As Catholics, our participation in the sacraments connects us deeply with God. The Baltimore Catechism defines the sacraments as the outward sign instituted by God to give us grace.
One thing we have to keep in mind is that our reception of the grace available in a sacrament – any sacrament – is in direct proportion to our proper disposition to receive that grace; our openness, our ‘yes’ to God, to Christ,” says the Diocese of Orange’s Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation.
For the many parents who worry that their older kids and young adult children drift away from God and the Catholic Church, experts note, the sacraments can be the best way to maintain and strengthen their faith.
“If a parent is concerned that their child or young adult is not participating in the sacraments, well, there is a larger question to look at,” Dawson says. “How are they doing in forming an adult understanding of God in their life? Do they believe in God, Jesus? If a parent suspects or knows that their child or young adult is uncertain or questioning the fundamental reality of God – then there is a more fundamental approach that should be taken.”
Author Patrick Madrid of Catholic Answers, a magazine published by Catholic.com, agrees. In his 2016 story, “Three Steps to Keeping Your Kids Catholic,” Madrid says it’s common for him to see young adults wandering away from the church: They show signs of apathy, uncertainty and doubt, and feel they are unloved or unaccepted by fellow Catholics.
He recommends that the best way to keep kids connected to the faith is for parents to lead by example – receiving the sacraments regularly, engaging in prayer, and living lives dedicated to faith, mercy, and forgiveness. Family prayer as an integral part of family life is another effective way to keep kids connected, he adds, and he also recommends cementing children’s faith by educating them about God, Catholicism, and the Bible.
Parental examples of living in faith cannot be overemphasized. If parents merely go through the motions, or even let children worship at Mass without them, any strong ties they have to the Catholic faith will grow weaker over time and gradually disappear.
Dawson recalls experiencing her own crisis of faith as a teenager and the way her devout mother responded.
“When I was 15 and was doubting the existence of God, my mother listened to me carefully and expressed her love for me and her concern,” she recalls. “She encouraged me to keep receiving the Eucharist – and directed me to pray to God to reveal the truth of His existence to me. I did that – and I eventually (over a period of about a year) I had an experience of God’s presence that was compelling.”
It was a turning point in her life, she notes. “I became aware of how greatly I am immensely loved by God, and that I am valuable (important information for all of us, but especially a child or teen) and that God wanted to be in a relationship with me. This relationship is nurtured by the sacraments and the life of the Church.”