by Bill and
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
Educating Children in the Faith