Catechists and religion teachers often enjoy a few smiles over the occasional mistakes of their young pupils. The story of Lot's wife (Genesis 19:1-26), as retold by children, provides one instance of this: "Lot's wife turned around and immediately was made into a salt shaker." "When Lot's wife turned around, she ran into a pillar of salt, something like when my mother turned around while driving and ran into a light pole." One child got parts of the Exodus mixed into the story: "Lot's wife was a pillar of salt by day, but she turned into a ball of fire at night." Presumably, the catechists and religion teachers correct such children's mistakes and help them to put their knowledge of Bible stories back in order.
Each September we celebrate Catechetical Sunday (this year on September 16), when we pray for the vital catechetical enterprise in each of our parishes, whether in a Catholic school or in other religious education efforts, and when we pay tribute to our catechists for their essential work, pray for them, and express our gratitude for their unselfish sacrifices in sharing the faith and helping to form and educate our children and youth in the knowledge of Catholic truth. Most of these religion teachers are unpaid volunteers, while a few might receive a mere symbolic pittance for their labor. Our catechists, of course, seek true and adequate compensation only from God, but they also deserve our own deepest and most prayerful thanks.
Catechists and religion teachers, however, are present to assist Catholic parents, but not to supplant them as the primary religion teachers of their children. As one Bishop recently expressed it, "It is the main and indispensable duty of Christian parents themselves to get the children, whom they have procreated with God, into heaven." In the Great Proclamation (the "Exsultet") sung at the Easter Vigil every year, we hear the words: "It profits us nothing to be born if we are not saved." Conscientious Catholic parents apply those words regularly not only to themselves, but also to their offspring.
The basic and fundamental way that Catholic parents exercise their duty and rights as religion teachers is by giving their children a good example in their living a truly Christian life, in their conduct and way of speech, in their prayer life and daily practice of the faith, in their way of talking about the Church, priests, religious, and parish life, in their frequent reception of the sacraments, in placing devout images and sacramentals in their homes, and in having there a well-used Bible, Catechism of the Catholic Church, and other important Catholic literature for themselves and their children to use.
A few parents might have enough time and be sufficiently educated, skilled, and knowledgeable to teach the Catholic Religion formally and systematically to their children. Most would not be that well equipped and so must make use of their parish personnel and facilities. Those parents must then see to it that their children and youth are enrolled in religious instruction classes, if they cannot be in a Catholic School, that they attend those classes regularly, and that they do the assignments and studies they are required to do. This parental obligation applies also to high school students, and neither jobs, sports, clubs, social life or other such things ought to be given a higher priority by parents and youth than catechism classes and religious instruction.
Even when children are past the age of emancipation and might be attending college or are in the military or are otherwise away from home, parents should want, not only to keep in touch with their children, but also to encourage them to participate in campus ministry programs, Newman centers, or good adult religious education courses frequently offered to young people in those circumstances. Like all learning, religious learning really should be ever ongoing and only end with the end of life.
Not only are there in our culture and country myriads of Protestant and other non-Catholic sects and denominations which are exerting every pressure to lure unwary and sometimes ill-educated Catholics into their errors, but too the secular entertainment and news media cleverly foster religious indifferentism, often confusing in the minds of the religiously ignorant tolerance and pluralism with philosophical and theological relativism.
Also, powerful forces of modern atheism especially are able to move successfully into many contemporary minds which have been formed in valueless and godless schools, where God and His divine revelation are ignored, or sometimes slyly undermined, and where hedonism and materialism are set forth as the ultimate goals of human existence. Western modernity particularly nowadays can also indoctrinate young people in despairing nihilism, pushing them to make their outlook (with less eloquence, of course) that which Shakespeare states in Macbeth: "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
How different are the glory and purpose of Catholic faith-filled lives, filled with hope and with the promise of endless joy! "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered the heart of man what God has ready for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9; John 16:24). The horizon is defined as the limit of our sight, but our faith gives us the ability to see beyond the sunset of earthly existence, shallow ideologies, and mindless nihilism, beyond the stars and the universe, to the boundless happiness that God has prepared for us, if only we reach up, with the help of His grace, to accept His love, which is personified in Jesus and prolonged through time and space in Christ's Body and Bride, the Catholic Church.
We should all often pray for Catholic parents and for the Catholic catechists who help them, so they may be, as the Holy Father, says, "people of courage, hope, and enthusiasm" when "they carry out their serious responsibilities for religious instruction and for training people, especially young people, for living lives in keeping with the Gospel."