The Imitation of Christ Begins at Home

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

A long time ago, in a faraway diocese, at a public reception, a woman engaged me in conversation to lodge some complaints about the Church. Her particular grievance was that the religious education program at her parish was below par and that her kids weren’t learning anything about the faith. “They don’t even know how to say the Our Father or the Hail Mary; they can’t name the Ten Commandments or Seven Sacraments,” she lamented.

My response: “Ma’am, our religious education programs could probably be improved, but in fact, if your kids don’t know their prayers, the Commandments or the Sacraments, that’s your fault. You should be teaching them those things at home.”

Thus ended our conversation.

I thought of that encounter recently when I read what Pope Francis said to parents as he was baptizing their babies in the Sistine Chapel. There the Holy Father said: “You ask for faith from the Church for your children, and today they will receive from the Holy Spirit the gift of faith in their hearts . . . But faith is transmitted and this is done at home.”

The Pope highlights the truth that the transmission of the faith to children is, first and always, the obligation of parents. As surely as they feed their children with food from the table, so too must they feed them with spiritual nourishment.

It’s the solemn promise parents make when they present their children for Baptism. There the priest states: “In asking to have your children baptized you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” And the parents respond: “We do.” It’s a promise parents fulfill not only by their words, of course, but also by setting a good example in practicing their faith.

The basic prayers of our faith, and the core beliefs of the Church are learned first of all at home. And just as important as these doctrinal elements are the essentials of the Christian moral life: compassion for the poor, respect for life, honesty, chastity, humility, generosity, and forgiveness, among others. Make no mistake – it’s within the sacred precincts of the Christian home that the imitation of Christ must begin to take hold.

Something to think about: Do your (grand)children know the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Ten Commandments and the Seven Sacraments?