Features - Parenting & Family

 

Educating Children in the Faith

 
by Bill and Marian Bacik

Parents have an obligation to rear and educate their children but it is vital for them to ask the question, "What does it mean to educate a child?" From a worldly standpoint, it is undeniable that the criterion for education is how successful the children will be when they become adults. Will they hold a position of importance and how much money will they acquire?

Catholic parents must concern themselves with a different criterion: will our children obtain eternal salvation and behold the face of God? Will they reach the degree of union with God that He created them for or will they be condemned to hell for eternity? Parents must ask themselves the question: "What does God expect from us?" or "What are the duties of parents?"

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that: "The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and spiritual formation"(CCC 2221).

St. Augustine of Hippo in 419 AD in De nuptiis et concupiscentia ad Valerium comitem, also speaks of "moral education and spiritual formation" but when he speaks of results he uses the terms, "reborn to life" and "children of God." Augustine asserts: "In marriage, however, let the blessings of marriage be loved: offspring, fidelity, and the sacramental bond. Offspring, not so much because it may be born, but because it can be reborn; for it is born to punishment unless it can be reborn to life."

"It is because of concupiscence that even in the righteous and legitimate marriage of the children of God, not children of God but children of the world are begotten; because they who beget, even if they themselves are already regenerate, beget not as children of God, but as still being children of the world."

Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II comments further on this in his Letter to Families (LTF) when he says: "To give birth according to the flesh means to set in motion a further 'birth,' one which is gradual and complex and which continues in the whole process of education."

Parents, therefore, are responsible for the moral and spiritual education of our children so that they can be as St. Augustine says "reborn to life" and become "children of God." Here we speak about the systematic development by parents, in their children, of the moral and spiritual life according to the mind of the Church.

The Graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony

Moral education and spiritual formation must begin even before the child is born, by the parents own formation and growth in the spiritual life. This is important because parents cannot give what they themselves do not possess. If we are not growing in our faith we will most probably lose our faith.

It is important to remember that God will not abandon us in our responsibilities. This is why Jesus has given us the sacraments. Parents receive grace through the Sacrament of Matrimony. The Catechism states that: "'By reason of their state in life and of their order,[Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the people of God'" (cf. Lumen Gentium 11, 2). This grace proper to the Sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple's love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they "'help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children'" (cf. Lumen Gentium, nos. 11, 41).

St. Paul states in Romans 12:6-8: "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:...if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching..."

What is humanly impossible is made possible through the graces we receive through the Sacrament of Matrimony. Paul says to us, "let us use them" but even though Matrimony gives us a title to graces, they must be asked for through prayer.

The Education Of Children

It is impossible to overemphasize that: "The role of the parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute" (GE 3). This being the case, why is it that parents are delegating this responsibility so early in a child's life? One of the fastest growth industries in the United States is that of day care and yet our Holy Father tells us that an educator is a person who 'begets' in a spiritual sense. The bond that should be formed between the parents and the child, especially between the mother and infant or very young child, is now being formed with the day care provider. Parents must seriously ask themselves if they want the day care provider to be the person who 'begets' their children spiritually.

Mother's Role Before Birth

Scientists have known for years that before children are born they are influenced by the mother's behavior. For example, the link between smoking and low birth weight is firmly established as is the use of alcohol during pregnancy with neurological damage to the unborn child. In his Letter to Families Pope John Paul II declares that "The mother, even before giving birth, does not only give shape to the child's body, but also, in an indirect way, to the child's whole personality."

Therefore, it makes sense that: "Catechetical instruction should begin in the womb" (Fr. Hardon). The mother's love of God, her love for her baby, her love for her family is all communicated to the child in the womb. If the mother thinks of her child as a gift from God, that child will be a gift but if she thinks of her child as being unwanted then the child will feel unwanted and respond appropriately. If the mother is under undue stress from her family, the child will perceive this stress, but if the family is supportive the child's personality will be influenced by that support and the feeling of well being that comes with it.

When the mother goes before the Blessed Sacrament, the child shares in the actual graces coming from the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. And when the mother receives Holy Communion, the child in the womb shares in the actual graces of this sacrament. This is also true with the Sacrifice of the Most Holy Eucharist. Though the child is not yet baptized and cannot receive sanctifying grace, this child can and does receive actual graces from the spiritual practices of his parents, especially those of his mother.

Father's Role Before Birth

The role of the father is crucial before the child is born. "He should be responsibly committed to providing attention and support throughout the pregnancy and if possible, at the moment of birth"(LTF). During pregnancy, the new mother needs special consideration. After all, she is now experiencing a new role in her life and will need the attention of her husband to support her. Her confidence in herself and her new role may be fragile and her husband's strength is important to her. The husband must communicate to her through his actions and words that, "the motherhood of his wife is a gift: this is enormously important for the entire process of raising children" (LTF). Often in our society, his support of her motherhood is all she will receive, especially if God is pleased to bless their love with many children. St. Paul tells us that God's Fatherhood is the model of all fatherhood (Eph 3:14-15).

