BEGINNING AT HOME
THE CHALLENGE OF CHRISTIAN PARENTHOOD
by MARY PERKINS
Discussion Topics by Emerson and Arleen Hynes
Artist Virginia Broderick
"Beginning at Home" is one item in the "Popular Liturgical Library," a
series of publications on the sacraments, sacramentals, holy Mass,
liturgical year, Divine Office, family life, etc. The Liturgical Press,
St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.
Nihil obstat: William G. Heidt, O.S.B., S.T.D., Censor deputatus.
Imprimi potest: + Baldwin Dworschak, O.S.B., Abbot, St. John's Abbey.
Imprimatur: + Peter W. Bartholome, D.D., Bishop of St. Cloud. February
Copyright 1955 by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville,
DEDICATED TO THE HOLY FAMILY--JOSEPH, MARY, JESUS--IN WHOSE HOME THE
DIVINE IDEAL OF FAMILY LIFE FOUND PERFECT FULFILLMENT.
1. The Christian Pattern
2. Our Neighbors
3. "...You Did It Unto Me"
7. Training for Life's Work and Play
9. Redeeming the Time
10. Sex Education
11. Attaining Our Ideals
Study questions and discussion topics follow each chapter.
1. THE CHRISTIAN PATTERN
Along what lines should we try to educate our children? How much of
modern civilization should we try to bring them up to accept, how much
to reject, how much to reform? How best can we train them for whatever
God may want them to do for Him in the unknown world of the future?
Before one is actually immersed in the task of parenthood, the answers
to such questions seem fairly simple. "Bring up children along
traditional Christian lines...." "Train them in Christian
principles..." But when one is faced with the innumerable decisions of
daily family life, it does not seem so easy always to determine the
"traditional Christian lines" of child training, or to see what
"Christian principles" could or should be applied in actual practice.
How much, for example, should you let small boys follow the current
local fashions in clothes? in toy pistols? in candy and gum? If you let
them be as much like "everybody" as your means permit, short of
anything obviously sinful or leading to sin, will you be giving the
children the best preparation for not being like "everybody" in things
that would be sinful? What is the line and where should you draw it?
In other times, society as a whole guided parents in such "drawing of
lines" and it also backed up their authority with its own. There was an
accepted way of going about the business of living, there were customs
and conventions, there was a definite social pattern which was at least
remotely Christian. Parents could usually count on the help of the
community in which they lived in giving their children some Christian
standards of individual and social behavior.
But today there are few "communities," in the old sense of the word.
There are no true social patterns, there are few customs and
conventions that will help us in the art of Christian living. We must
try to communicate to our children the Christian way of looking at
life, the Christian way of dealing with life.
And we must do so while we are living in the midst of a society not
exactly opposed to our "point of view" (as an agnostic would call it),
but so confused in its own outlook that it confuses us, making it very
difficult for us to hold our own point of view clearly or to act in
accordance with it consistently. We have to incarnate a Christian way
of living in our homes in the midst of a society neither Christian nor
truly pagan but secular, that is, disconnected from the influence of
God or of "the gods," so far as that is possible.
The Christian culture which we parents must fashion in our homes day by
day, then, needs to be at once strong and supple, definite and
adaptable. For it must train our children to live as Christians both at
home and outside the home, both now and in their future lives.
But how can we best go about such a task? If we tackle it like a
picture puzzle, taking pieces of advice even from the most
authoritative sources and trying to fit them together, we may find only
a puzzle as a result. Unless we ourselves have some blueprint, some
master-plan by which to judge whether to adopt Father A's scheme of
family prayer, or Sister B's, whether to follow Psychologist X or the
equally eminent and Catholic Psychiatrist Y in his ideas on child
discipline, we shall let ourselves in for much bewilderment and little
But we do not have to look far to find such a master-plan. We have it
right before our eyes in God's own plan for bringing up all His
children "in Christ." As we all know, God's method of education is
sacramental; He uses visible and tangible things to bring us to the
knowledge and love of the invisible; He teaches us how to use our human
powers of body and soul, how to use the visible creatures of His
universe in His worship and in His service.
He Himself is the great "Sacrament," the visible image of the invisible
God, who has made Himself our way and our truth and our life. It is by
living a visible human life, by doing a man's work, by suffering and
dying as men suffer and die, that He wrought the work of our
redemption. And it is in a visible Church, His Body, that He prolongs
and fulfills His work through the centuries.
In the life of the Church, Christ teaches us Divine truth through human
teachers, by means of human words, in images and stories taken from the
visible world and from ordinary human experience. He pours out on us
His own life and powers by means of the sacraments and sacramentals,
conforming the force and pattern of our lives to His.
