I used to listen to a talk radio host who would say, “In the department store of life, sports is, after all, the toy department.” Surely that’s a useful message for us “weekend warriors.”
But let’s take that comment a step further. In the department store of life, is our faith merely a department–and a “boring” one at that, such as housewares or women’s clothing? If so, then what about the rest of the store? Are there parts of our life that our faith doesn’t affect?
I think it’s very easy to compartmentalize our day. If we’re not careful, however, this could lead to our assessing our spiritual development based solely or at least excessively on explicit religious observance. In other words, we might look to whether we “got in” our Rosary, chaplet, holy hour, or whatever other devotion(s) we set out to do each day, as if these admittedly good things were ends in themselves.
Or we might pride ourselves on our “orthodoxy,” but check our faith at the door in certain areas of our lives, such as in our business dealings or even our highway driving. Yet deep down we know that religious observance and doctrinal orthodoxy, to be authentic, must inform the totality of our lives.
Before ascending to His Father, our Lord instructed His Apostles to go “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). This call goes in a special way to bishops as the legitimate successors of the Apostles. Yet the call goes out to all of us. And when it comes to the family, parents are, in the words of Pope Pius XI, “vicars of Christ” within the home, the “domestic Church.” The various duties of parents described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2221-31) all point to the vocation of Catholic parents to make disciples of their children. “Disciple” comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means “learner.” But just as being a disciple is more than mere “learning,” making disciples is more than mere “teaching.”
As Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have emphasized in recent decades, teachers must first and foremost be witnesses. In other words, they must already be disciples themselves. But what are the hallmarks of a disciple, a true follower of Christ? One concise response was given by our Lord Himself when He said: “Anyone who wishes to be My disciple must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23).
What kind of disciples are we raising if we spoil our children, deny them nothing, and soften the daily requirements of Christian living when they seem inconvenient or burdensome? As far as that goes, what kind of disciples are we?
The word “discipline” comes from the same root as disciple. Discipline is not limited to correcting inappropriate behavior. It’s more about instilling virtue, self-control, and a sense of order in our children’s lives as well as our own. As Scripture says, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).
Discipline is hard work even in the intellectual realm, as sound catechesis requires some memorization. At times it’s easier to give in and let the child do what he or she wants, but such myopic solutions in the long run lead to ruin. But we don’t merely discipline–we “disciple” our children as we draw them around Jesus in the Family of God (Catechism, no. 542).
Our children are watching us like hawks. Sure, they watch me when I’m praying with them or explaining Church teaching to them. But they’re also watching to see how I respond to conflict or disappointment, how I treat strangers, how I use “free time,” and where I turn for refreshment and meaning in life. What do they see?
Our children are God’s, not ours. Yet He entrusts these treasures to us for a time. Therefore, making disciples of our children must always be the top priority. We need to bring our “A” game when it comes to their religious education, beginning in the home. What excuse could we possible have for doing less?