One of my favorite figures from history was a British schoolteacher who was born in the mid-1800s. She was not a Catholic, but she lived in a culture that was deeply Christian. Her name was Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason. Because of her common-sense ideas about children and how they learn, Miss Mason revolutionized education in Victorian England. Since human nature doesn’t change even though the times do, her ideas still apply today. Out of six thick volumes that she wrote about education, I just want to talk now about this simple idea that applies well to educating your children in the Faith. Miss Mason wrote: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
- Education is an atmosphere. If religious education is an atmosphere, you mustn’t keep your Faith “in the Sunday box”–you must model your practice of the Faith before your children at all times. There should be distinctive signs of your Catholicism around the house: sacred images, a home altar, bookcases stuffed with saints’ stories and catechisms, a family piggy-bank containing everyone’s contributions for the diocese’s seminarians or the local poor. The atmosphere is what surrounds the earth, at all times. We couldn’t live without it. Similarly, if your practice of the Faith as a family is constant, visible, and involves everyone, you know that your family could not really live without it!
- Education is a discipline. This part of the phrase describes the nature of education to be something that needs to be approached with persistence: even when children don’t feel like it, learning requires study, persistence, and deep thinking, which is often the most difficult task of all. As applied to education in the Faith at home, this means that children should be trained to listen to and meditate upon Scripture, even when they don’t want to, because they will forever benefit from this. Children should also memorize Scripture verses, prayers, catechism passages, and poems in their entirety. But just because education is a discipline, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun! Children are the easiest people to delight and inspire, which is why I love teaching.
- Education is a life. Although their time living with you will end one day, your children’s religious education will never end. In a way, you can think of our human lives as God’s time to teach us about Himself and how to love Him properly before we go to meet Him at our deaths. So while your children are at home, you are preparing them for God to teach them all the rest of their lives through His allowing them trials, sufferings, temptations, sorrows, and giving them opportunities to make sacrifices, practice virtue, give generously, and always say “yes” to His Holy Will, whatever He asks. Again, this kind of education is best given in the home, where your children will be watching you and your spouse meet the events of your life with obedience and trust in the love of God.
It can’t be stressed enough that our Faith is to be lived, not dug out of a box of family heirlooms from previous generations at Baptism and First Communion times, only to be buried back under the mothballs so that our lives completely blend in with the lives of those in the culture around us. If we blend in, we’re doing it all wrong! Teach your children with your devotions and Catholic customs, with your prayers and words, and with your actions. No matter whether or not your children attend classes at your parish church on Sunday mornings, religious education truly begins in your home as an atmosphere, a discipline, and way of life.