These, again, are administered to us by other human beings; their grace
reaches us under sacramental signs of visible things and audible,
comprehensible words. And we are taught to respond to Him by prayer of
our human voices and imaginations and minds and wills to take our part
in His work, by loving and serving Him with our human energy and skill
as He dwells in our visible fellow human beings. And, finally, summing
up our whole lives and the purpose of our lives, we take our part in
the visible sacramental sacrifice of the Mass.
God's master-plan, then, is to be found in the work of Christ our Lord
Himself, God and Man, His work of redeeming mankind. And our education
of our children should surely proceed along these same lines if it is
to be truly Christian education. We should make it as far as lies in
our power a sacramental education, following and fitting into God's own
We should try to teach the children the invisible truths of the faith
by means of the visible things around us, by means of the visible
actions of daily life; we should try to give them the habit of seeing
all created things as, in some way or other, signs of the power and
wisdom and love of God. We should try to train the children to make the
thoughts and words and actions of daily life true signs of their love
of God, able to be offered with our Lord's sacrifice in the Mass.
Such a plan of education may seem very obvious and trite until we begin
to think out some of its possible implications. For example: as things
are, most of us think we have done everything possible to sanctify our
family meals by the three-times-a-day effort to say grace. But suppose
that we began to follow out the sacramental implications of our family
In the holy Eucharist, Christ's own body and blood, His life and His
grace, our gift of ourselves together in Him to God, and God's gift of
Himself to us, are all made present under the signs of bread and wine,
human food and drink. And, as modern scholars tell us, the basic design
of the Mass is that of a Jewish family meal. Our family meals, then,
are meant to teach us and our children about the banquet of the holy
Eucharist. Our food and family meals are meant to be the humble human
reflections of the sacred meal of the holy Eucharist, which itself is a
reflection of the eternal feast of heaven.
In the light of these facts, imagine a meal which the father earned by
a piece of "sharp business" in which he did somebody out of the price
of a day's food; a meal consisting of food which the mother obtained by
pushing in ahead of ten other people for a bargain at the supermarket;
which she prepared in a temper and shoved onto an untidy and not-too--
clean table; food which looked like something else and contained
virtually no real nourishment; a meal to which the children come
completely unwashed, knocking each other over in their hurry; a meal
eaten in uncharitable silence, or to the accompaniment of mother's
complaints about the neighbors.
Such a meal obviously bears no relation at all to the Table of God. It
is not a sign capable of teaching the children anything about God's
banquet. It will certainly give them no notion at all of why heaven
should be compared to a feast. Such a meal is a completely secular
activity, un-Christian, hardly even human.
But think of the possibilities inherent in our family lives if both the
bread-winner and the bread-maker were trying to make each meal and
everything connected with it more and more fit to be a humble human
sign and reflection of the banquet of the holy Eucharist. The cooking
and preparation of meals, the day-by-day, year-by-year, often seemingly
hopeless task of training the children to cleanliness and decent table
manners would take on real purpose and point, and so would the even
more long-drawn-out and difficult job of training them to happy and
interesting and charitable table conversation.
Let us suppose, for instance, that the price of the meal is earned by
the father's running a small hardware store as a real neighborhood
service, making available to his neighbors at just prices the things
they need for daily living; or, for that matter, by any other honest
job that in some way honestly " contributes to human welfare. Suppose
that the mother bought the materials for the meal from a neighborhood
grocery and vegetable store, the owner of which was also trying,
according to his lights, to serve his neighborhood rather than make a
Suppose, further, that the mother, letting the children help her as
much as their age and ability allowed, did her best, with whatever real
food the family could afford, to prepare a meal that would both nourish
her family and please them. Suppose that she served it carefully and
lovingly; that the children acted, not like little angels, but like
little Christians-in-the-making, with standards of hand-washing,
orderly eating and Christian behavior that they did not always live up
to, but were at least aware of.
Suppose, too, that an attempt was made really to pray grace before and
after the meal; that the conversation at the meal was taken part in by
everyone, according to his age, that the children were learning to
attend to each other's mental and spiritual needs for interest, love
and attention, and to each other's physical needs for salt or butter.
Such a meal would be a truly Christian family meal, a real sign in its
own order, of the Eucharistic banquet.
No matter if such an occasion were to look and sound much like any
other family meal where small children are present--a more or less
messy affair, with the children occasionally spilling things, using
their fingers instead of their forks, interrupting the parents'
conversation in spite of rebuke, and the parents occasionally becoming
short-tempered in the effort to eat and educate at the same time.
None of this would affect the main point, that the parents are trying
as best they can, in the light of the sacramental significance of the
holy Eucharist, to align everything concerned with their daily bread
toward the requirements of full and fruitful participation in that
banquet which is the sign and pledge of the everlasting wedding-feast
of heaven. (In any case, God Himself has made the material signs of
heavenly realities necessarily crude and, in a sense, unworthy of those
realities, so that we would take them as signs and signs only and not
as the realities themselves. St. Thomas points out that Holy Scripture
uses crude rather than 'noble' things as the basis for its figures and
metaphors for this same reason. We parents, then, have no need to be
ashamed of the crudity of our living picture-language, our daily family
life in all its messiness, awkwardness, seeming confusion and lack of
perfection. For if we are trying to order all its elements in the light
of what marriage signifies--the union of Christ and the Church, and
toward our all achieving that union through our daily family lives--
then, surely, we have the 'one thing necessary.')
