Teach your children your Catholic faith!
Many Christian parents have failed to understand that it is their responsibility to hand their faith over to their Children, they are tempted to leave this very important aspect of parenthood in the hands of the clergy alone. In this article, Rev. Fr. Kolawole Chabi, O.S.A. of the Province of St. Augustine of Nigeria reflected on St. Paul’s letters to Timothy and challenges parents and in fact all of us of the need to proudly transmit our Catholic faith to the younger generation. Enjoy your reading!
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you. (2 Tim 1: 5). Those are the words of Saint Paul at the beginning of second epistolary correspondence with the young Timothy. The so-called pastoral letters of Saint Paul, that is the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus, are usually investigated as documents that help us understand the development of the ministry in the Church as it unfolded in the early years of the Church. They are also a mirror of how the early Christians parents experienced the education of new generations. In this write-up, I intend to show how the example and experience of Christians at the beginning of the Church could be of help to us today despite the striking difference of contexts and culture.
Context and content of Saint Paul’s Letters to Timothy
The letters to Timothy speak of the third generation Christian: Timothy received the faith through his mother Eunice, and she, before her son, received through Lois, Timothy’s grandmother. From this, we understand that the New Testament is a witness to the fact that as soon as person became a Christian, he/she immediately transmitted the faith they professed to their children and grandchildren. The small Timothy was not to wait for an advanced age, but still as a child, he received the gift of those references and the values that are the precious treasure of God who called him to life.
This situation questions the attitude of those “Christian” parents who decide not to interfere in their children’s spiritual upbringing. They often think it’s better to allow the child to grow so that he may freely decide whatever religion he wants to embrace as an adult. To say the least, such an attitude is wicked apart from being unworthy of serious parents. Why don’t such parents let their children grow to decide whether they want to go to school or not? Why do they choose to have the children treated by this or that medical doctor when they fall sick? Why do they not wait until they become adult before orienting them to this or that leisure or hubbies? Some parents will have their children study music, practice athletics from childhood, and many similar things are imposed on them. But when it comes to matters of faith, say children baptism and reception of sacraments, they would say it’s better to let the child choose. Maybe this way of reasoning is not yet rampant in our Nigerian society. But we should aware of the fact that these secular opinions are not far from us.
To return to our topic, let’s note that the content of the two letters could be summarised as follows:
1) The First Letter of Paul to Timothy insists on the need to shun unorthodox teachings and dangerous speculations and reiterates the qualities expected of bishops and deacons. It exhorts Timothy to fulfill his duties faithfully and to instill in his congregation traditional beliefs, notions of proper conduct, and respect for one another.
2.) The Second Letter of Paul to Timothy similarly urges Timothy to “guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit” and to accept his share of suffering “as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” He is further admonished to “have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies” and to avoid “men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith.” Toward the end, the letter mentions many individuals by name, some dear friends, others who wrought harm. Timothy is asked to visit soon, even though the writer believes he is “on the point of being sacrificed.”
Early initiation of the youth to Christian faith and “States of life”
The second letter provides a vital information about the early initiation of the young Timothy into Christian faith: “From childhood you have been acquainted with the Sacred Writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3, 15). Timothy’s father was pagan, his mother a Jewish woman, but she did not circumcise him. He had, however, evidently led her son from an early age, to know God’s revelation, according to the most beautiful Jewish tradition. Eunice had introduced him not only to the Old Testament books, but also to Jesus who was the key to understanding the texts and their true meaning, for the salvation promised could reach humanity through faith in him.
Even though the two letters to Timothy open up a gash on the education of the children, they do not speak abstractly of the condition of adults. Rather, they address husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, to bishops and deacons, families and widows. In the same line of thought, today’s catechism that chooses to speak increasingly of the family, rather than just of adults, reflects this awareness of the centrality of personal relationships, and of choices that constitute the typical adult’s condition. An adult does not edify children only because he is concerned about them, but also and especially, he does so because he lives his life with serene responsibilities, serving as model and witness. Timothy has received this initial guidance from his family and has been set on the right path.
Building the foundation and living an exemplary life
However, the first education Timothy received was not sufficient. There is always a need to renew what one has received at the early stage of life by updating it so as to efficiently face the ever new situations and challenges of life. Saint Paul, having mentioned the initial faith the Young Timothy from his mother and grand-mother, went on to exhort him to do more: “ For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline”(2 Tim 1: 6-7)
It is an education that must be pursued with study and thinking – “Till I come, dedicate yourself to reading” (1 Tim 4, 13). The importance of study shows forth also in the fact that Timothy is asked to be the bearer of books needed by Paul: “As you come, bring the cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.” (2 Tim 4, 13).
Authentic Christian education cannot be seen as simply limited to the person who receives it, but it opens him/her to live fully in the world to be able to share with others of the gifts received from God. Timothy is therefore invited to bear in mind and to care for all in his actions and his prayers –
“I therefore recommend, first of all, that supplications, prayers and intercessions for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. Only one, in fact, is God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all “(1 Tim 2: 1-6).
For Timothy, as a bishop, apply the recommendations to be hospitable, able to teach, gentle, not quarrelsome (1 Tim 3: 2-3); In fact, “it is necessary that [the bishop] enjoy good reputation with those outside, to avoid falling into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim 3: 7).
Timothy has been able to reach this level and distinction within the early Christian community because of the faith he received and nurtured as he grew up with studies and dedication. This example is very important and useful for families today.
We all are therefor called to understand our Catholic faith and transmit same to our children and our children’s children.