When I got married at the tender age of 24, just three months after graduating from university, I unwittingly signed my future spiritual life away by promising, in the presence of the priest who would marry my husband and me in the Catholic church, to raise any children God would gift us in the Catholic faith.
It was not long before I discovered my promise might entail a little more than reading my three little tots bedtime stories about Jesus, or teaching them Bible songs.
Alone and Out of Touch
I panicked when I couldn’t answer their questions about the faith: “Which school did Jesus go to?” “How did Jesus cut a fish into a thousand bits without making a mess?” “Where is heaven?” I was only ritual Sunday Catholic parent – as a young homemaker with no helper, no family support (they were all overseas) and a husband who was always away on business, I felt alone and out of touch.
I was a convert, having been baptised when I was only in university. Although my husband was a cradle Catholic, he hadn’t really evangelise me in any sense. What had been taught in Rite of Christian Intiation of Youth (RCIY) was all but forgotten so I was very relieved when the time came for them to go to nursery school. I happily enrolled them in a Catholic kindergarten and not long after, to bring them for catechism classes in church every weekend. When the time came to enrol them into primary schools, I chose Catholic schools, of course, and I was very pleased that I was faithfully keeping my promise to the Church.
On hindsight, I was so self-centred. It was not at all about my children’s relationship with their loving Father, but my own obligation to the heavenly policeman, I had been shamelessly delegating my duty to the Catholic educators in church and at school.
Parents as Spiritual Teachers
I only realised this the day our parish priest thundered during Sunday mass:
“Parents! You are the first spiritual teachers of your children! Catechists are only doing you a favour by helping you, you know!” That really rattled my conscience. But how could I give my children what I didn’t have?
The LORD answered my subconscious prayers. Not long after, I encountered Jesus personally during a church retreat. From then on, I slowly transformed into a true Resurrection Sunday Catholic – the Word of God became alive and active for me, and I eventually became a catechist myself.
The Holy Family as the first school of Faith
Taught by Christ Himself
The Holy Spirit also impelled me to serve in the parent support groups (PSGs) of my children’s schools. I did not interact much with teachers; it was my way of showing my profound gratitude to them by not being another anxious mother on their backs. Instead, I stepped gradually stepped out of my comfort zone tohelp with religious and moral education classes, then school masses, retreats, and other Catholic activities like Lenten vigils, Easter fairs, and PSLE and ‘O’ Levels intercessory prayer sessions.I didn’t realise that I was being taught by Christ the Teacher himself.
Growing up in Christ
He did this through the friends I made in school. The PSG parents were not only pillars of support for the school, but also for each other. It was in school that I grew up into a proper Christ- and other-centred person. The wisdom and experience of parents who had older children and greater spiritual maturity was especially precious, and we formed bonds so strong and enduring – through the adversity, joy and heartache as we journeyed with our children through their teens and beyond – that we stillpray and play hard together to this very day.
Witnessing to the Faith
It is said that the test of our discipleship of Christ is not simply whether we have kept the faith, but whether we have shared it. I think we must have done both, because at least three non-Catholic parents among us were baptised as Catholics a few years down the road, and they testified that the witness of God’s presence in the schools played an important part in their conversion stories.
I don’t know whether we can say the same for our children. Some of them have left the Church, some are still searching, some are still ritual Sunday Catholics, but some are still praising and worshipping God.
All I know is that I had once washed my hands of the spiritual formation of my children and outsourced them to other Catholic educators. Now I seek to wash the feet of my children in imitation of the Christ who watches over them and me. I am consciously and conscientiously keeping my promise to raise them in the faith – all because I received a truly Catholic education through Catholic schools.