There is a question that priests and religious commonly hear: How do I make sure my kids won’t leave the Church? Many young adults who were raised Catholic haven’t passed through the church door in years, and many parents of young children fear this could happen to their own. There can be all sorts of reasons why a young adult has left the faith, and there isn’t one simple solution to what parents can do to protect their own children. In the end, the answers boil down to God’s grace. Without it, there’s nothing that we can do that will protect the future generation of Catholics. But with God’s grace, our prayers and example help ensure that they maintain a living faith.
By accepting the primacy of grace, we avoid Pelagian perspectives on parenting. Pelagianism holds that we can achieve salvation by our own works, apart from God’s grace. Typically, when discussing Pelagianism, theologians refer to a person bringing about his own salvation. Yet, the same idea can be applied to trying to bring about the salvation of others. From a Pelagian perspective, parents would simply do good work after good work (and have their children do the same) and pound the teachings of the Church into those young minds. But apart from grace, no amount of good works can make someone remain faithful, and no amount information can replace grace—that’s just not how it works. Yet, when God’s grace is present a good and holy Christian life is a great help in the process; prayers offered in charity can have a profound effect, and instruction in the faith can form young minds into receptacles of Divine Truth.
Today’s saints exemplify this reality, although from a slightly different perspective. Saints Anne and Joachim raised the Blessed Virgin Mary. With God’s grace, not only were they able to raise her from infancy in a way that helped her remain “holy and without blemish” (Eph 1:4), but they were able to entrust her upbringing to God’s grace: As the tradition has it, they presented her into the Temple at a young age. By grace, they turned her over into His hands so that, in turn, His grace could protect her and deepen her sanctity. In other words, the act of presenting Mary in the Temple is a beautiful example of accepting the place of grace in the development of the spiritual life.
When it comes to parenting, while there is no mathematical equation—“Do this + don’t do that = your child will remain faithful”—there is an abiding consolation: God’s grace. In His providence, some remain faithful, and others take the long road back to the Church after having left. Yet, divine providence orders all things sweetly, and some spiritual sweat and tears might be part of the plan to help young members of the Church remain faithful.
Image: The Presentation of the Virgin, Philippe de Champaigne