From The Catholic Family Handbook, Rev. George A. Kelly. 1950’s
The Triangle of God, Parents and Child
It cannot be stressed too often that you can leave a heritage of good for centuries simply by leading a holy life as a parent.
For example, if you have six children, it is possible that within your lifetime you will have twenty-five or thirty grandchildren. They in turn may have more than 100 children, and within a century perhaps 1,000 lives will reflect your influence to some extent. If you have been a good parent, thanks to you they may be good Christians–your advocates in heaven. If you are a bad example, you may leave a large number of evildoers as your contribution to God and humanity.
As the Catholic Bishops of the United States pointed out in 1950 in their memorable formal statement, “The Child: Citizen of Two Worlds,” the first requirement of good Catholic family life is that the children must know God. However, as the Bishops emphasized, “there is a vast difference between ‘knowing about God’ and ‘knowing God.’ The difference is made by personal experience.
It is not enough that the child be given the necessary truths about God. They ought to be given in such a way that he will assimilate them and make them a part of himself. God must become as real to him as his own father and mother.
God must not remain an abstraction. If He does, He will not be loved; and if He is not loved, then all the child’s knowledge about Him will be sterile.
Where love is, there too is service. (‘If you love me, keep my commandments.’) That is Christ’s test and it must be applied to the child. He should be brought to see God’s commandments and precepts as guideposts which give an unerring direction to his steps. In this work, the Church, the family and the school all have a part to play.”
How can you teach your child to know God? First, by inspiring him to love and serve God by your own daily actions. He will be quick to imitate what he sees and hears at home.
If good example is not forthcoming, he will become confused by the contradiction between what you teach and what you practice. His confusion will be compounded when he goes to a school where religion is taught. There he will learn to reverence the name of God, but at home he may hear God’s name used irreverently in petulance and anger.
At school he will learn to get along with his fellow pupils, but at home he may be allowed to offend and wrangle with his brothers and sisters. At school he will be taught strict precepts of honesty and justice, while at home he may hear boasts of sharp business practices and clever evasions of truth.
Disturbed by these contradictions and torn by conflicting loyalties to home and school, he will lose confidence in his parents or teachers or both.
Only two courses are open to your child. He will be either God-centered or self-centered. Every young child seeks to satisfy every selfish whim. Training yours to consider God and others before he acts is one of the most challenging tasks you face. Here is where you can draw on the life of Christ.
If you teach your child to deny his selfish whims in imitation of the obedient and patient Savior, he will not only have a supernatural motive for his actions, but God will have a central place in his affections. Only then can he grow up to his full spiritual stature.
You can find joy in your children. While you should never forget that you are your children’s foremost teacher–and the most important influence they will ever know–your family life will lose its true perspective if you overemphasize the sacrifices you must make to educate them. For your joy in your children should outweigh by far any disadvantages they may cause. In them you will find your own happiness.
Your children give dimension to your love as a couple. Conjugal love, which can be selfish and isolated, takes a great stride with the birth of a baby. Many young mothers have said, “John and I did not really know what our love could grow to be until we held successive children in our arms.”
The greatest aid to your own maturity as human beings is the rearing of your children. St. John Chrysostom remarked, “Can there be a more responsible task than to mold the human spirit or form the morals of young people? I consider that man greater than any painter or sculptor who neglects not the molding of the souls of young people.”
In your children you will rediscover your own youth. Their growth process will rekindle your own sense of wonder and enthusiasm. Johnny asks, “Dad, why is the sky blue?” And Dad, who hadn’t cared, takes a new and longer look.
What have you to show for having lived, if not your children? At forty or fifty years of age, an adult generally reaches the limits of income and social standing. Yet parents continue to grow with their sense of fulfillment in the achievements of their children.
And as if these satisfactions were not enough, parents through their offspring have a grand opportunity to spread the faith. They are real missionaries in their own home. They can say at the end of their lives as Christ said of His Apostles: “Those whom Thou hast given Me, I guarded; and not one of them perished.” (John 17 :12)
There is no doubt that genuine Catholic family life is among the best family life to be found in the United States. For Catholic married couples are one of the few large groups in the country who have consistently sacrificed themselves to have more children.
And the large numbers of their children who, properly trained, have left Catholic homes to take up responsible roles in the armed services, corporate economic life, the labor movement, and the public offices of government, reflect credit on those parents and on the Church.
In the Catholic home there is that modern rarity–fidelity between husband and wife. There is great reverence for parents by the children, great protection of weaker members by the stronger, and a great awareness of the dignity and rights of every member of the family.
The Catholic woman has attained a height of respect and authority which cannot be found anywhere else, and the chief factor in her improvement has been the Church’s teaching on chastity, conjugal equality, the sacredness of motherhood, and the supernatural end of the family, in imitation of the Holy Family of Nazareth. But even as we uphold the Catholic woman as wife and mother, we also uphold the pre-eminent place of the husband and father in the home.
You must not forget that the vigor of your Catholicism rests on the stability and goodness of your family life. Of course, the Church knows better than anyone else that in proclaiming Catholic family ideals she is dealing with human weakness and the tendency to selfishness and sin.
Like a good mother, she also forgives and embraces those who momentarily betray those ideals. But unlike others, she will never admit that those weaknesses diminish or vitiate God’s place for fathers and mothers or call sin virtue or pretend that weakness is strength.
The reward for all your efforts is the Call of Christ on Judgment Day:
“Come, ye blessed of My Father.”