Trying, then, to think and act along such "sacramental" lines should
begin to give us some real standard by which to judge the food we buy
(and some real reason to make it worth the trouble of growing it
ourselves when possible); by which to decide how and where to buy it;
by which to see how best we can spend our time and energy in preparing
it...and so on.
Now suppose that many families were to try to act in such a way. What
vast areas of human life would, slowly, begin to be restored in Christ!
And our children, trained in such sacramental thinking, would grow up,
with God's help, to be far ahead of their parents in thus seeing and
judging our whole commercial system, our whole way of life, in the
light of Christ and in knowing how best to go about acting in and for
that light in the foggy world of today.1
And here, surely, is the proper task of the Christian laity--to
sacramentalize daily human living and all the materials and actions and
occupations bound up with it. Priests "mediate" between us and God;
they bring us the grace of Christ In the sacraments, the sacramentals,
by their prayer, and they offer us to God with Christ in the Mass. And
we, the "laos," the people of God, are, analogously, to "mediate"
between the mystical Body of Christ and the un-Christened world of men
and things. We are to help to bring not only our own children, but also
our non-Catholic neighbors to Baptism, to Christ.
We are to build the houses that the priest will bless, and live in them
in the power of that blessing. We are to take days and weeks and years
and re-order them to that pattern of holy human living that the liturgy
of the Church lays out. We are to work in all the rightfully human
occupations of modern living and re-order them and all the material
things they involve, to the life and service of Christ's members, and
so to the glory of God. And thus we shall be doing our own part in
re-establishing all things in Christ, in extending that consecration of
the world which our Lord inaugurated by His coming.
It is not easy, of course, to see how many of the fields of modern
human life can best be sacramentalized--how some of them can be
sacramentalized at all. But it is not so hard to see how home life can
be made more Christian and more "Christening," for here we are dealing
with the comparatively simple fundamental facts of human life: eating,
sleeping, dressing, housework, play.
If we parents begin here, as well as we can, with the light and grace
of Christ, we shall see more clearly as we go along what can be done in
our immediate neighborhoods. We shall see how best to unite our own
brains and influence in Catholic family action of one sort or another.
We shall begin to see how to extend the influence of Christ into
streets and stores, farms and factories.
If we train our children to sacramental thinking, in sacramental
living, we shall, certainly, be educating them along truly traditional
Christian lines. Moreover, children so educated should be able to see,
far more clearly than we do now, how modern life can and may be made
holy, re-oriented to Christ. So we shall be training them both for
their next ride in a street-car, and for their future work for Christ.
And so we shall be giving ourselves, here and now, the plan, the norm,
we need for judging the applicability of good specialist advice to our
particular needs, and for making the innumerable small decisions of
daily family life.
Let us, then, take some of the elements of daily life that have been
made to seem most secular by the spirit of our times, and consider how
we can best go about the work of restoring them in Christ, of
integrating them into a truly Christian home life, and a truly
Christian home education.
First of all, human beings. These have been thought about and written
about and discussed from so many un-religious angles that we need,
perhaps, to begin by re-thinking out the implications of the fact that
our children and ourselves and all our fellow human beings are
primarily children of God, redeemed by Christ, made to share in His
work on earth and in His glory forever in heaven.
Next, things and places. We need to think out once more and explicitly
what is the truly Christian attitude towards these.
That work also has been divorced from any connection with God's plans
or providence is all too obvious as soon as we think of the ways in
which the majority of modern men spend the greater part of their
working lives. And from the general consent of Christians to this state
of affairs comes the un-Christian idea that only the special chosen few
who are priests and religious 'have a vocation'--the rest of God's
people just 'have jobs.'
These elements of our ordinary lives, then, we will consider in the
chapters of this book, not because they include every phase of life, or
because considering them goes to make up a complete program of
education, but because they are the elements which seem to need
explicit re-integration into the whole plan of Christian life and into
the full joy of Christian living, if we are to begin in our homes to
restore all things in Christ.
1. What can be done to awaken children to the spiritual significance of
food and of meals? What methods can be recommended for getting children
to come to meals on time and to be orderly during meals?
2. How often should religious topics be introduced during family meal
conversation? Who should lead the prayers before and after meals?
3. Discuss the meaning of the phrase, "sacramentalizing daily human
living." To what extent do we succeed in achieving this ideal in our
own American community, and in what ways do we fail?
