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Betsy Kneepkens: Duty to raise children in the faith extending beyond confirmation

While taking pictures after my last child’s confirmation, a friend of mine came up to me and said, “Thank God I am done, all four are through, and I don’t have to worry about this anymore.” It was not the time or place to ask her what she meant by that statement, but a few things crossed my mind. Perhaps she thought the schedule for religious education was demanding, and she does not have to worry about working around the classes anymore. Or she was grateful that all of her children discerned to live their lives in Christ and his church.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

If not, maybe she could have meant that her job educating her children in the Catholic faith is done. I surmise the latter. I think she was referring to her marital obligation and duty to raise her children Catholic and accomplished her responsibility.

So much happens these days when a couple marries. There seems to be more planning for the proposal and reception so that the sacramental preparation can get lost in the busyness. I am always grateful when a couple decides to marry in the church. There is no better place to start than an earthly union in Christ, so that the graces necessary to equip them for the the day-to-day life in a marital covenant are present.

When the potential husband and wife call the church secretary to set up a date, it usually is pretty early in the sacramental preparation process. Immediately questions are addressed to the couple by the clergy, and I am sure their heads are spinning with all the information they are receiving right away.

One of the earlier, more unexpected messages they will hear from the clergy is that couples deciding to marry in the Catholic Church are bound by a serious obligation and duty to ensure their children will be educated following the teaching of the church. In my generation, this was common knowledge. Today, many engaged are learning for the first time that this is an essential promise made at the time of the marital covenant. More specifically, they will hear at a wedding, “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” with a proper response of “I will.” I gather from that mom at confirmation that she was suggesting that she completed the obligation she assented to on her wedding day.

I would agree with that mother that the duty is done in a world that should accept all things Catholic as proper and rightly ordered. However, I am experiencing something different with my children. In our diocese, youth are confirmed around 17 years of age or their junior year in high school. Rightfully, it seems our children should take on the primary responsibility to seek and learn their faith after confirmation.

However, this generation is dealing with obstacles much more significant than I did at 17. These young adults are barraged with the societal rejection of all things godly. Besides the moral falsehoods that students are learning in the classroom, the concept that religion is the root of all evil is being promulgated in articles, documentaries, speeches, podcasts, and YouTube videos that young people follow. I have been frustrated by the frequency of hearing post-confirmands saying as much. My children have even questioned whether this slanted, false narrative is true or not.

My husband and I strongly feel that our promise to raise our children according to the law of Christ is not finished. The state of our culture says we are obligated to continue supporting our children’s faith journey as a result of this toxic anti-Christ reality they find themselves in. They need to do their work as confirmed members of the church, but as parents we need to be there continuing to point the most efficacious way toward salvation, that being through Christ and his church.

After our clan left the house, attending Mass every Sunday for my husband and me continued to be a desired obligation for our spiritual necessity, connection to our faith family and worship. However, we are also finding that this continued practice has affirmed for our children the authenticity of the example we set. Otherwise, they might think we were attending for their sake and not for the sake of living out our Catholic Faith. Because we are members of a larger faith family, it saddens me to learn people I know who have grown in faith with us have opted out of the practice once their children leave home.

For some of my adult children, COVID suspension of Mass provided an intellectual query into the legitimate need for continuous and dutiful weekly Mass attendance. My children should be able to figure this out on their own. All six of my children are confirmed, so regular Mass attendance is essential if their desired hope is heaven. The pandemic halt for Mass did create an intellectual problem for them and likely for many others. As parents, when we are witnesses to the essential nature of going to Mass, we are affirming for them what we believed before is still true today.

As Catholic parents we must stay on our toes, because you can’t be sure when your kids may be looking for truth. One of my older sons recently called me concerned about what the Catholic Church was supporting this legislative season. He basically thought that some topics were not the business of the church. In our conversation, he shared his rendition of how Christ treated sinners, the poor, and the marginalized. He was under the notion that Christ tolerated people’s behavior, loved them, and without any correction. My son thought some of the more recent advocacy was judgmental and restrictive. He used Scripture to back up his assertion and expected the Catholic Church should do the same.

He was very passionate, and there were many good things about this discussion. Knowing my duty to raise my children in the faith, I intently listened to his argument, agreed where I could, and when he was finished, I gently asserted the part of the Scripture he was missing: “Now go and sin, no more,” like in John 8:11. I took this opportunity to explain to my son that the church’s love is Christ’s love, and it is not toleration of sinful acts but a love for the person and redirection toward a good that will ultimately bring them closer to Christ. Although carefully done, my vowed duty called me to respond to him lovingly but with the truth of Christ.

More recently, and in a much lighter situation, I had the opportunity to again take part in my parental responsibility. I had the opportunity to attend Mass with my daughter. The church we attended used the complete version of the three-year cycle missals. These books have no specific dates for the Mass readings. My daughter was frustrated trying to figure out which readings would be the ones for that day. This created a delightful moment to continue my responsibility to teach about our Catholic faith. In that brief moment, I explained the cycles, what year we were in, the liturgical seasons, and how each year generally highlights one of the Gospels. She likely learned this before, but I was impressed with how she so easily moved through the missal once she was re-educated with this information.

When we got married, we were well aware of our duty to raise our children in the faith, and for us it wasn’t really an obligation, it was a desire. We love our faith and all the goodness that has filled our lives as a result. I am certain my parents thought once we were confirmed their jobs were done. We don’t live in the world I was raised in. Frankly speaking, it is tough to be a Christian, and it is even harder to be a Catholic Christian in today’s times. There is a spiritual battle, and our marital vows call us to arm our children because we are in a spiritual world war. Confirmation has given them the virtues to fight it, but as parents I feel we have to continue to enlighten their faith so that they can access those virtues to survive the battles they will encounter.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.