My friend’s 5-year-old son came home from school and started to share the day’s events with his mother over a glass of milk and cookies. He told her about the show-and-tell that featured a daddy who worked in the hospital emergency department. He told her about the scuffle on the playground between a bully-in-training and a soft-spoken kid. And then he told her about a discussion that left him so confused he had to ask a compelling question: “Mommy, who is God?”
When I heard the story, I suppressed a gasp. My heart sank because I couldn’t believe that this woman, whom I respected professionally, hadn’t told her son about God. Taking him to church probably would have been asking too much.
Clearly, her priorities were mixed up. She knew the importance of a good education, of soccer practice, of violin lessons, of an exclusive summer camp. But what about God? Why was he left off the list of priorities? Even though she believed in God and had gone to church as a child, something derailed her spiritual life. Perhaps God got pushed aside in favor of her career, her achievements, her friends and a lot of other ultimately trivial pursuits.
Teaching children and grandchildren about God is the most important thing we can do. It’s more important than the countless lessons and classes that fritter away the average child’s free time.
For his part, God is at work day and night, looking for opportunities to break through the indifference and distractions that clutter our lives. And he apparently found a way to reach this little boy and start him on a lifelong quest for faith and knowledge, which began with the simple question, “Mommy, who is God?”
The sad reality is that many young people are growing up with no real understanding of God. Without the proper spiritual formation when they’re children, young men and women wander aimlessly through life, mistaking the pursuit of money, pleasure, honor and power as the reason for living, and never realizing what their hearts long for is God … because their hunger is a spiritual hunger.
They’ll look for meaning in worldly ideologies and political causes that lead nowhere, and they’ll never find true fulfillment because our souls are hard-wired for union with Christ. As St. Augustine observed 1,600 years ago, long before the modern age of narcissism: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
At the very beginning, the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly articulates our fundamental capacity for God: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.”
Even though secular society is trying hard to snuff out faith, the Holy Spirit is always at work, making all things new, so it’s important to pray to the Spirit because the world has become relentless in its attacks on organized religion.
The Pew Research Center’s report “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” concluded the Christian population is declining, and atheists and agnostics are increasing, along with a group that gained the most adherents in recent years—the so-called “Nones,” who claim no religious affiliation.
News headlines proclaim the tragic state of affairs: “Christians drop, ‘Nones’ soar in new religion portrait” and “Americans becoming less Christian, more secular.”
One story said, “Atheists and agnostics have nearly doubled their share of the religious marketplace, and overall indifference to religion of any sort is rising.”
The poll concluded that each generation is less connected religiously than their parents. Consequently, more and more children are growing up with no knowledge of the God who loves them.
It’s a modern tragedy that many parents neglect their most important responsibility, which is teaching their children about Jesus—not teaching them how to make a buck in later life or upload photos to Instagram.
Pray for children and young people everywhere. In addition to praying, actively help them along the path to Christ. Be a power of example and never be afraid to express your faith, because the days are surely coming when freedom of expression will be guaranteed to everyone but Christians.
(Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)