|Stated in one sentence, parents have the right to give their offspring
a share in their own life of the spirit, corresponding to the share they
have given the children in their life of the body. Or, in more concrete
terms, parents have the right to communicate their own religious beliefs
and practices to the sons and daughters to have whom they have already
communicated their physical existence as human beings.
These two rights go together. No less than a married couple have the
natural right to beget children for this world, so a married couple have
the right to beget children for the world to come.
From whom Do these Rights Come? This is no idle question. Why not?
Because in one country after another, and not only behind the Iron
Curtain, the government is claiming more and more monopoly in the
education of children. Because even in Catholic circles, powerful
vested interests are telling parents they are incompetent to train
their own children. Borrowing the philosophy of the secular state, a
growing number of nominal Catholic educators with professional degrees
are usurping the rights of parents as educators. We rephrase our
question: From whom do parental rights in education and especially
religious education not derive? They do not derive from the state or
from civil society. They do not, surprisingly, derive even from the
Church. Rather the Church keeps telling parents they, before everyone
else on earth, have the primary right to provide for the religious
upbringing of the children whom they have generated. By now we are
ready to affirm that the rights of father and mother to give their
offspring adequate and, as far as possible, accurate religious
education come from God.
Because it was God who created the human soul and infused it into
the body prepared by the mother and father. Because God makes each
immortal soul out of nothing and unites it with a body to produce a
human person. This person is to serve God on earth, for which training
is required from the moment of birth. Some would say that moral
training begins already in the womb! A good training from infancy
prepares a child to serve God faithfully here on earth as the
precondition for possessing and enjoying Him in a blessed eternity.
Parallel with the parents' right are their responsibilities. The same
God who gave them the privilege of bringing children into the world,
places on them the obligation to nurture the lives which they have
freely brought into the world. And the duty of religious nurture is no
less, in fact it is more grave, than the duty of providing bodily food
Why is this such a grave responsibility? Because the supernatural
life we receive at Baptism must be nurtured and nourished from infancy
no less than the natural life of the body. And the parents are the ones
who, before God, are:
the first in time,
the first in dignity,
the first in priority to preserve and sustain and develop the new life
which their children received in the
sacrament of regeneration.
Although it may sound strange, I think it is worth stressing that the
parents should cooperate with one another, father with mother, and not
mother alone, and less still mother in one direction and father in
This cooperation between father and mother in the spiritual care of
their children presumes that the parents are mutually in love. You do
not cooperate with someone you do not love.
This cooperation also presumes mutual understanding of their
respective roles in the religious and moral rearing of the child. Behind
such understanding is their mutual sharing of the same Catholic faith:
A faith which is kept alive by daily prayer,
A faith which is nourished by frequent Holy Communion,
A faith which is kept strong by the frequent reception of the
A faith which is constantly deepened by learning through reading and
listening to sound Catholic teaching.
As we get more specific about cooperative responsibility, I would
like to identify the three ways that the parents personally nurture
their children in things of the spirit. They do so:
by what they are,
by what they do, and
by what they say.
What am I saying?
1. I am saying that the most fundamental way the parents train their
sons and daughters in the ways of God is by themselves living the ways
of God. There is more here than merely giving a good example. We are
here in the realm of divine grace. In God's ordinary Providence He uses
those who are in His friendship as the channels of His grace to others.
Believing parents are channels of divine faith to their children,
Chaste parents are channels of Christian chastity to their children,
Prayerful parents are channels of the spirit of prayer to their
2. Parents also nourish their sons and daughters spiritually by what
the parents do. This may seem unnecessary after what we have just said,
that father and mother give religious upbringing by what they are. On
the contrary. In things of the spirit, it is not enough to be a
professed Catholic. A person must act like one. Why is this important?
Because there is in all of us a tendency to divide our lives into two
compartments. There is the temptation to claim to be one thing and yet
to behave like something else. This Jekyll and Hyde separation in us is
neither rare nor surprising. St. Paul confessed that, "The good
things that I will, I do not do; and the evil things that I will not,
that I do"(Romans 7:19).
3. Parents finally nurture their children in the supernatural life by
what they say We are here touching on the mystery of self-communication.
And there is no communication that is more universal or more effective
than the spoken word. The child begins to ask questions: why this, why
that, why now, why here, why so. Depending on how the parents answer
these incessant questions which are not always asked out loud the children will be trained
the fact that a child has questions and asks them is a law of life,
the answers that the child receives will shape that life as we believe
only for time but for eternity.
Parents' Responsibility for Influences Outside the Family
In reflecting on the parents' responsibility for influences outside
the family we enter the most delicate side of our subject. The title of
our talk is "How the Catholic family will survive for the third
millennium." All we have said so far stands. And we are not
speaking of the responsibility or duty of the parents to give their
children the proper religious training. I would single out the four
terms that I emphasized:
duty or responsibility,
parents, both father and mother,
proper religious training.
If Catholic parents are to fulfill this responsibility according to
the will of God they absolutely must be:
selective as to whom they choose to assist them in the religious
nurture of their children,
convinced that the schools or religious instruction programs for their
children are really Catholic,
courageous in insisting that what their children are taught by others
corresponds to what they, as Catholic
parents, believe is good for the
children whom God has placed under their
generous in giving their children all the time they need, all the
will take, and all the sacrifice this will call
Gone is the day when parents can simply turn over to others the
spiritual training of their offspring.
Let me be as clear as I can. Parents must be alert and aware and I
would say, aggressive in making sure that other people, no matter how
powerful, are contradicting the religious formation which they, the
parents, have the first and foremost duty before God to provide for
Before God, parents have received a sacred trust. No one has a higher
trust than they. No one has a higher responsibility. But, I must add, no
one can take either the trust or the responsibility away. It belongs to
the parents because it is given to them by God. The children they call
theirs are first of all His. They came from Him and they are destined
That is why God became a child, to teach us how simple it is to reach
heaven, if only we are humble enough to listen to His words, and for
parents, courageous enough to lay down their lives, if need be, for the
souls entrusted to their loving custody.
We conclude with a prayer:
"Lord Jesus, you have given parents the awesome duty of training
their children for heaven. Give them the light they so desperately need
in today's world, to know how they should live up to their superhuman
responsibility. Give them the strength to be faithful to you in the care
that you want their children and yours to receive. We are confident,
dear Lord, that with your grace, the Catholic family will survive, and
thrive, not only for the third millennium, but for the endless millennium of eternity. Amen."