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As the end of another academic year approaches, all of us at the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Religious Education celebrate the successes and accomplishments of the past school year. With more than 112,000 young people participating in parish-based religious education programs, our responsibility to hand on the Catholic faith is a large and holy undertaking. We are indebted to pastors, parish catechetical leaders, and thousands of volunteer catechists who carry out this sacred duty.
Though busy families may look forward to a vacation from drop off and pick up duties, parish religious education staff and volunteers use this respite from classes to plan for next year. Learning and growing in the Catholic faith never stops, least of all for children. The primary place for faith development is in the family where parents are their children's first and most long-lasting religious education teachers. Parents are not alone in this work -- parishes partner with parents in the faith formation of youngsters. During the summer months, when children and teenagers are not in school, families have a special opportunity to nurture the faith in family life. After conversations with parish catechetical leaders, we offer a few suggestions to parents to help them continue their family's faith formation:
-- Worship at Mass every Sunday and celebrate the Eucharist as a family. Classes end for the year, but our responsibility to participate at Mass is a 52-week-a-year privilege. The Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic life. Nothing helps instill the importance and blessings from Sunday Mass more than parents making Mass attendance a family priority. Use the trip home from church to talk about the readings. "What did you hear? What do you think about today's Gospel?" With older children, "what would you have said if you had a chance to give a homily on this Gospel passage?" If you are travelling, check diocesan websites or www.masstimes.org for local parishes and Mass schedules.
-- Take time to pray. Prayer is conversation with God. The more we pray, the more it becomes like talking with a friend. Help your children develop a prayer life by taking advantage of the extra free time in the summer to pray as a family. A simple Grace before meals is an easy way to begin praying as a family. It only takes a few minutes to pray together, but it can greatly help children develop a relationship with God. Praying together provides opportunities to share beloved Catholic prayer devotions, such as the rosary. Dedicating five minutes to praying a decade of the rosary is a beautiful way to share the richness of our faith with children.
-- Share books on the faith with your children. Summer months are filled with feast days of the saints. Many online resources list feast dates and provide short and compelling stories on the lives of the saints. If you have a teenager in your home, pick up "YouCat," the Catholic Catechism for Youth. Also consider sharing with your teen a book that may have been instrumental in your own faith life.
-- Arrange a time for the whole family to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Confession is one of the greatest gifts Catholics have, and its healing grace is beneficial to young and old alike. Recent studies on the practice of the faith clearly show that children and teenagers are likely to follow the example of their parents. When parents go to confession, they reinforce the value and gift of the sacrament for their children.
-- Seize the moment. Long car rides, beach days, and lazy summer afternoons offer opportunities to talk about faith and life with your children. Try to have a few minutes of "un-plugged" time in the car -- no radio, cell phones, hand held games, or MP3 players. It may be hard at first, but try small intervals of quiet, and see where the conversation leads. Take the moments as they come and be open to letting your children ask questions. If you don't know the answer, ask your priest or consult the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," which is available online. The United States Catholic Bishops website (www.usccb.org ) is also a great resource for greater insight into faith questions. You may not know all of the answers, but what matters is that you take faith questions seriously.
-- Do something different! Have you wanted to go on a family retreat? Is this the summer when you will have a day to give to a community service project? Is there an elderly family member who always hopes you will visit with the children? This can be the summer you start an important family tradition that will inspire greater love within your family as well as cultivate a deeper commitment to our Catholic faith.
Susan Abbott directs the Archdiocese of Boston's office of religious education, one of 50 ministries supported by the annual Catholic Appeal.