4. Is it possible to sacramentalize one's individual family life with-
out first changing the general environment in which the family lives?
5. Does the approach of the author seem too idealistic to be practical
in our busy modern world? How does one determine what is "practical"?
1. Why is it more difficult today than it was fifty years ago for
parents to follow a "Christian pattern" in rearing children?
2. What is the meaning of the statement that "God's method of education
3. What is the difference in the part played by the mother, by the
father and by the children in preparing a truly Christian meal?
4. What are some of the differences between a monastic family meal and
a Christian family meal?
5. What is the function of the laity in a secular world?
2. OUR NEIGHBORS
We believe, of course, that every human being is, in one way or
another, a sign of God his Creator and Sanctifier and of Christ his
Redeemer. We ourselves, incorporated into Christ by Baptism, are meant
in God's plan to become more and more Christ-ened all our lives long,
increasingly perfect undimmed signs of Christ, through whom He can love
and serve His Father and His brethren. And He has so identified Himself
with the human race that we can recognize and serve Him in every person
we meet, baptized or not, sinners or saints.
Every human being is made by God, called to share God's life in Christ,
and, therefore, actually or potentially a child of God, a brother,
co-worker and co-heir with Christ, a temple and instrument of the Holy
Spirit. We are, in fact, to be judged as fit for heaven or not, on the
basis of whether we have treated other people as signs of Christ Our
Lord: "Come, blessed of My Father--when I was hungry, you fed Me..."
There is no need to go into details as to how this sacramentality, this
sacredness of each human being, should affect our own actions, and our
family life in general. We are all accustomed to try to act in the
light of these truths. But we must now consider some of their
implications in education.
On the side of self-development, each child is meant to become another
Christ in his own individual way. Surely, then, all the long process of
caring for his needs, physical, mental and spiritual, and of training
him to take over his own care and development, can and should be
ordered to this high purpose. And surely, also, the truths that God has
told us about human nature will afford us a guide as to how to order
all our training to this purpose of forming 'other Christs.'
The children, as they are given to us, are, first of all, signs of God
their Creator; they are God's creatures, made to His image and
likeness. Their bodies and souls and all their powers are then
fundamentally good, planned by God to be used for good. Consequently,
as the children become aware of their own bodies and of their physical
prowess and powers, we can teach them to reverence and admire God's
workmanship, and to want to cooperate with God's purposes.
When the children want to know, for instance, what happens to the food
they eat, we can tell them the basic scientific facts in simple
language, and lead them to praise the Maker of these marvels. We can
also lead them to see the reasons for eating proper food, for taking
reasonable care of their health so as to cooperate with His plans.
Such a habit of mind fostered all during childhood should likewise
prepare the children for a real appreciation of our remaking in Christ.
These bodies, so wonderfully made to begin with, have been re-made by
Baptism, Confirmation, the reception of the holy Eucharist, to be
Christ's own members, the temples and instruments of the Holy Spirit.
And if we should use them and develop them properly because they were
made by God, how much more since He has given them this added wonder
In the same way, as the children come to be aware of their own
emotions, and of their own spiritual powers, we can teach them what God
actually intended these powers for--that Tommy's explosiveness, for
instance, was given him by God to be harnessed as a driving force to
help him overcome obstacles in doing God's Will. He has to learn to
control this power with God's help, but in itself it is as good and
necessary as is the explosive power of gasoline in making a motor run.
And, along the same lines, we can show the children gradually what the
graces of the sacraments do, and will do to bring all their powers to
But our children are, as is only too evident, fallen children of Adam,
even as we are. (If anyone of us did not believe in original sin,
surely the experience of being a parent would soon convince him of its
truth, so evident are its effects not only on the children but on
ourselves!) Even when God's life has been given us in Baptism, even
with the grace of the sacraments, we all still have weak wills, tending
to sin, uncertain minds, tending to error, emotions tending to run away
with us rather than work for us.
But our incorporation into Christ by Baptism means that we can share in
His victory over sin, sinfulness, and the devil who would lead us into
sin. By the grace of His Passion and Cross, even our weakness and our
tendency to sin can work for our good and His glory. We can be brought
in His strength to the glory of His Resurrection.
As the children, then, become aware of their own weaknesses, of their
own tendencies to sin and sinfulness; as they begin to realize how much
easier it is to do the wrong thing, or the less good thing than the
right one, we can try to show them that all this is no cause for
surprise or undue alarm or worry. Every human being has these
tendencies because of Adam's sin; they can somehow, in God's love,
finally work for our greater happiness; our job is to try to accept the
hazards of our special weaknesses patiently, to ask God's help in
overcoming them; to realize that overcoming them perfectly a long, long
job, but that God has promised the victory if we hope in Him and keep
But any parent who tries to teach the children self-control and
self-discipline and to deal with their faults along these lines, soon
discovers that it involves a great deal of discipline for him (or her)
also. We find that we have to discard those handy parental weapons of
"How could you...!", "To think that a child of mine...!", "Well, I am
surprised!" Why in the world should we, fallen children of Adam
ourselves with all our own so evident failings, have any right to be so
surprised that our children take after us also in having faults? Yet it
is a rare parent who has never said something similar!
