I’m not a convert, but sometimes I wish I were. I come from a long line of cradle Catholics. It has undoubtedly been a grace to grow up simmering in the rich soup of faith seasoned over time with enduring traditions and profound familial witnesses. What a blessing! So why am I so darn jealous of converts? You know that superstar Catholic who dramatically joins the church after a lifetime denouncing the “whore of Babylon”? I can’t get enough! Who doesn’t love a captivating Scott Hahn story with all those twists and turns that ultimately lead to Rome? Or better yet, what about those amazing creatures who have come to faith after years of card-carrying atheism? Their stories are nothing short of remarkable and bear the stamp of God’s own imprint. They come to the Faith with such zeal, humility, compassion, and moral courage.
And then there’s me.
I don’t mean to downplay my own “reversion” going from a barely checking-the-boxes pew warmer, to one who longs for deeper intimacy with Jesus and His church. But it’s certainly not the thrilling stuff of, say, Saints Paul and Augustine, Blessed Cardinal Newman, or Edith Stein. Or more recently, Jennifer Fulwiler, Tim Staples, and Leah Libresco. Needless to say, I admire their fire, grit, and heroic journeys of faith, risking so much to heed God’s call. I, however, was born into it, with the proverbial silver baptismal spoon gently nestled in my mouth.
When something comes without a whole lot of struggle, it’s easy to lose sight of what a profound gift it is. We can grow complacent in our faith and take it all for granted. Why do we pray the Rosary? Why party on the Feast of the Assumption? Why celebrate Mass EVERY Sunday? No explanations necessary, right? It’s just what we do. Check. Growing up in the church, it’s easy to fall into that trap of superficial spirituality. I certainly did. I showed up physically, but my heart was rarely in it. It’s a topic that my husband and I think about a whole lot with regard to raising our own cradle Catholic kids. We want more for them!
It’s like becoming the heirs to a vast family fortune. How do we impress upon them that their inheritance comes with great responsibility and understanding? It hasn’t been given to them because they deserve it, rather it is an excessive gift that no one could ever merit. We don’t want our kids to be Catholic trust fund babies who galavant the world’s playgrounds squandering the profound family treasure that has been bequeathed to them. We want them to recognize their spiritual wealth and strive to use it wisely, building upon it, for God’s greater glory, for all generations to come. That’s why the hubs and I have adopted a few tactics, stealing from the convert’s playbook. We’ve been trying to parent like a convert, in hopes of helping our kids cherish the gift of their Catholic faith.
Here are our tips to parenting like a convert:
1. REGULARLY READ THE BIBLE AS A FAMILY
All the great converts live and breathe scripture. To become saints we must become immersed in the Word. St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” If that’s true, which I think it is, I was sadly ignorant of Christ for a big part of my life. Make a point of spending time discussing the day’s readings with the whole family. If you make it a part of your family’s routine, kids will be more likely to implement private Bible study into their lives which is a necessary tool in prayer. Or pick one passage and discuss it at dinner or breakfast. Dive in. Dissect it. Memorize it! The Catholic church brought the Bible to the world. That means we must use it. Don’t be scared off by a little dust. Break that puppy out!
2. ENCOURAGE A SENSE OF WONDER AND CURIOSITY
Many converts actually read their way into the Church. It is their insatiable yearning for the Truth that leads them to conversion. I love that my kids will stop and marvel at a strange bug on their way to the playground, their brains whirring with interest. (As long as they don’t get too close to me with it!) Spending time marveling at our Christian faith is also very important. We try to encourage our kids to ask lots of questions. We often respond with questions, not like a quiz show, but to spur on thoughtful conversation. “What do you think Jesus meant by that?” “What is worship?” This has been so helpful in fostering a relationship of trust between us and our children. We remind them regularly that no question is off the table. When they stump us, (all too often) we congratulate them and tell them we will have to look up the answer. Learning the whys behind what we believe is a powerful way to stay on the path.
3. TRY SOME EXTEMPORANEOUS PRAYER AS A FAMILY
Converts don’t always have the long list of prayers that we do, or they come from a tradition that doesn’t memorize prayers at all. Their unscripted prayers can be beautiful! As Catholics, we can do both memorized and unscripted. While I love the richness of the ancient prayers, our family likes to incorporate our own off-the-cuff prayers too. In the evening, we often open it up for personal intentions and gratitude prayers. What a meaningful way to lay out what is on our hearts. We aren’t always the most eloquent, (Think Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents) but we share with God and our family members what is going on in our lives. In doing so, we bond with God and each other.
4. TEACH KIDS TO ENGAGE OFTEN WITH THOSE OUTSIDE THE FAITH
I grew up being very suspicious of non-Catholics, which is not particularly helpful. If my faith was ever challenged, I didn’t know how to explain or defend it, so I just avoided those interactions. But challenges and questions can be a good source for testing and strengthening our own faith. “Why do you believe you have to go to a priest to confess your sins?” Hmmm…. this is not a defeat, but an opportunity to learn what the church actually teaches. If we don’t have these opportunities to grow, we are missing out. But converts understand the importance of mixing it up in the culture! It may have been a question from a believer that planted the seed that turned their hearts to Christ. We must encourage our kids to know their faith so they can discuss it and answer questions confidently, respectfully and with great compassion. We should not be suspicious of non-Catholics or Christians. They can be a catalyst for understanding our own faith better. We don’t need to convert anybody. That’s up to the Holy Spirit, but He may require our voice from time to time.
5. STRESS THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
This seems counterintuitive to number four, but it’s not at all. We must surround ourselves with those who encourage us and help us to be better Christians. Before we can go out into the world proclaiming the gospel, we must be fortified by community. We are not meant to be holy islands! This is precisely why Christ founded a Church. We need each other. Get to know those who are in the faith, and not just with the peace sign at Mass. Small groups are a great way to foster fellowship. So many of the on-fire Catholic converts I know are involved in their parishes. They often lament the lack of community compared to their former protestant churches. We can do better. Find a parish that understands the importance of community. When we exemplify healthy habits to our own kids, they will be more likely to incorporate them into their lives as adults. Having a strong community is a key component of being a faithful Christian.
Our converted brothers and sisters are a shining example to us all. Their thrilling journeys have helped reignite my own faith along the way. May we celebrate their fervor while also reveling in our own quieter conversions! Future generations can benefit from both. Whether it comes in a big, dramatic, flashy moment, or very slowly over the course of four decades, God celebrates the triumphant return of all His children and welcomes us home with arms wide open.
and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Luke 15, 6-7)