What does it mean to pass on a heritage of faith? I am reflecting on this question after recently attending a Mass in celebration of my Baba and Dido Patrick’s 100th wedding anniversary. The celebration took place in the same church as their wedding ceremony and was attended by family members, friends and a some of the faithful who attend the noon service. Ann and Tony Patrick were married in St. Paul’s RC Cathedral on September 27th, 1913, before there was a Ukrainian Catholic church in Saskatoon. They came from the same village in Ukraine and were married shortly after having arrived in this country via Ellis Island in New York. My experience is that my Baba was the heart of the family’s faith. She could neither read nor write but to her faith was “life and breath” and every action was a prayer– from planting her garden, to providing food and drink for her family and many others who crossed her threshold. All was a blessing or prayer whether audible or silently uttered in her heart. She was a woman of God.
When there finally was a Ukrainian Catholic Church built in Saskatoon–St. George’s cathedral– it played a central role in the life of my Baba and Dido and their family. It was this heritage that was passed on to their children, and from my father it was passed on to me. My Dad was not an eloquent evangelist but he could often be heard telling even complete strangers that they should come to church. For my Dad there was a simple and straightforward answer to all of life’s questions–pray. (Of course he also believed in hard work but that is another part of the heritage–for another blog.)
Did this make my family better than families who did not have faith in their lives. No, not at all. We had the same problems and struggles as anyone else–maybe more. We were just like any other dysfunctional family. However we were different in that despite our many shortcomings and sins we knew God was present in our lives even when we failed to seek Him or follow Him the way we should. Central to that was our weekly attendance at Divine Liturgy. God blessed us and honoured even our smallest of efforts. We also were invited to know His abundant mercy for our many failures through the sacraments, especially reconciliation.
Yes, some children do not choose to live out their faith as they begin to pursue their own lives. There are some things that I believe we as parents can do to help them to choose a life of faith, like really living out our faith as a priority item. But, in the end everyone is free to choose–and our children must make their own choices as adults. On the other hand, while they are children and youth, it is our job to give them a foundation upon which to build or at the very least return to as they mature and have a greater appreciation of its value. This foundation is built in our own ‘domestic church’ and the parish catechism class or Catholic School, although helpful adjuncts, will not do that job for us. Family and in particular parents, will be the most important conduits of a life of faith for their children and grandchildren.
We need not despair if we did not receive a heritage of faith–through prayer and study we can still provide it for our children. The Church is there for us, offering us guidance and help as families trying to navigate our complicated secular world and still provide that life of faith for our children. It will take work though because unlike in the world of our parents and grandparents, society does not support the living out of our faith. We also are raising children from generation “why?” and so we need more than ever to learn from the wisdom and teaching of the Church–because it is very likely our own parents or Catholic education, however faithful did not provide these answers for us. This also makes the support of a parish faith community even more important. We need to make parish life at least as important as hockey, dance, music and all the many activities our children and family might be involved in including ‘going to the lake’ or other recreational pursuits.
I read an obituary of a wonderful Catholic mother and grandmother the other day and one of the things she and her husband did was to make church a priority. The obituary described how even when as children they got a new item of clothing their mother had them wear it to church first as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to God, from whom all good things come. It is possible to live life to the fullest and still acknowledge God as the source of all the good things we enjoy in such abundance. If our recreational pursuits are of a higher priority than God then our actions will speak louder than our words and believe me our children are watching what we do as well as listening to what we say. It is not always easy to create the right balance in our lives, and of course we will make mistakes, but success will only come with concerted and intelligent effort. Yes all the intelligent effort we can muster to learn and grow in our faith is important, spiritual life is demanding of our brains as well as our spirits. Reading scripture, the writings of the Saints, and Church Fathers and Mothers, Documents, Encyclicals and participating in programs such as ‘Generations of Faith’ or the Lay formation program are but a few of the opportunities we might use to grow in our faith.
I am incredibly grateful for the gift of faith my parents and grandparents gave me and the examples they were for me. They were not perfect, and neither am I, but they believed and tried to order their lives as best they could according to those beliefs. I pray that my husband and I and our children can do likewise.