And we have to discard also those other easy lines of attack, "Where is
your self-respect...?", "What will people think?--", and try to work
instead along the lines of respect for God's making and re-making,
recourse to God's help and His love, the desire to carry out His plans
and do His work.
Again, the effort to direct all our teaching and training of the
children along these lines soon shows us the reasons for positive
discipline and training. We see that we not only have to try to keep
our tempers with the children--which is hard enough, God knows!--but
that, on the other hand, we have no right simply to make ourselves the
servants of their impulses and whims.
We see that we need to learn to serve Christ in each child, not by
giving in to him in his various phases of growing up, but by helping
him to develop the raw material of his nature into the image of Christ
that God intends him to become. We have to make ourselves the
intelligent servant of his true needs as a Christian-in-the-making, and
this includes the need for discipline and necessary punishment as well
as for positive training in obedience, self-control, and self-devel-
There is, of course, no hard and fast line between the individual and
social development of a child; for to develop oneself is to develop
one's possibilities of serving others; to develop skills in serving
others is to develop oneself. And, in general, it seems that most
children find the idea of self-perfection a rather static and
unappealing motive, whereas the idea of fitting oneself both by
discipline and development to be someone's fellow-worker, therefore to
help Christ to win His victory, build up His Kingdom, help other people
come to His happiness--all this makes good sense.
It would seem better, therefore, both for supernatural and obviously
utilitarian reasons, to consider the child's personal, individual
development as only one aspect of the whole process of his growth as an
interdependent member of the mystical Body of Christ.
But with regard to what is usually called "social adjustment" as such,
we can begin, as soon as a child is becoming aware of other people as
people, to show him that they are sacred because they are God's, and
related to himself in that sacredness because he is God's also.
A small child is aware of himself as a maker--of block houses, mud
pies, sand castles, peggy-toy guns, etc.--before he is explicitly aware
of himself as a child in relation to his parents, and long before he is
explicitly aware of himself as a person.
He can be taught very early, then, to realize that people are things
that God made with special love and care for very special reasons,
things that He wants us to learn to treat properly and to use as He
meant them to be used. "God gave Johnny a dark skin and you a lighter
one.... Wasn't He clever to think up such a lot of different ways of
making people!" "You know you didn't like it when Tommy knocked down
the house you built; well, God doesn't like it when you knock Tommy
down, because He made Tommy...."
Soon the children can also begin to realize and act upon the
implications of the fact that people are not only things that God
specially made, but also His children that He specially loves. They can
learn that all children are brothers and sisters of God's Son who
became a human child like themselves. They can learn that some of us
already have the great privilege of belonging to His special family,
the Church. "Bobby is so nice because God made him that way.... You
look a little like Daddy, don't you? Well, all God's children look
something like Him, and that's one reason why we love them." "You
wouldn't let anybody hit little sister while you were around. Well, we
all ought to feel the same way about everybody in the world, because
God has made them all our Lord's brothers and sisters and ours too."
As the children begin to be aware of other people's failings and
weaknesses and failures, we can show them here also that mistakes and
faults and sins are nothing to be surprised at, that only God is
perfect and always to be counted on; that people are to be loved and
cared for and served even though they are not perfect, since God made
them and loves them and redeemed them and wants their company in heaven
So we should help the children as they grow up not to become
"disillusioned" by any fact that they learn about human nature or by
any experience that they may have of other people's weakness and
sinfulness. We should help them to be properly on their guard against
other people's weaknesses as well as their own, while at the same time
hoping for the best from other people as being redeemed in Christ
together with themselves.
In the light of the full Christian truth, we can also show the
children, as they become increasingly aware of their own reactions to
other people and of theirs to them, that true affection, friendship and
love are reflections of God's own love, and that they mean wishing and
working for the other's true good, ultimately for his Christ-likeness
on earth and his eternal happiness in heaven. We can help them to see
in the mystery of true human attractiveness and lovableness, a shadow
and sign of the infinite attractiveness of God, a sign that is meant to
lead us beyond itself to Him.
So we can help them to begin to watch their own motives in their loving
and giving, to learn to love and give for the sake of the other person,
and, ultimately for Christ, rather than for the sake of making
themselves feel good or excited. We can help them to judge whether
another person's affection is real, and therefore leading them toward
God, or false and leading them away from Him; and so with their own
feelings for others. And with God's help, we can give them some sort of
real chart to guide them toward God and the Christlike service of
others amidst all the surprise, pain, bewilderment, comfort and
happiness involved in their future relations with other human beings.
