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There is a good reason why the family is often called the “domestic church.” More than the actual churches, more than the schools, youth groups, movements, etc., the family is the most influential factor in determining the future faith lives of young Catholics.

Parents have long been recognized as the primary teachers of their children. “Little pitchers have big ears,” is that old saying about the amazing way children pick up habits from their parents and caregivers. Both good and bad.

That’s why the Catholic Church recognizes the serious responsibility held by parents for passing on their faith to their children. It’s also why an unfortunate habit among many parents these days to not pass on their own faith, but “let the child decide when they’re older” is, in reality, a decision to NOT pass on the faith, full stop. It is an abdication of this responsibility. By not teaching a child about the faith inherited from previous generations, the parents are virtually guaranteeing children will not have anything to fall back on when they reach adulthood and will be swayed by the prevailing ethos.

Through the centuries, the Church has established a large and impressive network of supports for parents. Schools are, of course, the main institution devoted to this task, but parishes also have access to many resources to help parents.

On June 22-26, in Rome, the Catholic Church will celebrate the role of families and officially end the Year of the Family, which has provided an opportunity to reflect upon and pray for their spiritual health. Events organized around the world this year have drawn heavily upon the papal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ summary of the lessons drawn out of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in 2015.

This papal teaching focused on the absolute urgency of supporting family life in all its aspects, recognizing it is a source of love and joy for the world and the Church. While underlining traditional church teaching on the sanctity of marriage and the responsibility towards children, the Pope also noted the many challenges facing families, whether economic, social or cultural. At the heart of this notion of family is that it should be a primary place where the child encounters the love of God.

“The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors God’s creative work. The family is called to join in daily prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple in which the Spirit dwells,” the Pope says in his exhortation.

Knowing how so many aspects of modern life conspire to make family life anything but a domestic church, Francis calls on those in ministry and education to be compassionate, humble and nonjudgmental in dealing with real families facing real challenges. Nor should we insist on “a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.”

As we end this special Year of the Family, Catholics everywhere can pray for the future health and fruitfulness of families. Whatever our family situation, we can all recognize that their health will determine the health of our society.

Joseph Sinasac is Publishing Director at Novalis. He has been involved with religious communications for more than 40 years as an author, journalist, editor and TV and radio commentator on all things Catholic. He continues to be excited by the commitment and passion of the Catholics he meets in his daily work.

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