AMES — Drawing on their years of experience, a couple who are members of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Student Center in Ames have published a book that offers guidance on how parents can educate their children in the Catholic faith.
Bob and Nannet Horton celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this spring. They say of their marriage, “We live an ordinary life made extraordinary by the grace of God, made beautiful by sacrifices in the name of marital love, and made fruitful every season by prayer. Today, we marvel at God’s faithfulness to provide grace at every stage of our life together.”
Like many people born and raised as Catholics, Bob and Nannet experienced a waning of their faith as young adults. Bob had put his highest priority on his studies and work, while Nannet had left the church altogether. Prior to their meeting and independent of each other, they each made an adult decision to commit their life to Christ and the Church after experiencing the effects of some bad life choices and relationship breakdowns. For each of them, that decision began a life of Catholic discipleship through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Bob and Nannet first met at a prayer group meeting held at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames. Over several years of friendship, they discerned a call to marriage. Before their wedding, they wrote a vision for their marriage which expressed their desire to live their married life centered on loving God and loving others. Each year they re-read the vision statement on their wedding anniversary to remind themselves of their marriage vision. “The Christian vocation of marriage requires grace from God,” wrote the Hortons while reflecting on their vocation. “Experiencing the love of God becomes the source of love for others. Hearts open to the love of Jesus enable spouses to offer sacrificial love to one another.
Accepting the Father’s unconditional love leads parents to be kind and generous to their children. To welcome the Holy Spirit empowers family members to serve each other with wisdom, faith, hope, and humility.”
Recent studies show that a large number of young people are leaving the church. For example, a survey conducted in 2016 by the Public Religion Research Institute reported that 64 percent of today’s young adults who identify as “nones” — having no religion — were raised religious, but then left their faith tradition.
In the face of such data, Bob and Nannet embraced the mission to raise their children in the Catholic faith. They realized that to effectively pass on the faith, intentionally discipling each child would be required.
Like Christian marriage, the Christian formation for their children also needed the grace and guidance of God. Prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments, study, and the example of other couples and families were sources of grace and inspiration for them. Acting on their commitment to raise their children to know and love Jesus and the church, they formed their family as a miniature-faith community, otherwise known as a domestic church.
Encouraging couples to build their family as a domestic church is the reason why Bob and Nannet Horton wrote the book, “Missionary Parenting: Cultivating the 6 Key Relationships Essential to Your Domestic Church.” They describe how six relationships in the family centered on Jesus Christ, when developed and cultivated, actualize a domestic church. It is being in relationships that children experience love. The best gift Catholic parents can give their children is to help them open their hearts to a loving relationship with Jesus. Parents are called to be the primary educators and teachers of the faith to their children.
Through the years, the Hortons have met informally with couples discerning marriage, those preparing for marriage and those experiencing marriage and family difficulties. They have served the Archdiocese of Dubuque as PreCana coordinators for the last eight years and as members of the Archdiocesan Marriage and Family Life Advisory Committee for the last three years.
“Many Catholic parents have the sincere desire to raise their children in the faith, but they do not have a clear vision for their family,” wrote the Hortons, while reflecting on their book. “We offer our book as a resource for catching such a vision.”
For more information, see www.MissionaryParenting.com.
This article was submitted to The Witness. Bob Horton is a Distinguished Professor of Soil Science at Iowa State University. Nannet Horton is a homeschool teacher, a Family of the Americas Natural Family Planning teacher, and a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd catechist.
Cover photo: Bob and Nannet Horton, shown above, are parishioners at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Student Center in Ames. They committed to raising their children in the Catholic faith and are making an effort to help others do this as well. (Contributed photo)