Catholics have a very intriguing view of the faith life of children compared to many other American Christians. It is perhaps absurd practice to nonbelievers of every shade.
Many Americans–some Evangelicals as well as secularists–eschew Catholics for the involuntary system of indoctrination that young people are forced into. From the outside, with all our Baptism & Catechism programs, First Communions, and Rites of Passage, it would appear that Catholics do indeed have some sort of highly efficient form of indoctrination in place, to keep us blindly obedient. This is a point of contention and criticism for many former Catholics and other nonbelievers.
Measuring the results, it would be absurd to call any of this indoctrination even remotely efficient. If many identifying Catholics cannot articulate the faith, do not practice the faith, and leave the faith before they reach full adulthood, any charge of insular indoctrination to keep us all blindly obedient is ridiculous. Considering how many of the criticisms of Catholicism have recycled themselves over the years, it often sounds more as if critics of the Catholic Church are themselves efficiently indoctrinated into obedience to their own ideology.
What does this issue of the upbringing of Catholics say about us?
The faith life of Catholic children is a subject of scandal to former Catholics and non-Catholics. Maybe something remarkable and grace-filled is happening there. If many people outside of the Church find it troubling, it might make us wonder. Is God at work in a special way?
Some of us are baptized as children. This first Sacrament of Initiation takes very little from the recipient to prove their worthiness. For one to receive baptism, it does not require them to pass rigorous exams meant to weed out the weak, unintelligent, unworthy, or unprepared. There is no list of requirements for the child who receives baptism.
God’s grace is so free and generous that it would not make sense to have all sorts of rigorous requirements to disqualify anyone. God’s grace in baptism is so life-giving and overwhelming that it does not take a whole lot of effort on our part. The only impediment to it could be the lack of the individual recipient’s openness to the sacrament, something that is more likely to happen when the child witnesses a closed heart in their parents.
Despite the possibility of closing oneself to God’s grace, this all says a lot about the faith life of children. It is not merely that the faith life of a child is somehow acceptable, as having the basic capacity for openness. Rather, the real scandal of childlike faith is that the child’s faith is somehow a superior paradigm to the cynicism of adults. The most scandalous aspect of the faith of children is that their own faith, before all our reasoning, studying, and pride, is itself superior.
When critics go about making criticisms how we raise children in the faith, before they have the “right to decide,” I would have to turn that around. How insulting is that! How insulting it is to the faith of the children, to dismiss it is irrelevant! How insulting it is to these children, when former Catholics eschew their faith! It is indeed the faith of children that we aspire to receive the Kingdom of God.
Copyright © 2013, Mark Menegatti