Children Of God

"Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons"(CCC 2222). "Every individual born and raised in a family constitutes a potential treasure which must be responsibly accepted, so that it will not be diminished or lost, but will rather come to an even more mature nature"(LTF). The process of education is one of "exchange" where the parents, who are the educators are in turn educated themselves.

Educating Children At An Early Age

"Through the grace of the sacrament of matrimony, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children"(CCC 2225). Parents can bear witness to our responsibility by, "creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule"(CCC 2223). Jesus teaches us these virtues throughout the Gospels and we are expected to imitate Him. "This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of Christian life in keeping with the Gospel"(CCC 2226).

Our Lord wants us to always emulate these virtues that He Himself practiced in the Gospels. Ask yourself, "Am I tender, forgiving, and respectful? Do I practice fidelity and disinterested service? Each of us will come up with a different answer to all of these questions but all of us realize that we fall short. It is important that we meditate on our short comings and improve ourselves in areas that are weak. Advancement in virtue is the foundation for educating our children. They will emulate what they see their parents do more easily when it conforms to what their parents say to do. Frequent confession and Holy Communion, plus prayer for the graces needed are the primary means for parents to be able to fulfill their responsibilities before God.

The responsibility of parents for their children continue as long as they live. Parents must constantly ask for the graces to fulfill their state of life. This rule applies if we are young and just beginning our marriage or 82 years old. It is never too late to lead our family into an even closer imitation of the "Holy Family." Catholic families must always be striving to become "holy families."

"Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the "first heralds' for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church" (CCC 2225).

For example, the concept of the Eucharist can be taught by taking children to Mass and every time the priest elevates the Host at the Consecration the parent can point and simply say, "There's Jesus!" The church we attend has two little children that come with their mother and grandmother and usually sit in front of us. Both of the little children are very prone to distraction but last Sunday when they had their back turned to Jesus during the Consecration, my wife simply said to them, "Look, there's Jesus!" The oldest of the two turned and continued to look with only an occasional tender reminder. The grandmother and mother were grateful because it had never occurred to them to say this. In this case not only the children were taught the mysteries of their faith but the adults involved were given a way of evangelizing their own children and grandchildren.

"The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self denial, sound judgement, and self mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom" (CCC 2223). These virtues are not taught mainly by words but primarily by example. This responsibility to give good example is practiced when parents; "acknowledge their own failings to their children," in so doing,"parents will be able to guide and correct them" (CCC 2223).

This can be a very sobering moment for the child when he realizes that mom or dad were "wrong." For example, it is easy for us to be impatient with children who are always asking a lot of questions and in so doing we may lose our temper and yell at them. Later on when we have cooled off we can tell them, "Daddy's sorry he lost his temper, I shouldn't have yelled at you." This apology teaches him that we all need to continually strive to control our sinful inclinations and to give and receive forgiveness.

There are times when children need to be disciplined. In the Old Testament it says; "He who disciplines his son will profit by him" (Sir 1: 2). St. Paul tell us the same thing but warns us "not to provoke your children to anger" (Eph 6: 4). Parents can go too far sometimes and therefore must use prudence in admonishing our children so that they do not hear constant criticism. Rather we should "bring them up in discipline and instruction of the Lord." Proper discipline is instructive and not just punitive. When properly carried out the child not only understands that he has made a mistake or done something wrong but also understands why it is wrong. In all education it is extremely important that children and adults understand that something is right or wrong and especially why it is right or wrong. The mind must understand why so that it can properly inform that blind faculty, the will. In so doing the will can then freely decide to choose to do God's Will or its own.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the moral education and spiritual formation of our children should be the fundamental concern of parents. The grace of state which is given to parents through the Sacrament of Matrimony along with the other sacraments, especially that of Holy Communion and Penance, are the primary graces given to us so that they may be channels of grace to our children. Parents can only communicate to their children what they possess, therefore they must be constantly maturing in their faith so that they can be an effectual channel of grace to their children. Parents' responsibilities to their children begin before the birth of their child and continue for the rest of their lives. Catholic parents are able to carry out these responsibilities through prayer and use of the sacraments. These are the means God has given parents to convey their faith so that their children might obtain eternal salvation.

Bill and Marian Bacik have ten children and five grandchildren. The four youngest children are being schooled at home, the fifth is graduating from Maximillian Kolbe Seraphicum. Bill is a speech therapist and Marian is a full-time housewife. They live on a small farm outside of Durand, Michigan.

Educating Children in the Faith

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