The whole educational work is mainly the result of testimony, of authentic answers to specific questions and the embodiment of values in the sudden and various situations of life, more than impersonal and authoritarian affirmation of laws and duties.
But this applies, in a very particular sense, to religious and moral formation. For this reason, many parents feel incapable of this task, while others face it without conviction or even neglect it, albeit with great bitterness.
The family, the first place of religious experience
However, the family always remains, in a normal way, the place where the child has the first religious experience, positive or negative. In fact, everyone knows how, since a certain “availability” to the sense of God is innate in every man, if an adequate response to this fundamental need is lacking, his human experience remains incomplete. “Religious experience, a typically human experience, constitutes an indispensable aspect of the education of the child” (Guidelines for Italian state nursery schools, 1969, p. 15).
It is in the light of this psychological principle that it must be stated how, in practice, each family gives a religious education, which will be positive or negative. The educational void does not exist.
Furthermore, the children who have been baptized, becoming children of God and brothers of Christ in the mystery of regeneration carried out by the Holy Spirit, have the right to receive an education that responds to the dignity that God has given them, through the question of their parents and the mediation of the church.
Neglecting the religious education of children, in this case, is a failure to fulfill a serious duty assumed on the day of baptism.
As various family models can be, today, just as different can be the type and level of religious educational commitment. Certainly it can never be separated from the personal needs of the children and from the essential contents of the Catholic faith.
To all parents, who want to live the religious educational commitment, even if taking into account the many and difficult situations of their family experience, we offer some basic and simple indications, in the hope of giving help.
A climate of authentic and lived faith is the first indeclinable condition for the growth in the faith of children. Not only practices, prayers, gestures, but climate: even the religious climate, like the natural one, does not identify with anything, but is composed of many visible and invisible things.
The climate of faith gives life to hope and charity, which translate into dedication, humility, attention, service to each other … Thus the child “breathes”, with the air of the house, the serenity, the availability of the parents, the love between them and towards him, the acceptance, which become for him self-confidence, possibility of autonomy, of personal expression.
To his naive and profound questions together, the parents give equally simple and true answers; in their attitudes, in reference to the events of daily life, he learns to read the gospel values of hospitality, forgiveness, understanding, joy; in their face and austere gestures, especially during prayer, he senses the sign of the presence of God, father and lord, with whom he himself will learn to dialogue on their example and with their help.
Thus, in the experience of every day, mom and dad will be for him the “familiar face” of God, whose love and gifts he will gradually discover and which he will learn to love, to reciprocate his cares, as those of Dad and mom. Faith, received in baptism as a small seed, grows and becomes a leafy tree.
The journey of children’s faith begins like this.
Evidently the religious aspect of the child’s education – as has been repeated several times – must be intimately woven in all his life experience, in order to be authentic and vital. Even if there are typically religious moments, the essence of Christian religiosity is love; and love, to be authentic, must be embodied in life. In the unity of the human personality, authentic religious experience can play a role of balancing unification.
It is to do what in the tiring and slow path for the “construction” of the maturity of the human person – which is the aim of education – the progressive discovery and maturation of the “Christian newness” plays the role of yeast in the dough.