Such a "sacramental" way of looking at our children and their
development will, incidentally, make more endurable the inescapable
drudgery involved in caring for small children, and even more, the
almost sickening effort often required by the disciplining and training
of children in the essential habits and basic skills of ordinary human
And such a "sacramental" way of looking at themselves and their
neighbors should make it much more interesting to the children to take
over the work of their own self-discipline, of keeping up and
developing their own good habits, physical, mental and spiritual. Such
things as remembering to brush one's teeth twice a day, to keep one's
clothes reasonably clean and neat, to make oneself reasonably
attractive, to eat real food rather than candy and ice cream, etc., can
be shown as jobs to be done for God, part of taking proper care of His
instrument, His temple, one's own body.
In the same way, we can show the children that learning how to choose
their own reading or movies or television shows, to study lessons
thoroughly, to control their daydreams, all such things, are part of
their responsibility to God for taking proper care of the member of
Christ, the instrument of the Holy Spirit that God wants each child to
become. And, again, we can teach them that learning how to sweep a
floor or read a book thoroughly, how to cook, how to drive a nail, how
to do arithmetic, are not simply tiresome necessities, but are part of
their present or future service of Christ in others.
This does not mean, of course, that whenever mother tells Suzie to sit
up straight, she must always add "because God's child oughtn't to
slouch"; or that whenever father stops Tommy from beating up his little
brother, Tommy should be reminded that "Johnny is God's child too."
Such a course would be likely to turn its victims away from all
religion! But it does mean that we parents should keep before our own
eyes the sacramental vision of what people are and are meant to become,
that we try to act upon it ourselves, and that we communicate it in
words to the children as their interest, curiosity or special needs
give us the opportunity.
In other words, we should try to think and act ourselves, to teach the
children to think and to act, in such a way that the explicit doctrinal
teaching about what human nature is and is meant to become, as the
children learn it in formal religious instruction, will be merely the
formulation of truths already to some degree realized and acted upon.
None of our training, of course, can substitute for the children's own
free wills. We cannot save them without their own consent--God Himself
does not do that. We cannot force them to become saints, nor even
passably good Christians. All this is, ultimately, up to God's grace
and their own freedom; our part here is that of prayer.
But God has entrusted the children's training to us during the years of
their growth. We cannot help training them somehow--if only in
self-defense. Let us, then, try to train them in accordance with His
own plan, for His own plan, not stopping at any lesser plan or purpose.
And then surely He will supplement our feeble efforts and help our
children to become by His grace, what He Himself wishes them to be.
1. How will we be judged by God as fit for heaven? (Read aloud the
Gospel according to St. Matthew 25:34-46)
2. What should we teach our children as being the reason for taking
care of our body and for being proud of the body?
3. What importance does the doctrine of original sin have for parents
in the task of rearing children?
4. How should children be told about the rights and failings of other
5. What is the basic reason for discipline of ourselves and of our
1. "Each child is meant to become another Christ." How can this idea
influence an other in her daily work of feeding, clothing, and training
2. List the principal failings common to parents in dealing with their
children. Show how these defects could be modified by the development
of a deeper religious understanding and motivation.
3. Discuss the typical reactions in our community toward peoples of
different races, colors, nationalities, and religions. How can we, in
our own particular environment, teach our children to practice
neighborly love toward members of other groups?
4. What qualities should a "model child" have at the age of 7? at the
age of 12? (Would he ever show anger? would he be instantly obedient in
all things? would he consciously have a religious motivation for every
act? how advanced would he be in awareness of social obligations?)
5. Discuss the extent that parents should regulate their children's
recreational interests, and the means that they should use. What
responsibility have parents for controlling the time and judging the
quality of movies, radio and television programs, and reading
materials? Is it sufficient merely to censure what is bad? How can
positive Christian standards of judgment regarding recreational outlets
be developed in children?
3. "...YOU DID IT UNTO ME"
But everyone we meet is not a sign of Christ in exactly the same way.
How, then, can we best help our children to recognize, love, serve and,
in turn, be served by Christ our Lord as He comes to them in special
ways in special kinds of people?
Let us begin with those of our fellow beings who most directly and
objectively represent Christ to us: His priests. How can we best help
our children to recognize, reverence, love, and be ready to serve
Christ the Priest in every priest they may meet?
To recognize Christ the Priest in every priest means to recognize the
Mediator between God and man, who teaches God's truth to us, brings
God's life to us, leads us to serve and love God and to be happy with
To reverence Christ the Priest in every priest means to honor him as
sacred to God, set apart, consecrated and empowered for the holiest
work in the world; to honor him for God's choice of him and for his own
correspondence with that choice.
