In his book, Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations, Vern L. Bengston notes that a father who is actively involved in religious practice is more likely to have children who continue being involved in religious practice.
For this reason, it is essential for the flourishing of the American Church that dads get involved in the religious lives of their children.
Here are six practices that dads might do with their kids during Easter to help develop habits of faith in the home.
6) Take Your Children to the Zoo and Speak About Religious Imagery
My son loves the zoo. We ride the carousel of sundry animals (often choosing the shark or dolphin for some unknown reason). We race down hills together. We run to see the lions, the monkeys, and the terrifying carp.
For this reason, it wouldn't take a lot to talk to your kids at the zoo about the link between the animals and the Catholic imagination.
- Deer are prominent in early Church mosaics because of Psalm 42, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God" (Ps 42:1). The image of the deer is closely associated with Baptism itself since Christians are those who run to the springs of God, longing to drink from the life-giving waters.
- Peacocks, often found roaming around any good zoo, are animals that testify to the glory of the Resurrection. A bird (rather ordinary, even hideous) suddenly reveals a glory in his feathers that is a sight to behold.
- Lions have functioned as an image of Christ (and not just because of C.S. Lewis). Still, why not go to the Lion exhibit and read just a bit of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: "'Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.' 'Ooh,' said Susan. 'I'd thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe?! I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion. . . .' 'Safe?' said Mr Beaver; '. . . Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.'"
- All animals, of course, participate in the praise of God by simply being themselves. Talk to your children about the way that every aspect of creation praises God simply by existing. By monkeying. By tigering. By swimming around like a river otter. It's a way to speak about faith in a non-weird way (unless otters are weird).
5) Give Up Your Cell Phone When You're At Home
If you're like me, your cell phone has become an extension of your very limbs. You get emails throughout the evening that have to be answered. You want to see what your friends are doing on Facebook. You check Twitter to see how the Boston Celtics are doing everything they can to be the worst #1 seed in the history of the NBA.
But, this kind of distracted parenting is detrimental to the children in our lives. Much of the religious life is communicated to children simply by the fullness of presence we give to our kids in the evening.
Do we play with them, or are we constantly looking at our cell phone? Are we distracted during night prayer by the buzz of our phone with new emails?
The beginning of our life in Christ always involves an act of discipline. Put away the cell phones. Be with your kids. And enjoy the gift of the Resurrection in the domestic church.
4) Take Your Children to Adore the Eucharist at a Church
Children discover what matters to us by how we spend our time. My son knows that Notre Dame football is essential to our family.
That's why during Easter, why not take our children out of the house and stop in a church to adore the Eucharist together? This moment of prayer between a dad and children is the kind of thing that a child will remember for the rest of his or her days on earth. After you prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, take the kids for ice cream.
Maybe find a way to adore the Eucharist and go to confession together as a family. It's a reminder to the kids that everyone needs divine grace in their lives. Including dad.
3) Volunteer on a Saturday or Sunday Morning with the Kids
A family should never simply be directed inward. Rather, a family (as Pope Francis has reminded us again and again) is to move toward the margins. On a Saturday morning, get up early and bring the kids to volunteer somewhere. Cook a meal. Do some yard work for someone in the neighborhood who needs assistance.
Make sure to talk to the kids about why it's important for us to do this as a family. The love of God that dwells with us in our family is meant to be offered for the sake of the whole world.
The more explicit, the better.
2) Pray the Rosary for Your Family
Learning to pray is essential if you are to be a dad who makes faith central to his life. Too often, we see personal practice and piety as reserved for Lent alone (and then Easter becomes the time when we cease praying, fasting, giving alms).
This isn't right. During the season of Easter, pray the Rosary every day for the sake of your family and your kids.
1) Develop a Consistent Night Prayer in the Home
Easter needs to overflow from the church building into our homes. We need to make sure that there is an Easterly night prayer that is celebrated every day that we can in our homes. We should perhaps read a Gospel story of the Resurrection. We should sing the Regina Caeli and chant the Our Father. We should intercede before God for each other and for the world through prayer.
Easter is a great time to develop this habit of night prayer as a family.
After all, we don't want our kids to think that family prayer is only about seasons of penance. We want them to that praise of God, delighting in God's presence, is the essence of our Catholic life together.