A matter of perspective: Passing on faith through subtleties of our actions Print E-mail
Everyday Faith

Everyday Faith column by Julianne Nornberg

In a classroom recently, I told the following true story to a few young children.

"A long time ago, my husband and I were roasting marshmallows over a campfire with some friends," I said, my eyes wide as I told the story.

"Our friend's marshmallow caught on fire, and instead of blowing it out, he waved his stick back and forth quickly, trying to put the fire out," I said, waving my hands dramatically to illustrate our friend's actions. "But the burning marshmallow flew off the stick and landed as a mound of flaming goo onto my husband's leg!"

With eyes widened in horror, one child asked in a small voice, "Did he die?"

I laughed and explained that no, he didn't die but the flaming marshmallow had indeed singed hair off his leg.

The subtleties of storytelling

I realized later why the child had taken me so seriously. He was noting the subtleties of my storytelling: my wide eyes, my hand movements, my dramatic voice.

From my perspective, my story was just a funny memory, tinged with a cautionary note about how to handle fire. From the child's perspective, my story -- coupled with how I was telling it -- was a scary tragedy.

So much of our lives is lived through the subtleties of our actions. And our children are interpreting these subtleties attentively, perceptively.

Actions speak louder than words

"Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak," said St. Anthony of Padua. "It is useless for a man to flaunt his knowledge of the law if he undermines its teaching by his actions."

This is so true when it comes to passing on our Catholic faith to our children.

The children notice if we say our prayers distractedly or not at all. The children notice if we take time to pray the Rosary or read the Scriptures or visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Just as they notice the irony when Mommy yells, "Will everyone stop yelling?", they also notice the hypocrisy of a parent who talks about patience but doesn't regularly practice it herself.

It's not just the words about our faith that matter, but the way the words are lived out. It's not just the telling of the story, but the way the story is told.

"Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words," said St. Francis of Assisi.

Formation by example

The formation of our children depends on not just our words but on our example, our living out of our faith in our daily lives. They are imitating and internalizing our actions more than our words.

Perspective matters. And a child's perspective is often more perceptive than our own. Because the world is still full of wonder to him, a child is still noticing things to which adults may have grown immune.

So when you are teaching the faith to your children, note your tone.

When teaching about reverence during Mass, be reverent. When teaching about scheduling time to pray and read Scripture daily, schedule that time in your own day. When teaching about humility, be humble.

Passing on our faith

The passing on of our faith requires much more than just words, but a true, authentic living out of those words. This requires a love of the Truth that runs so deeply through our being that it cannot help but overflow into our actions.

"Teach by works more than by words," said St. Teresa of Avila.

With eyes open wide, our children are watching.


Julianne Nornberg, mother of four young children, is a member of St. John the Baptist Parish, Waunakee.