Over the centuries, the Church has been entrusted with a sacred deposit of faith whereby it has never lost its vision of hope and joy even in the most difficult of times. This deposit of faith passed down through Scripture and Tradition is surprisingly even more relevant today, as it issues a clarion call to young people in this very challenging and urgent period of history.
Handing on the torch of faith, St Paul’s writing to Timothy recalls: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now I am sure dwells in you.” (2 Timothy 1: 5)
Timothy or any Christian child, with proper faith nurturing, possesses in their growing years one of the greatest blessings in life. Godly Christian parents produce godly children in faith. This is achieved by transmitting a strong knowledge of faith. Timothy’s grandmother and mother were staunch believers who were faithful and devout. Sometimes one parent may not even be a believer like Timothy’s dad (cf. Acts 16:1). Yet Timothy received ample faith, primarily through the study of scriptures from his earliest days. “…and how from infancy you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 3: 15).
Here are two areas where parents and teachers can apply scripture in the development of faith and discernment to their children:
Start Young for the Ultimate Future
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn away from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) Any training is difficult at that time but later it will produce fruit. “Now discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) This faith training which leads to growth in discernment is crucial for developing the young person. It exposes the modern counterculture of death which is hardly any improvement for life and its future. The young people are faced with a superficial lifestyle without dealing seriously with the root problems of a narcissistic society. A culture where faith is not at its centre degenerates inevitably into chaos and crisis. Without a positive environment of faith and the teaching of scripture instilled upon the young, the backlash of a culture of death will keep the young in a state of stupor and uncertainty.
Donald C. Coggan sums up the human condition that needs teaching and guidance: “I go through life as a transient on his way to eternity, made up in the image of God but with the image debased, needing to be taught how to meditate, to worship, to think.” The training of faith teaches the young how to endure difficulties and pain. This is especially rewarding when the crisis of life hits them. Faith that comes from suffering helps them to recognise the strength they need to endure the trials of life that must come. “We rejoice greatly in our suffering because it produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” (Romans 5:3)
Rooting Children in Faith
The first seven chapters of the book of Proverbs exhorts children to listen to their father. “Listen my children to your father’s instruction.” (Proverbs 1:8; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1; 6:1; 7:1) There is a godly wisdom that is handed down to a child by parents and by no other means. The child can never acquire this on its own. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) Submission to an elder and to a life of faith is the foundation of all learning. (cf. Ephesians 6:1) Creating a teachable spirit upon the young is the quintessence of a successful parent. “And how from infancy you have known the sacred scriptures that are able to instruct you and save you through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)
Teaching faith is crucial because the so called “logical world” cannot provide adequate answers about the true purpose of life. This aspect of faith comes from a proper explanation of the scriptures (cf. Romans 10:17). To inspire and reinforce faith, repetition and focus are needed because of the godless existence of an environment of faithlessness. We live in a state that does not value prayer, faith and reflection. Distraction is the order of the day. As the human mind receives thousands of stimuli, both positive and negative, the natural ability of the brain is enhanced when, with singleness of purpose, young people centre their attention upon a desired object of study. (Dr. Richard J. Forster, Celebration of Discipline. The discipline of study.) The task is to root the child with constant links to a life and teaching of faith.
Much of today’s culture is a mirror of the worst features of an older, sick society. The pseudo-liberation eroticism, elements of sadomasochism and sexist advertisement in much of the underground press is part of the perversion of the old order and an expression of death. (Arthur G. Gish, Beyond the Rat Race, New Canaan, CT: Keats, 1973).
Consequently, negative elements watched through the Internet and media repeatedly trains the inner mind in destructive thought patterns.
A life which is rooted in faith explains that it is that very sense of faith that stirs the conscience that has been sullied and shamed by the sinful deed (Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, A Religious and Political Analysis, Tradition Magazine, Vol 27. No. 3, Spring 1993, p. 31) “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Willingness to Respond
Therefore, if any young person like Timothy is guided by faith and is willing to respond to the stirring of the gifts, inevitably the young person will develop and progress in his capacity to discern what is true “agape” love and the mastery of self-control.
The testimony of hundreds of case studies have proven that the young can be victorious in their struggle against the dark world of sin and shame. (Rabbi Basil F. Herring, “Choice Diminished Behaviour and Religious and Communal Policy” in Yitzchok Berger and David Shatz (edts), Judaism, Science and Moral Responsibility: Orthodox Forum, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield (2006), pp. 162, 168)
It is to these young ones who are willing to plunge into sacred scriptures, whom none else can instruct better but one willing to keep the word of God in his heart. (cf. Psalm 119:9-11)
This article was first published in the Catholic News.