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Generational Faith

According to a recent Pew Research Center report, only 1 in 3 Catholic parents consider it “very important” for their children to share their faith. While we should be grateful for that third of the Catholic population, we should also be frightened at the thought that more than half of Catholic parents don’t likewise consider it very important for their children to share their faith. As we see in Scripture, disastrous consequences follow when the chosen people of God do “what is right in their own eyes” and neglect to hand on God’s commands and the faith to “the next generation.”

In the Old Testament, God repeatedly reminds Israel to hand on the faith to the next generation. In Exodus 12:25-27, we read of the Passover Feast, “And when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he slew the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”

The Israelites were to tell the story of the Passover from generation to generation, re-telling the story until it permeated the very air they breathed. The Exodus was meant to become the paradigm, the very lens by which Israel would view not only the past, but also the future. For what God did for ancestors, he can and will do for us. This was to be the hope of Israel in every age of persecution and oppression, be it Canaanite assault, Assyrian invasion, Babylonian captivity, or Roman occupation. God similarly exhorts the Israelites to teach the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 — “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”) to their children in every generation.

The New Testament likewise bears this emphasis of handing on the faith to the next generation. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, for example, St. Paul writes that we “hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” — the Greek word for “traditions” being tradere, meaning “to pass on.” For Paul, this is how one follows the apostles amidst false teachers — holding fast to that which is “passed on” by the apostles, since their doctrine is that of Christ, having received it from him. Whether we’re talking about the Old or New Testament, the faith is not a novelty made up by the generations to come, but a revealed truth meant to be passed on to the next generation.

Unfortunately, the Scriptures also testify for us that only 1 in 3 parents considering it very important for their children to share their faith is not a new problem, but an ever ancient one. We read in Judges 2:10-13, for example, that “all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Ba’als; and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were round about them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They forsook the Lord, and served the Ba’als and the Ash’taroth.”

The Exodus was meant to become the paradigm, the very lens by which Israel would view not only the past, but also the future. For what God did for ancestors, he can and will do for us.

Come this point in Israel’s history, a new generation had arisen that did not know the Lord, a clear instance of a catechetical failure to pass on the faith. This inevitably leads to disastrous consequence, in this case the next generation being forsaken by God: “So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them; and he sold them into the power of their enemies round about, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them; and they were in sore straits” (Judges 2:14-15). Israel found herself in a downward spiral as Judges recounts the long darkness that came over Israel after the conquest of the Promised Land. And after Joshua and his contemporaries died, the narrator tells us of this new generation that has arisen to not know the Lord, thus marking a moral decline.

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Consequently, it is a cycle of moral decline that will play itself out seven times throughout the Book of Judges: (1) Israel falls into idolatry, (2) Israel comes under servitude, (3) Israel cries to God to send them a savior, (4) God raises up a judge to rescue Israel, and (5) Israel sits in silence, failing to return to God and thus restarting the cycle of breaking the covenant. It was doubtless a hard lesson for the God’s people to learn, rooted in the failure of parents and priests to pass on the faith to the next generation.

As paragraph 2094 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it, lukewarmness is a sin against God’s love that entails “hesitation or negligence in responding to divine love; it can imply refusal to give oneself over to the prompting of charity.” Simply put, we don’t respond to God because we don’t have fire in our belly for God. Alas, as we see in the message to the Church of Laodicea in the Book of Revelation, Jesus does not speak highly of this unenthusiastic response to His love: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:15-16).

While we should be grateful for that third of Catholic parents that considers it very important for their children to share their faith, we all need realize that a failure to respond to the love of Christ and pass on the faith only leads to spiritual death. In order to evangelize and keep the flames of faith alive for future generations to come, we must know our faith, love our faith and share our faith!

Daniel Campbell
Daniel Campbell
Daniel Campbell is the Director of the Lay Division at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

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