When my son, Isaiah, was born nearly three years ago, my life and view of the world changed forever. Like many fathers gazing into the eyes of their first child, I realized that I was not the center of my own universe. Love for a little child awakened my instincts to protect, provide and give my life for another and the future.
I also began asking myself what kind of world my boy would inherit. Issues I thought little about before such as schools, teachers, tax cuts, social security and health care laws suddenly became relevant. Being responsible for another person made the political debates of the day more personal, and I began to pay attention.
Each time I step into the voting booth now, I don’t vote for my own limited concerns I am also shaping Isaiah’s world. Part of my job as a dad, I realized, was to leave my son a better world and help him embrace the Catholic faith, which includes having a concern for others and the common good.
Even though he and our other children are still young my wife and I now have a 1-year-old daughter and another boy arriving in May we try to reinforce the importance of faithful citizenship. One way we do this is by having our kids bring a canned food item with them to Mass every week. They love putting cans in the food basket, and it has established a strong connection between charity and worship. Even at a young age, the practical application of the Great Commandment love of God and love of neighbor has become strong in their minds.
Another way we teach them about social justice is by bringing them to peaceful prayer vigils outside the local abortion facility. As we pray the rosary for mothers and unborn children, our kids learn the power of prayer. It shows them that faithful citizenship depends on the interior life and that we can influence the world in big ways through intercession.
We focus on outward gestures, too. Isaiah is already a pro at making the sign of the cross. It is automatic for him whenever we enter a church or sit down for a meal. We also teach him respect for our country by saluting the flag. Any time he sees the stars and stripes, we prompt him to make that subtle pledge of allegiance which confirms that he is a dual citizen both a Catholic in the City of God and an American in the home of the brave.
As our kids grow, we plan to teach them faithful citizenship through the pages of children stories. Classics like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia highlight selflessness and sacrifice, two keys to justice. We’ll explain to them how all of the great saints and heroes lived for something much bigger than themselves, often at great risk.
One day soon, I will bring my son with me into the voting booth for the first time, and explain to him the privilege of shaping our nation through voting. I will tell him how thousands of men actually gave their lives and still do today so that citizens can be free to make choices like this.
Ultimately, the best way to raise faithful citizens is to help them discover that old, shocking truth: The universe does not revolve around them. Whether through canned food, patriotic salutes or children’s stories, there are plenty of ways to do this. And when our kids embrace that truth, the world will change for the better.
Brandon Vogt, the author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet (Our Sunday Visitor), lives with his family in Casselberry, Fla.