When my three-year-old son makes the sign of the cross and sweetly tells Jesus how much he loves Him, I am so proud. When that same son screams in anger and frustration, I am ashamed. He learned to do both by imitating me.Wouldn’t parenting be easier if children would just do all the good things you tell them to do, and none of the rotten things they see you do? Children are natural-born imitators: they mimic whatever they see, both good and bad. Unfortunately, parents are not always natural-born good examples.If we want our children to be good Catholics, then we must be good Catholics. If we want them to live and love their Catholic faith, then our children must see us living and loving our faith. The formula is so easy, and yet so hard to apply consistently. To always be a good example to both your young children and teens is extremely difficult, even with God’s grace. Fortunately, there are ways to make up for our parental shortcomings.
The most effective way to keep your teens in the Catholic Church is to show them how to fall in love with Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist is the secret weapon in the war for the soul of your teenager. The combined forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil are utterly powerless against it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Eucharist “the heart and the summit of the Church’s life,” as well as the “sum and summary of our faith.” (CCC, #1407, #1327). The Eucharist is the sacrament of sacraments, the divine reality toward which all the others sacraments point and in which they are all fulfilled.
Currently, there is a lamentable lack of faith in the Real Presence. A 1993 Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Catholics hold false views about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Only 30% of those Catholics surveyed correctly believe that Jesus Christ is truly present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—under the appearance of bread and wine. A more recent survey found that belief in the Real Presence sharply decreases among younger Catholics. Only 17% of 18-29 year-olds accept that Jesus Christ is truly present in Holy Communion. It is shocking that five out of six Catholic teenagers reject the Real Presence, the heart of our faith.
The Eucharist is an infinitely precious gift from God because it is God. How many Catholics appreciate the immeasurable graces which flow from this sacrament? How many of us are aware that by receiving Communion in the state of grace, we receive forgiveness of our venial sins, grace to avoid mortal sins, and a deeper union with Christ? Going to Communion also binds us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, strengthens us to persevere in our earthly pilgrimage, and makes us long for eternal life. When we truly believe these promises, we will teach our children to treasure this gift above all others.
But before we can strengthen our teen’s faith in the Eucharist, we must first revitalize our own faith. We should deepen our knowledge of this sacrament, since love increases with knowledge. As Frank Sheed noted, “Every new thing known about God is a new reason for loving Him.” (Theology and Sanity) Likewise, the more we learn about the Eucharist, the more we will cherish it. Additionally, the better we know this doctrine, the better we can communicate it to our teens.
An excellent place to begin studying the Eucharist is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs #1322-1419. Another great resource is Mark P. Shea’s This Is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers the Real Presence.
But it is in showing your teens that you love the Eucharist that you will enable them to fall in love with Jesus in the Sacrament. Go to Mass regularly, even daily, if your schedule allows. Daily Mass is not just for people like the Holy Father and Mother Teresa: it is for everyone who hungers for the Eucharist, which should be all of us. Sure it takes effort, but anything worthwhile takes effort. The sacrifice you make to get to Mass frequently speaks volumes to your children about the value you place on the Eucharist.
Children notice the smallest details. Ask them who makes the most reverent sign of the cross in your family. Have them tell you which priest holds up the consecrated host longest, or says Mass most reverently. Their answers should convince you to become more devout in your own behavior. At Mass, adore God wholeheartedly at the consecration and elevation. Genuflect respectfully each time you pass in front of the tabernacle. Make a deliberate sign of the cross, not some fly-swatting swish of the hands. Linger a few minutes after Mass, to give thanks to the infinite Creator you carry within your body. At least once a week, make a family visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Children will judge the sincerity of your faith by the sincerity of your actions.
A strong faith in the Eucharist is the best protection your teenager can have against the lure of non-Catholic evangelizers. Many Catholics leave their bland parish for another denomination that serves up the Gospel hot and spicy. People who give up the Catholic faith often say they were looking for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. How much more personal can you get than to have Jesus literally and physically living within your body? Ex-Catholics who claim that they are now being “fed” with the written Word at their new church, don’t realize that they have abandoned the banquet of the Living Word, the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.
The Eucharist is Catholic “super-glue,” binding believers to the Church for a lifetime. To keep your teens Catholic, instill in them a love for Jesus in the Eucharist. And since you can’t give what you haven’t got, fall in love with our Eucharistic Lord yourself.