I've always loved this quote from Fran Crotty's Implementation of Ignatian Education in the Home :
"It should be the objective and is definitely the responsibility of every rational Catholic mother and father to see that the child is educated, so that he can be truly Catholic with the consent of all his faculties."
There is so much depth in this quote about what our most basic duties to our children are and goes so much deeper than typical homeschool chatter about what books to use and "how much better off our kids are than public school kids".
On a simple level, he's saying that we have to help our kids want to be Catholic, even when they grow up and are no longer under our guidance and direction. If you don't achieve that, you really haven't realized your most basic goals as parents and educators. (I wouldn't go so far as to say you've failed, because the story isn't necessarily over at that point).
I am shocked and saddened at the number of my own Catholic friends and aquaintances who were homeschooled but who are not practicing their faith today. Most of these were using Catholic homeschool programs. Raising our children is about a lot more than just using the right books. Without getting into all the details, I'd like to present some ideas for helping our children stay Catholic in a tough world...
a) Live a life consistent with Catholic principles
There is almost no more sure way to have our children lose their faith than to firmly teach them Catholic principles and then ignore them ourselves. Consider issues like: honesty, integrity, the unity of faith and reason, the fact that we need to pray AND work to live life well and to solve family problems. What kind of priorities do we show by the way we live our lives? Are we generous to those in need? Are we living a life consistent with the Gospels? While protecting children from the "outside world" are we exposing them to greater evils in our own homes?
"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!" Luke 12:4-5 (RSVCE)
b) Be Faithful to the Church and the Pope, even when it's tough
The Catholic Church is managed by human beings. They're not perfect. The Church has struggled with many problems in the last 50 years or so. We can't ignore these. But we can stay faithful to the Church despite these. Here is a great quote from The Ratzinger Report on the need for holiness today...
"Hence, true 'reform' does not mean to take great pains to erect new facades (contrary to what certain ecclesiologies think). Real 'reform' is to strive to let what is ours disappear as much as possible so what belongs to Christ may become more visible. It is a truth well known to the saints. Saints, in fact, reformed the Church in depth, not by working up plans for new structures, but by reforming themselves. What the Church needs in order to respond to the needs of man in every age is holiness, not management." (from page 53)
Study some history to get a sense of the terrible things that have gone on within the Church throughout history. This perspective helps to hang on to what is true and good and to have hope and trust in the words of Jesus to St. Peter in Matthew 16:17-19:
"Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (RSVCE)
c) Teach them the Faith
Educate yourself and help your children see the reasonableness of Church teaching. Help them prepare to apply it to their own lives as adults. Learn the basics and the heart and soul behind it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an essential in every home. Read it and discuss it with your spouse and your older children. Be sure your children have a solid foundation in Catholic teaching on morality - particularly the life issues - before they leave home. The perspective gained from studying history and the "virtual" life experience formed by reading great classic literature have an important role in reinforcing the faith and giving life to Church teaching.
d) A Question of the Will
In our era of cheap material goods, it is particularly difficult to avoid spoiling our children. Material goods aren't evil in and of themselves, but we have to help our children keep their spiritual lives healthy and exercise their wills. Even on a natural level, weak-willed people are not happy.
Here is a consideration from The Ratzinger Report to apply to ourselves as adults:
" It is necessary to rediscover the corporeal aspect of the Faith: abstention from food is one of those aspects. Sexuality and nourishment are among the fundamental elements of the physicality of man. In our time, the decline in the understanding of virginity goes hand in hand with the decline in the understanding of fasting. And these two declines have a single root: the present-day eclipse of the eschatalogical tension, that is, the tension of Christian faith toward eternal life." (pg. 113-114)
This sheds some light on the Church regulations about fasting and abstaining from meat during certain days of Lent. It is intended as a minimum exercise in willpower to commerate the sufferings of Christ. Even for those who are unable to participate in fasting (such as pregnant women) related sacrifices are acceptable to Church teaching and have similar effect, such as: abstaining from sweets and having only water to drink on those days.
How does this apply to our own children? Regulations on fasting purposely avoid young children. Growing bodies need consistent, wholesome food. I suggest starting by explaining the concept of exercising their Will just as they exercise their body to make it stronger. They can exercise their will by choosing to not have something they want, giving in to a dispute with a sibling or by doing something nice for someone that they don't have to. This is a most beautiful story for teaching this:
"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King wil say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee? And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'" (Matthew 25: 31-40)
d) The Benefit of a Catholic College
I know many families (including my own) for which attending a truly Catholic College has been a huge factor in the children retaining their Catholic identity as adults. In my own childhood, my oldest sister's decision to attend the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco had an enormous impact on our entire family. We were a devout Catholic family before that time, but this added a whole new dimension to our understanding of the Faith, our sense of community within the Church, and much more. Students at such schools get a chance to study the Faith in enough depth to see how reasonable it is and to develop lifelong friends who are commited to the Faith as well.