This month my parents celebrate 62 years of marriage. I still remember what my nephew, then eight years old, asked with sheer wonder in his voice at their fiftieth anniversary, “You mean Grandpa has been married to the same woman for 50 years???” “Yes, Al,” I responded, “and you even know her!”
Thinking of my mother’s reflection on this year’s anniversary that she and my father “were so fortunate to have the kind of happy and meaningful relationship they do with each other after all these years,” reminded me of an author I came across recently. In his new book, Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations, Vern Bergston notes that the closeness of the parents’ relationship makes an impact on the transmission of faith. In a study conducted in 2005, Bergston found that “the parent-child faith transmission rate was 47% when the relationship was close, but only 33% when it was not close.” He also made this important point, “If parents are not themselves involved in religious activities, if their actions are not consistent with what they preach, children are rarely motivated to follow in their parents religious footsteps.” This has far-reaching implications on vocations.
As one of 12 children, of whom the overwhelming majority are religious (if not all still Catholic), this is a good reminder to any of us with children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews that our words and even more so, our actions count. Children are always watching what adults do.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw my mother kneeling beside her bed in prayer or heard her whisper with closed eyes after communion, “My Lord and my God.” I’ll never forget that as well the first of many times when I would see my father well up with tears at the celebration of the Eucharist. The takeaway from these experiences and Bergston’s report is the realization that there is never a time when young people in our lives are not looking at us as the example. Therefore, it is crucial that we be intentional in the formation of our young people’s spiritual lives primarily by our consistent attention to our own spiritual lives in word and action. Only then will we be not only effective transmitters of the faith, but credible guides and ambassadors of the Spirits’ call in our children’s lives, perhaps specifically to priestly or religious vocation.
The Catechism certainly affirms that parents (and I would argue all adults in the extended family) “have the mission of teaching their children to pray and discover their vocation as children of God,” (CCC2226). For whatever other differences my brothers and sisters may have had over the years with my parents, their fidelity to this mission was never in doubt. For me, it made all the difference!
Fr. Andrew-Carl Wisdom
Director of the Society for Vocational Support