Editor's Reflections: Parents and the Art of Discernment

Authored by Dr. James Pauley in Issue #4.3 of The Catechetical Review

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Photo of father walking and holding son's hand.

At this October’s gathering of the Synod of Bishops, the universal Church takes up the important question of “young people, the faith and discernment.” This issue of The Catechetical Review is inspired by this same theme, featuring a number of very fine articles exploring vocational discernment, but also several which examine more broadly how we can strengthen our approaches to helping others seek God’s will. In these pages, we join our chief shepherds in seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance regarding this spiritual practice that is so vital to the life of the Church and to the flourishing of our young people.

If emerging adults are to learn the art of discernment, it’s not enough for them to learn how to think clearly while weighing positive and negative outcomes aligned with a particular decision. As Christians seeking to live in communion with the Trinity, we must also learn to be attuned to God in our decision-making, to hear his voice in the many ways he speaks, so that we may be responsive to his movement and direction. Such an ability presumes an interior life that moves us frequently into prayerful contact with God. But, in our contemporary situation of nearly ubiquitous data circulation and the sometimes-overwhelming variety of options and choices, how is it possible to hear the voice of God and to be responsive to that voice? Moreover, why should a person want to hear this voice and to give it authority amidst the myriad voices that frequently must be navigated?

In the Preparatory Document for the synod, we read that “the irreplaceable educational role played by parents and other family members needs to be acknowledged in every Christian community.”[1] While the responsibility of parents to be primary educators and formators of their children is affirmed in our guiding documents, we must guard against the tendency to merely offer “lip service” to this important truth. In families where parents are present to their children, they are exceptionally positioned to understand unique temperaments and personalities, to form them from an early age in the virtues, to help them come to know God as he gives himself in the sacramental life, and to equip them with the discernment skills that will see them through life’s uncertain and sometimes dark periods. They will also be best able to answer that question of why authority over one’s life should be given to God.

To the question of a parent’s impact on the Catholic convictions of their children, the University of Notre Dame last year made available a fascinating and helpful study by sociologists Christian Smith and Lisa Pearce, that convincingly demonstrates why we must put the parent-child catechetical relationship first.[2] Interestingly, the findings of the study actually contradict what many parents presume is their level of influence in the faith convictions of their adolescent children. One of the greatest takeaways from the National Survey of Youth and Religion was summarized well in an article published last year in this journal:

Of the most religious quartile of NSYR young adults ages 24-29 an impressive 82% had parents who reported each of the following: that their family regularly talked about religious topics in the home, that faith was “very important” to them, and that they themselves regularly were involved in religious activities. By comparison, only 1% of the least religious quartile of young adults had parents who reported this combination of religious attitudes and practices. Thus, according to the [study], the single most decisive difference between Millennials who remained religiously committed into adulthood and those who didn’t was the degree of religiousness exhibited by their parents.[3]

As catechetical leaders and catechists, any investment we can make into the catechetical relationship between parent and child is worth its weight in gold. Helping parents not only become “involved in religious activities” and feel their faith to be “very important,” but helping them to frequently talk with their kids about what life in Christ means and why it is infinitely valuable is perhaps our most important opportunity.

What can we do to inspire and encourage parents in these ways? How do we empower them in the catechesis of their own children? How do we help parents to establish or deepen a dynamic culture of Catholic life and conversation in the home? When parents are encouragedfrequently enough by other parentsto take steps to personally mentor their children in the faith, children receive the very best foundation for learning how to discern their own life choices. They also, consequently, are more likely to remain committed Catholics entering adulthood.

Dr. James Pauley is Professor of Theology and Catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville and author of the book Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century: A School of Discipleship (Liturgy Training Publications, 2017).


[1] Preparatory Document for the Ordinary General Assembly of the XV Synod of Bishops, accessible at Vatican.va.

[2] More information on the study can be found at www.youthandreligion.nd.edu. A brief but helpful summary of the study may be found at https://icl.nd.edu/assets/170517/icl_former_catholics_final_web.pdf.

[3] Justin Bartkus, “The Home: A Catholic Subculture that Makes a Difference,” The Catechetical Review 3:2 (April 2017), 9-11, emphasis added.

Photo credit: public domain image from Pixabay.com

This article originally appeared on page 5 of the printed edition.

This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

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