her faith formation program in the comments about the mushy, sentimental stuff in typical faith formation programs, the “reflection questions” (ugh! I dread the silence that always follows those!), the arty photographs. Then I allowed her to choose a chapter to read by herself, whatever she felt best suited her doubts about God.

We did not discuss it much, because she really doesn’t like to do that. But she did say, “I think this is going to be a good book!” I can see that she is excited to imagine that someone is going to talk to her about God in a language that is neither totally dry and adult nor totally condescending and vapid. I wish that were my gift, but alas it is not.

She is looking forward to the chapter about creation and evolution. I don’t think she believes me when I tell her that the Big Bang theory was proposed by a Roman Catholic priest, but she’ll believe the book.

We’ve also decided that rather than discussing the book, we will have a conversation journal that we can pass back and forth over the course of several days for discussing and asking questions. I do want to be very sure that she is not misunderstanding any of the material and subsequently creating new misconceptions about God or faith.

Of course I cannot make Violet believe anything — I cannot give her faith — but I have not quite succeeded in trusting God on this one! I worry that our lives are so privileged that we can’t experience our longing or need for a relationship with God, yet of course I am grateful that my kids don’t know want or suffering. I worry that I set a bad example, I worry that I am not sending the kids to Catholic school, I worry that deeply sensitive kids sometimes turn that part of themselves off rather than cope with the intensity of their feelings. But I am so grateful that this little book made its way to my awareness at the right time, to give Violet a chance to ask harder questions and get some knowledgable answers.

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5 Comments

Filed under Curriculum, Oh Mother, Our Domestic Church

5 responses to “A New Faith Formation Plan

  1. Take heart — kids do say stuff like this. My five-year-old frequently says things like, “Well, I guess I’M not going to Mass . . . I guess I don’t love God,” and so on. My now-very-pious teenager used to go up to the (Anglican — we’re converts) priest with her hands clapped over her forehead so he couldn’t give her a blessing. They do outgrow it.

    At the same time, I think you’re right to trust your instincts about the parish-based program. I can well imagine that it’s twaddle. My now 10-year-old, in RCIC, came out of the first class waving the book at me and saying, “Well, duh, I already KNOW I’m special!” My husband is a theologian, which helped, but we managed to talk our way out of RCIA/C and into a quiet early reception into the Church by bringing both our own books AND the RCIC book to our parish priest and saying, “Um . . . ”

    Those Amy Welborn books are golden. My older kids, at 8 and 11, were fighting over who was going to read which one first. They’re great. You might also look at My Path to Heaven, by Geoffrey Bliss, with amazing, as in A. Mazing, illustrations by Caryll Houselander. Amy Welborn has also done a Book of Saints and a Book of Heroes (also about saints) for younger children, which are quite good. My kids find hearing about the saints very persuasive, though the 5-year-old always says, “Was Saint Augustine/Ambrose/Gerard Majella/whoever a CHRISTIAN?” Would she read St. Therese’s Story of a Soul? My daughter found that to be quite powerful, and she’s also a thoughtful, see-through-the-BS, freespirited person. Somehow the goodness of Therese, especially in suffering, really spoke to her. It helps to have models and heroes . . .

    Other books . . . Marigold Hunt is very good: A Life of Our Lord for Children, The First Christians, etc. I’ve found that getting my kids to fall in love with the story as a story was an important component in their faith (the older ones, anyway . . . hoping it happens that way for the 5- and 4yos).

    DON’T feel guilty about not sending your kids to Catholic school. We go to the school Mass in our parish every week, because my big kids sing in the treble choir, and it’s patently evident at every turn that the kids don’t know much about their faith, and aren’t being told much in church, either. The choirmaster told me once that the only kids who knew anything about the parts of the Mass were the homeschooled kids — and mine at the time weren’t even Catholic yet. What I hear over and over, at least from friends here who have or have had some of their kids in parish schools, is that they sure do wish those kids had received/were receiving a recognizably Catholic education. What you’re doing at home is bound to be head and shoulders above the formation that children seem to be receiving in school.

  2. Thanks for all the suggestions — I appreciate it. I had to laugh at the picture of your child fending off a blessing — but had it been my child I know I would have been mortified beyond belief and would have overreacted like crazy!

  3. I’m glad you found a good book for Violet.

  4. You have two very thought provoking posts.

    I have used the dialogue notebook with Ami for other issues and I like it.

    Ami goes back and forth on her beliefs, but she is younger. I am pretty relaxed, perhaps because my parents were more intense and my husband is a convert. I like the fact that we are bringing her up in the byzantine tradition.

  5. I wish we had a Byzantine-rite church where we are. We converted from Anglo-Catholicism, having spent our older kids’ early years in a parish in England with gorgeous liturgy, clouds of incense, wonderful music, etc. All those sensory things left a very great impression on their minds, and my main worry about my youngers, even though I think they’re growing up in the true Church, is that their religious imaginations aren’t being fed enough, at least not at church. I think that the beauty of the Byzantine rite by itself would leave a fairly indelible mark on the mind, and be something a person would miss deeply if she left it.

    Actually, my younger kids duck and hide behind me, rather than be blessed by the priest. I just pretend I don’t see them. I think one priest at a Mass recently was rather nonplussed that I stepped in front of them to receive — that thoughtless mother! Depriving her children! I wanted to find him afterwards to explain that I just really didn’t want to be making a big scene at the front of the Church: “RECEIVE that blessing!” “No! No! No!” “Receive the blessing or else!” “No! No! No!” I have had children lie down and kick and scream at the front of the church before, and it’s not a situation I really want to court.

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