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We called him Pappas.
He was my dad’s dad. A father of 13 children and 30-something grandchildren.
He used to walk every day.
It was a heavy-footed, sometimes labored, stomp. Head down, determined, dedicated. Round and round his indoor pool when the weather was bad, or around the lake when the sun was shining.
And in his hands, he held his “beads.”
His Rosary beads.
Pappas was a good Catholic.
He was a man of faith.
And he played an important role in my faith formation as a kid. Not in any formal, instructional setting, but in the way was an example of living out the faith.
Parents as Primary Educators
Parents are the primary educators of their children.
It’s their responsibility to catechize their kids, and to build the “domestic church” – the framework in which their family lives out the faith at home.
They teach their kids right from wrong.
They teach their kids how to practice virtue.
Parents teach their kids how to pray.
But just because parents are the primary educators, doesn’t mean they’re the only educators.
To most effectively pass on the faith, it’s helpful if children have other role models in their lives. Other people they love and look up to, who give a shining example of how to live out the faith.
That way, the faith is not just “something my parents do,” but something that “other people in my life do, too.”
The Catholic Village
Growing up, I went to public school for many years before attending Catholic high school.
Our school community wasn’t our village.
So my parents made sure to find their own village – a Catholic village, so that we would grow up in framework of Catholic community.
The parish we attended was full of Catholic families. We had a youth group, a big fundraiser we spent our summers volunteering at, and continuing faith formation for teens and young adults.
Right next door to the parish, there was (and still is) a community of religious sisters. We saw them, in full habit, at Sunday Mass. We did “share-a-day” events each year.
A few towns over, there was a community of Franciscan Friars. We went to their family get-togethers on First Saturdays. They said Mass, taught classes, ate a hearty potluck, and even played soccer with the kids during free time.
We had no lack of Catholic community, but not necessarily because it was something naturally occurring.
Rather, it was something my parents were intentional about building around us.
Even though I went to public school and spent my days largely surrounded by secular society, my memories of community and belonging are my memories associated with my parish, with the religious sisters and brothers, and especially with my family.
My immediate family, mostly.
But also, my Catholic grandparents.
The Importance of Special Time with Grandparents
Grandparents are notorious for spoiling their grandchildren.
My Pappas was no exception.
He gave us gumballs when we visited, brought us donuts every Saturday, and handed over a whopping $5 when we lost our teeth.
But there’s one thing in particular that made me feel so special, loved, and valued, and that I’ll never forget.
I’ve always been an early bird.
In the morning, when the rest of my siblings were slogging through the getting ready for school routine, I’d be up and out of bed and ready to go.
Instead of sitting around, watching cartoons, waiting for the bus, and spending an eternal 30 minutes riding to school, I skipped out the door for Pappas to pick me up bright and early.
He brought me to daily Mass.
And then he took me to breakfast: scrambled eggs, sausage, and orange juice were my go-to order.
Then he dropped me off at school.
This time was precious to me.
Not only did it save me from a bus ride that I dreaded, but it was special time with my grandparent.
And not just any special time, but faith-filled special time.
A Grandparent’s Role in Passing on the Faith
Daily Mass took on an important meaning to me, because it was associated with special time with my grandfather.
It was something I loved and looked forward to.
To this day, I believe that my love for the Mass, and especially my desire for daily Mass, is rooted in my special experience of daily Mass as a kid.
It’s rooted in those feelings of love I received from being treated to “special time.”
I look back on those memories with fondness.
My Pappas, who didn’t necessarily talk to us about the faith, was nonetheless the man who stomped around daily with his Rosary beads; the man who founded a school named after a Saint; the man who took me to daily Mass.
Parents are the foundation of faith formation.
But faithful grandparents can undoubtedly make a huge impact on promoting the idea of the faith as being something special.
It takes more than just mom and dad to raise Catholic kids. It takes a community.
If you’re a Catholic grandparent, don’t underestimate the power of your influence on your grandchildren.
You may not be able to control what they receive from their parents, but you can make a big impact in your grandchildren’s lives, even if their parents aren’t fully passing on the faith.
I challenge you to be a faith-filled presence in your grandkids’ lives.
Let them see you with your Rosary beads.
Show them how to fold their hands and say grace, how to make the Sign of the Cross, and how to venerate that special statue of Mary in your home.
If their parents allow it, build traditions of “special faith-time” with your grandchildren.
Bring them to confession then out to ice cream.
Take them to adoration for 15 minutes with a “holy” coloring book and a box of brand-new crayons.
Bring them to daily Mass then out to breakfast once in a while.
These special moments may not seem like much to you, but they will live on forever in your grandchild’s memory. They can be an important part of their faith for the rest of their life.
And parents, I challenge you: give your kids’ grandparents the opportunity to spoil your kids with special faith-time together.
Be intentional about building a faith filled community to live in, whether by including the Catholic members of your family, or seeking out opportunities in your parish or nearby religious communities.
Let your kids spend time with priests, brothers, sisters, and families who are living the faith.
You’re the primary educators of your children; surround yourself with people who will help you send the message that the Catholic faith is beautiful, special, beloved, and a normal way to live your life.
A Resource for Parents Who Want to Live their Faith More Fully
As parents, we are called to be examples of the faith for our children.
None of us are perfect, and we shouldn’t expect to be, this side of heaven.
But all of us can grow. All of us are called to pursue holiness, and to draw nearer to Christ every single day.
If you’re looking to grow in the virtue of faith – and in the rest of the theological and cardinal virtues as well, check out my book Becoming Holy One Virtue at a Time.
It’s a Scripture Study journal for Catholic Women.
It will help you dive in to the virtues of faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, reflecting on what they are, and how you can grow in them.
This book will help you embrace virtue today, so you can model it more fully for your children and be a shining witness of the faith to all in your life.
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Virtue Blog Tour
This post is the first in a series of posts on the Theological and Cardinal Virtues.
Each Monday, I’ll be joined by a new Catholic blogger who wants to shier their reflections on virtue, to help you grow in knowledge, love, and practice of the virtues.
Stay tuned for the next in the series!