I teach Religious Education at my home parish. I find it to be so rewarding to volunteer my time to help nurture young Catholics and to help guide them in their budding spiritual journey. It’s not all roses and butterflies, though. I worry constantly about the kids because I don’t know if I’m doing a good job teaching them. They are small sponges now and in third grade, a strong theological foundation is not exactly vital. No one is going to them on the playground asking them about the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. But I know the things I teach them now, will be the building blocks of things they will need in the future when they come across more complex theological topics. I also struggle because I only get them for a couple hours each week, the rest of the time, I don’t know what spiritual battles they are facing. The worst battles, which too many children are dealing with, is their parents lukewarmness.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to be the primary spiritual director of your young child. We, as the members of the church community, are secondary. We are here to inspire discussion, answer questions, and set an example to the kids. Parents should be having those discussions, doing further research, learning together, reinforcing the lessons, and being the greatest example of Christian virtue. You are with the child far more than the RE teacher is and when you send your child to us, we have a very difficult job to do. I teach third grade this year. They obviously don’t have driver’s licenses or cars in order to get themselves to Mass and Reconciliation. It makes for a very awkward conversation when we get to the 10 Commandments and we talk about how important it is to keep holy the sabbath day, and some of the kids haven’t been to Mass since Christmas.
This post is inspired by a specific little girl in one of my classes this year. She is smart, charismatic, and engaged in class discussion. One day, she came to me and said, “I don’t really believe all this stuff. I know Jesus died on a cross, but I don’t believe He is in Heaven waiting for me.” As you can imagine, my heart shattered. Here we are with a month left in RE, we just celebrated Easter, and here is one of my beautiful little girls coming to me with a major spiritual battle. The whole interaction was odd because she asked to speak with me in private, so I knew the conversation wasn’t going to be good. But here I find myself, needing to put on my big girl Catholic pants on and guiding a tiny soul back to Christ.
I asked her how often her parents take her to Mass, because that’s the best place for us to encounter the Risen Lord. As expected, she said whenever they feel like it, which isn’t often. Next, I asked her how often she received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the best place to encounter the tender love and mercy of Jesus Christ. Her answer, only when we go during RE, twice per year. I then did the best I could and told her about St. Teresa of Calcutta and her dark night of the soul. It is not uncommon for the greatest saints to feel a disconnect from God, yet they persevere and are rewarded in Heaven for their steadfastness. I recommended she sit quietly with God as often as possible, learn new prayers, and to read her children’s bible. That’s all I could think to do for her in that moment.
Later, I told the Director of Religious Education and she informed me that the parents of my darling student had pulled her two older siblings out of RE for their spring/summer sports. Yes, with only a few weeks left in RE, the parents pulled the kids out for sports. I’m sure her parents thought this was a reasonable thing to do, but I have to ask parents like this, where are YOUR priorities? I can’t blame the children for this because they don’t know the consequences of sin the way an adult should. It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children how to set priorities correctly, and one’s immortal soul, should be at the top of the list. But I know we are in this place because her parents don’t think their immortal souls are under attack.
After learning this news, my greatest concern was that she was only receiving a religious example in the church, where she wasn’t spending much time; her parents and family were not being the spiritual leaders she needed. Even worse, I was concerned someone was telling her that Heaven wasn’t real or that Jesus wasn’t waiting to bring her home to Him. Third graders are still at an age where they will believe most of the things you tell them, they ask questions, but once they receive a satisfactory answer, they will accept it. For her to come to me and say she doesn’t believe Jesus is waiting for her, I think someone told her that.
At this point, I don’t know what to do other than to pray. RE is over and she is no longer under my tutelage, I have to let her go and let God handle this. I pray she will draw close to Him, but I also pray she doesn’t have to learn too many lessons the hard way. I pray her parents will make a personal relationship with Christ a priority in their lives and the lives of their children. I pray they will see the magnificent gift the Father has bestowed upon them to nurture a tiny being made in His image, designed to spend an eternity united to Him in Heaven.
In the comments below, I would love to know if any of you have experienced anything like this and how you handled it. Have a sparkly day!