“Do Catholics worship Mary?”
Our third-grade daughter heard this question posed to her by a friend one day as they played on the swing set together during recess. She told us about the conversation later that night over dinner.
“What did you say to him?” I asked, hoping my voice remained neutral. Our children did not attend a Catholic school and we had wondered whether conversations such as this might arise between our children and their classmates.
Our daughter took a bite of her taco. “I told him, ‘Yes!’”
My husband and I exchanged glances. Oh dear.
A Strong Catholic Formation
As Catholic parents, we desire many things for our children: health, friendship, academic success, a thirst for knowledge, a positive sense of self. But first and foremost of all is that we desire them to become saints. That is, after all, the reason that God entrusted them to us. During a Catholic wedding ceremony, the celebrant asks the bride and groom, “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” This is the duty of each Catholic parent: it’s what we promised to do!
A Catholic formation begins in the home. Saying grace before meals, a regular tradition in Catholic families, is itself catechetical, teaching children that God is the giver of all gifts, even one’s taco at dinner! Catholic textbooks, catechisms, and storybooks help form children in the Faith. Catholic toys like a pretend Mass kit or a magnetic church have entertained our kids, while teaching them as well.
Sometimes though, a strong Catholic formation doesn’t only come from teaching our children what our Faith is; sometimes we need to teach them what it is not. And that’s part of apologetics.
Apologetics: Our Defense
Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “to explain and defend.” It is one thing to know one’s faith; it is another to be able to attractively explain those beliefs to another person and to counteract any challenges to them.
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. (1 Peter 3:15)
Many non-Catholics of goodwill have misconceptions about the Catholic faith. Inevitably, at some point — if not already — your children will cross paths with these brothers and sisters of ours. These conversations are opportunities to evangelize and correct any misunderstandings.
Unfortunately, if our children aren’t well-versed in their faith, such conversations may pose danger, causing them to question and doubt … maybe even leading them away from the one true Faith. A strong education in apologetics, however, helps arm our children so they will stand firm in their Catholic faith, enabling them to lovingly and gently spread the truth of our faith to others.
Form an Apologetics Group!
As my husband and I discussed that conversation our daughter had on the swing set, we knew we had to do something. After a search online, I found a program for a Catholic children’s apologetics group, written by a Catholic homeschooling mother. I decided to use her notes, but adjusted them here and there, included some more interactive activities, and added an extra session. I also referenced the Friendly Defenders cards, which are helpful for dialogue with Protestants as well as non-believers.
A few other Catholic families attend the same school as our children and we invited them to participate with us. Once a month, the children and their parents gather in our living room.
We have a wide span of ages, from children as young as four to 13! Our monthly topics include: Scripture and Tradition, faith and works, the papacy, our Blessed Mother, saints, and the Eucharist. Each session the children have one or two Scripture verses to memorize pertaining to that month’s topic. I print the verses on laminated cards, attached to a keyring. Our daughter told us that one boy keeps his verses in his desk in school, in case he ever needs them!
Generally, our sessions followed this format:
- Opening prayer
- Apologetics practice: I divide the children into groups and have them practice the different objections and Catholic defenses we previously discussed. Then everyone has a chance to present what they prepared.
- Lesson: Using my notes, I introduce that month’s topic, beginning with the Catholic teaching and then discussing some objections non-Catholics might raise.
- Snack and memory verse game: To make it interesting, we have the children compete against the adults in trying to remember the verses we memorized! It is so helpful to have Scripture verses at-hand to use in our defense of the Catholic faith.
- Craft: I added a craft element to each session to make it fun, but also because I wanted there to be something tangible the children could hold and keep, to help them remember the lessons we discussed. So, when we talked about Tradition, the children used salt dough to make an imprint of their hand: Tradition is, after all, the “handing on” of the Faith. For the papacy, the children painted rocks, since Peter is the rock on which the Church is built. When we discussed the Blessed Mother, the children decorated pots and planted a marigold (“Mary’s gold”) in them … and we prayed that their love for their heavenly Mother would grow each day.
“Everything God wants us to know is in the Bible.”
“Only the Bible is infallible.”
“I know for sure I’m going to heaven.”
If someone made these statements to you or your children, would you be able to respond to them? Apologetics is the strong armor we need to engage with people of other faiths or no faith at all. It confirms us in our beliefs and gives us confidence to charitably converse with others.
The next day after that swing set conversation, our daughter approached her friend and said, “Do you remember what you asked me yesterday about Catholics worshipping Mary? I actually said the wrong thing. We only worship God. But we really, really love Mary!”
We don’t have to get it right the first time, but we should keep growing in knowledge of our faith. And don’t forget that the Holy Spirit will always be there to guide, inspire, and direct our words!
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