By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published January 15, 2009 | En Español
“May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So reads a portion of the final blessing over the parents at the conclusion of the ritual for the baptism of children. Being the best of teachers is a fervent desire for every parent and most of them spend a lifetime trying to achieve that goal. The Church’s prayer basically captures a deeply felt ambition for all parents.
Last week I spent significant time with some toddlers and their parents. I had the pleasure of having dinner with a family and their 2-year-old, who was clearly the center of his parents’ universe. His father, who has a rich science background, was teaching him to recite physics formularies, and it sounded hysterical to hear a youngster recite some of the great scientific discoveries, voicing only the words without realizing the profound meaning of those words.
Children learn all types of words long before they understand their deeper meaning. Parents know that their children are like sponges and readily restate all the words that they hear—even words that their parents might wish that they had not heard and certainly not repeated.
It is this repetitive nature of children that allows them to begin to learn how to pray. They repeat the words that their parents say, and for most of them the deeper meaning will only come much later.
Last Sunday I baptized three babies who were the ninth, 10th and 11th grandchildren of a couple that I have known all of my Priesthood. I was in the Archdiocese of Washington where the family now lives, and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord was the perfect time for me to make a one-day visit to celebrate this special sacramental moment in the life of this wonderful family.
One of the sets of new parents hosted a reception at their home after the baptism ceremony, and the house was filled with youngsters who freely mingled with and yet largely ignored the adults who came to celebrate this triple baptismal joy. But the little ones heard the laughter, the banter and the happy exchange that filled the house. They also paused as we said a prayer over the meal. Some of them were learning how to make the Sign of the Cross, which they did with some assistance from parents, aunts, uncles and, of course, proud grandparents.
Children must be taught how to pray and the ability to use the words and engage in the actions takes place long before they realize the deeper meaning of these prayers.
Parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of Faith—so declares the ritual—and like all of the other things that they teach their children, they always do so best through their own good and constant example.
The time that I spent with little ones last week was a blessing for me since it reminded me of how much the Church depends upon the witness of Faith that children find in their homes and in the lives of their parents. May all of our parents become the best teachers that they can be for the sake of their children and the Kingdom of God.