The instructions to which I refer have to do with the responsibility of parents toward their children as they present them for baptism. These instructions are very serious, and I would like all parents to hear them again, especially if they still have children at home:“You have asked to have your children baptized. In doing so, you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”

“You have come here to present these children for baptism…On your part, you must make it your constant care to bring them up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life which God gives them is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in their hearts.”

To the first question you responded, “I do” and to the second instruction you gave your assent by renewing the promises of your own baptism. This is a tremendous privilege given to parents, but it is a privilege that carries with it a great responsibility. These statements echo what the Church firmly believes about the right and responsibility of parents to be the first educators of their children, especially in the faith. We read in the “Decree on Christian Education” from the Second Vatican Council:

“Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. This role in education is so important that only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking. Parents are the ones who must create a family atmosphere animated by love and respect for God and man, in which the well-rounded personal and social education of children is fostered.”

I am frequently amazed at how seriously many parents take this responsibility which God has given them. Some parents have clearly made the formation of their children in the ways of the faith the absolute top priority in their lives. I find this to be especially true among most of those in the home schooling community.

Other parents entrust their children to one or more of our Catholic schools. That is a wonderful financial sacrifice they make, and I pray that we will do an ever better job in making our Catholic schools all that they should be as institutions firm in their Catholic identity and in the teaching of the fullness of the faith.

Finally, many parents entrust their children to our parish faith formation and catechesis programs. We will be working ever harder to make these programs sound and substantial in the faithful passing on of the faith. We will also do more to provide for the formation of our catechists who hand on the faith of the Church.

But for those parents who choose to utilize our Catholic schools or parish faith formation programs, it must be emphasized that this is no substitute for the awesome responsibility they have undertaken by becoming parents and having their children baptized. Far more important than what happens in a Catholic school day, or in an hour of faith formation class, is what happens at home.

I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough. Far too often, it seems that parents hand over the responsibility that is primarily theirs to Catholic school teachers or parish catechists. These are there to assist the parents and augment the education, faith formation, and example that the children receive in the home, within the family.

A particular concern in this regard has to do with the sacramental practice of the family. Throughout my 10 years as a bishop, one of the most common concerns I hear raised by pastors is that far too many of the children and parents from their Catholic school or faith formation program are seldom if ever seen at Sunday Mass. It is almost as if the school or catechism program suffices or even substitutes for the grave obligation of parents to bring their children to Christ in the Mass and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I have even heard it said by some children and parents that the weekday school Mass takes care of the Sunday obligation.

The bottom line is that the primary responsibility of parents is not to get their children into the best schools and universities so that they can be “successful” in the world. Their primary duty is to do everything within their power to help get their children into heaven, plain and simple. That is what the Lord will be interested in at the end of our life, and that is what parents solemnly promised before Him on the day of their children’s baptism.

I thank parents from the bottom of my heart for taking this responsibility seriously. I fully realize that it is a very challenging task to raise children in this current cultural climate. You do the best you can, recognizing the free will God gave your children, and trusting that the seeds you have planted in the home will bear fruit one day in the faith lives of your children. God bless you, and please know that you are in my prayers!