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Tell them nose rings are not enough.

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- This is not an easy era for young parents facing the future. Challenges range from the parent-testing innocuous egocentricities (tomorrow's equivalent of tattoos and lip and nose rings), to the not-too-wicked although law-breaking bad stuff, such as tagging (graffiti), to the really dangerous: drugs, promiscuous sex, driving and drinking.

What have today's young parents got going for them? Tom and Maryanne Russell, whose children are Brian, 4, and Jennifer, 2, realize at least that it will be easier for them to talk to their children about religion and about life than it was for their parents to talk to them.

"I don't particularly know why," said Maryanne, "perhaps a lot of the innocence has worn off -- people tend today to be more open of necessity. If you don't address today's issues, they'll come back to haunt you."

Also, she said, there is the faith itself: "When you have children, I think you're renewed if you were lukewarm. The presence of children really tends to evangelize the parents." The Russells, parishioners in All Hallows Parish here, where they belong to one of the many small groups, have been married eight years. Their careers are in financial services (stockbroking, insurance, financial planning), although Maryanne is not working outside the home and will avoid doing so as long as is financially possible.

In California, where the population is fairly transient, the Russells are fortunate in having many family members in the parish and nearby. The Russells are among the younger members of a parish where housing costs make it difficult for young families to move in.

As parents, said Tom, they stress "a foundation in love for fellow beings. That's No. 1 -- not that they can't get that without organized religion, but as it comes with the teachings from Jesus."

What do they most want for their children where religion is concerned? That they would have a conversion. "I think people can teach you night and day, but in your heart you need a really close relationship with God, Jesus and the Blessed Mother," said Maryanne, who teaches parish preschoolers.

How does she get that message across/

"My enthusiasm," she said. "I think if I can take the idea of the gospel and bring it down to their level and explain that you ask Jesus, you ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart to help teach you what is right and wrong. Then, when you think about something and you think it is bad, the Holy Spirit is telling you not to do that. It's very hard to take something and make a 3-year-old understand. But I think my enthusiasm helps."

The Russells -- high school sweethearts -- are the products of Catholic homes and Catholic grade schools and were marginally attentive Catholics during their years at separate colleges.

Maryanne, who said that her mother has a very strong faith, added that she and Tom both learned from his mother's recent death from cancer. "That, too, gave us a kick-start into what faith and life and love was all about,' she said.

For more than a year the Russells have been members of a small group, adults only, that meets to discuss and pray -- using guidance booklets.

"What concerns me most about the small group," said Tom, "is that it's the same people, and we know each other so well and what each is going to say, it kind of loses something.

"That means it can get stale and can lose the focus of what it is intended we do," he said, "which is, that if you really believe what you're talking about, it's almost your duty to go out there and teach and encourage other people to come in."

Evangelization is a key part of the parish's Christian communities' goal, but the program is recent "and we've not gotten there yet," said Maryanne.

In September, the parish small Christian communities' group will start a Bible group as an offshoot. And that may lead toward evangelization.

"The church is trying to be more active, trying to address the social needs, especially in the U.S. -- or maybe now that we're more involved we're just more aware of it," said Tom. "We're trying to get back to first century Catholicism -- community and getting to know people and to help them out. Maybe a little bit like the Mormons, you know. And," he added with a slight laugh, "help out, not just see the guy on Sunday and hope you don't have to hold his hand too long during the Lord's Prayer."

In the large living room, Brian plays with a Lego electric train. jennifer has a doll's house with bits and pieces of miniature furniture strewn about.

The easier years.
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Title Annotation:The Faith We Teach
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 3, 1993
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