To love and be ready to serve Christ the Priest means to have our wills
in tune with Christ's priestly work, eager to have our priests be truly
priests to us. It means being ready to help them in their work in
whatever form of parish activities or Catholic action they suggest; to
help them for their work by supporting them, not only with money, but,
as we find the opportunity, with all those less tangible forms of as-
sistance that all men need, however exalted their office and station--
appreciation, the affection of charity, cooperation, opportunities for
due relaxation, and so on.
Obviously, a first necessity here is that priests be made realities in
our children's lives. If the priest is little more than a figure up at
a distant altar once a week, and a voice in the confessional once a
month, the children will have little chance to build up any attitude to
the priesthood beyond that of vague respect.
Let us, then, give the children every possible opportunity clearly to
see and hear the priest when they attend Mass--there is usually room up
in the front of the church when there is any room at all!--to witness
baptisms and ask questions about what they see, to be present when the
priest comes to our houses to visit someone who is sick, in short, to
see their priests as they go about their highest priestly work.
Let us also give our priests every possible encouragement to come to
our homes as priests, to bless our houses, give special blessings, to
visit the sick, and so on, as much as the size of our parish and
circumstances permit. And on such occasions let us try to take our
part, and the children with us, in making the correct preparations for
the priest's visit, and the right responses to his prayers.
Moreover, if our children are to receive from us any idea of working
under and with their priests in helping to bring about the kingdom of
God on earth, we shall have to take part ourselves in whatever form of
parish activity and Catholic action our circumstances and talents are
best suited for. Then the children will have the chance to see us
making practical applications of the distinction between office and
person, so necessary in all Catholic life. They will see us striving to
exercise that humorous and humble charity which does not blind itself
to "Father's" imperfections and foibles, realizing that we have just as
many and more ourselves--and that Father is trying to be patient and
charitable with us.
Finally, we could try to make it as easy as possible for priests,
especially for our own parish priest and his assistants, to visit our
homes, and to feel at home there. Every Catholic family should surely
pray for the grace of having real friends in the ranks of Christ's
priests. There is no simpler, or surer (or more enjoyable) way to give
our children the opportunity to know and love and serve Christ in his
priests than actually to have priests as honored, loved, and familiar
guests in our homes--guests with whom we do not "stand on ceremony,"
but whom we do treat with the respect due their priesthood; guests in
whom we can most obviously care for Christ Himself; guests who will
argue with the parents and play with the children, but to whom we all
kneel for Christ's blessing at the end of every visit.
If every Catholic home were to do all that it could along such lines as
these to make and strengthen the bonds of common interest in God's
work, of unselfish helpfulness, of real charity between people and
priests how far-reaching would be the effects on the future generation
in vocations to the priesthood, in fruitfulness of the Church's work,
in the vitality of the Church's life!
Many of the same general means, obviously, are also to be used in
helping our children to come to honor and to be ready to serve Christ
in His religious, to bring them to recognize religious as men and women
especially dear to Him, who have undertaken at His call to live
explicitly, full-time, and by set rules of life, in that bridal
relationship of love and total dedication to God which the rest of us
must work towards by far less direct methods.
By personal acquaintance and friendship, common work and interests with
religious; by reading, by correspondence, by contributions, however
small, to the Propagation of the Faith and to contemplative Orders, and
so on, we can try to make the manifold forms of religious life a
reality to our children. We can help them to grow in gratitude to all
religious and in appreciation of the special part religious take in
carrying on the great work of Christ.
In this age of widespread vague knowledge about "depth psychology,"
many of us parents are continually harassed by fears of what we are
doing to our children's present and future psychic set-up, by fears of
what our children are going to think about us in future years. Whatever
measure of truth there may be in the various theories of psychology
current today it is all too obvious that our children do obtain from
our behavior to each other and to them, the material for their primary
ideas of, and attitudes toward, authority, parenthood, marriage,
fatherly love, motherly love, and married love. And we also realize,
all too clearly, that, in spite of our efforts, our own conduct is not
a perfect model of fatherhood, motherhood, or marriage.
We do, certainly, believe on faith that God will give us, if we pray
and work, the graces necessary to bring up our children. But is there
anything that God means us to do besides praying that He will somehow
bring our children out all right in spite of the psychic dangers
seemingly inherent in family life and childhood among fallen mankind?
Here again the Christian and sacramental pattern is the answer to this
most modern need. We parents are, it is true, imperfect as images to
our children of God's perfect love, perfect parenthood, perfect
authority and care; but we are His images nonetheless, by virtue of our
office as Catholic parents. We can, then, in accordance with our
children's needs and development lead them to an appreciation of both
the positive and negative implications of this fact.
Our love and care are only sketchy pictures of God's love and care.
Whatever is good and real and right in them comes from God. As parents,
we are instruments of God's love, of His care and His will for the
children while they are young, and as such we are meant to have their
respect and obedience, as well as their love.
