This is the sixth in a series of columns on the importance of giving all Catholic kids a Catholic education (Part one, Part two, Part three, Part four, Part five.) When our children were toddlers, many of us parents put nightlights in their rooms. This was an age-appropriate way for us to push back the darkness and all the insecurities of a looming bedtime. Now, as our children enter high school and prepare to leave our homes, we can similarly push back shadowy uncertainties of the oncoming adult life by enlightening their minds and souls to the One who is the Light of the World, Jesus, and his Church.
As maturing teens, our children still need to receive heart, hand, and head knowledge about the Catholic faith, but during the high school years, head knowledge is of special importance. In order for the Light to illuminate their adult lives as brightly as possible, they need to know the truths revealed to us by Jesus, have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Catholic history, and be familiar with the lives of Saints and the Catholic people and events that have shaped and continue to shape our world today.
Here are some areas to focus on in bringing the Light of the World to our teens in non-Catholic high schools.
First, teachers and curricula. Stay on top of what is being taught in health, history, and science. In Health Class, our children will probably be exposed to moral relativism. This means that we will need to present Catholic teaching at home about health and medical issues like pre-marital sex and chastity, homosexuality, and birth control. In today's secular history classes, it is popular to elevate native cultures and native religious beliefs, to dismiss or demonize Catholic contributions to Western civilization, and to minimize the Christian faith of many of our nation's forefathers. We will need to introduce our children to Catholic and Christian historical figures from sources other than their secular history books. Parent-assigned summer reading books are a great way to do this. In science class, they will probably never hear about God, the One who created every little detail that scientists study. This gives us the privilege and responsibility of discussing at home bioethical issues and humankind's use of scientific technology from a positive, Catholic point-of-view.
Second, parish programs. We will need to take full advantage of parish Confirmation programs and diocesan-wide youth and family ministries. Teenagers are aching to change the world, so give them that chance by taking the diocesan bus to the annual Pro-Life Walk in Washington D.C., serving with them at a local soup kitchen, and taking them on retreats and mission trips.
Third, home life. I believe family dinnertime remains both our defensive and offensive frontline when it comes to staying connected as a family and keeping our kids Catholic. We, and our children, may need to pass up some good, evening activities in order to keep family dinnertime from morphing into "Mom's Take-Out Deli" or McDonalds every night. In making these hard choices, don't forget that "discipline is remembering what you really want." Reading books by Christian authors or books of the Bible and discussing them with our teens has been a favorite faith-building activity for our family during the summer months.
In addition to what I've suggested, a good friend with children in the public high school advises Catholic parents to encourage their teens to apply basic Christian behavior to school situations both in and out of the classroom and to interject Catholic beliefs and teachings into their children's school curricula and take-home projects whenever possible. If you have questions about the Catholic perspective on a topic, talk with a knowledgeable priest, a person in a religious order, or consult a good Catholic website.
Having promised to be the "first and the best teachers in the ways of the faith" when we had our children baptized, we must remain committed to illuminating their lives with the light of Christ as they go through high school and step onto the path leading toward mature, Catholic adulthood. In the next column, we talk about giving all Catholic kids a Catholic education.