But our imperfections and limitations show that we are not God; that we
are not meant to be and do not expect to be the most ultimate term of
our children's interest, or respect, or filial love. These should go,
and the sooner the better, through us and around us and beyond us to
"God loves you even more than Father and Mother do. He had to give you
both a Father and a Mother to show you something of how much He loves
you, and He gave you our Lady too, His own Son's Mother, to be your
Mother in heaven..." "He gave Father and Mother the job of taking care
of you and bringing you up as He wants, so that you can do great things
for Him when you grow up, and be happy with Him forever. That's why we
have to tell you not to do things that we know would be bad for you,
and to do things we know are good for you, till you are old enough to
know what God wants yourself...." "God wants you to obey us now as
practice for obeying Him directly when you grow up, just as our Lord
obeyed our Lady and St. Joseph when He was a boy on earth...."
And also, when it is clear to the children as well as to us that we
have made a mistake or been unjust or lost our tempers, let us use such
occasions too, as impersonally as possible, to help to establish our
children in the right relationship to God's perfect Fatherhood:
"Yes, Mother was wrong. Isn't it wonderful that God can never make any
mistakes, and that He loves you and is taking care of you all the time,
whatever happens, and however wrong things seem to be...." "Yes, I lost
my temper and I shouldn't have. Daddy and Mother have to try to be
good, just as you do. But God never loses His temper, however bad we
have been, and as soon as we are sorry He gives us another chance.
Let's both tell Him we are sorry and ask Him to help us try again...."
"Yes, Mother just didn't understand. Isn't it a good thing that God is
never too busy to listen and always understands, and our Lady does too
and can help you much more than Mother could...."
By thus using the occasions of daily living to point the children's
attention and affection through us to God, we shall be doing a great
deal to avoid any evil and unbalancing consequences of our own
imperfection as parents and of the children's imperfections as growing
human beings. Such a sacramental attitude toward our own parenthood
should also help us, with God's grace, to avoid both the danger of
over-possessiveness and that of neglect.
It should also help the children to avoid the emotional repressions and
complications that arise with trying to think that their parents are
perfect when obviously they are not. And, such an attitude should also,
with God's help, lay the human foundations for that trustful, truly
childlike attitude to God which is the essence of spiritual maturity,
that attitude which is so much easier to maintain and develop from
childhood on, than to establish for the first time in later life.
In the same "sacramental" way, as our children come to adolescence and
to a growing realization of the implications of human love, we can use
even the imperfections of our own example to show the children what
marriage is and should be. We can help our children to realize that the
ideal of marriage, of love, of self-sacrifice, of perfect union, is
more true and more real than imperfect human beings; that human
imperfections are allowed for in God's plan, and do not spoil or mar
the Reality of love and happiness in love for which we all were made.
And, in doing so, we do much to establish our children in true
Christian realism, to save them from "disillusion," to help them grow
straight and unhampered toward fruitful Christian maturity.
We all know the beautiful statement of the truth, Hospes venit,
Christus venit, "When a guest comes, then Christ comes." What is
difficult is to show our children by our daily example that we are
always happy to have guests of all kinds, because each of them gives us
the opportunity to welcome and serve Christ our Lord. We need to try to
be happy, at least with our wills, not only to welcome a beloved
friend, or an influential acquaintance, but also the bore who is only
going to waste our time, and the salesman whose product we do not want
and cannot buy.
In all these people equally, Christ the Guest is asking us for the best
hospitality that we can give him under the circumstances--say, ten
minutes full attention to the bore, and a human smile and word about
the weather to the salesman. For the more that we can so manage to give
our best to everyone who comes to our door, the more our children will
be prepared to realize that it is the One Christ who is coming under
all these various guises.
And the other aspect of helping our children to learn true Christian
hospitality is, surely, to make it a happy and natural and frequent
event in our homes. If the children see that "having company" is a
strange, unnatural, infrequent affair, requiring all sorts of elaborate
preparations, short tempers and stiffness, they can hardly be taught
the theory that we are doing such things to welcome the Christ who
loves them. On the other hand, they themselves should take part in a
reasonable amount of happy, special preparation for expected guests,
and so acquire the habit of doing whatever can best be done to honor
Christ as He comes to them in our guests.
The sacramental plan of things gives us also the key as to how to help
our children to achieve the truly Christian attitude towards those who
suffer and towards suffering itself. Since our Lord endured the
suffering of the Cross for our redemption, human suffering possesses an
objective dignity of its own from this very fact, whether the sufferer
himself realizes it or not. And, from our Lord's own words, we know
that it is He whom we serve in trying to help the needs of any human
In anyone who is suffering, therefore, we may find Christ Himself in
His Passion, giving us here and now the opportunity to care for Him, to
wait on Him, to sympathize with Him. For these reasons, personal care
of the sick is a privilege; for these reasons, the vocations of doctor
and nurse are greatly to be honored. Any serious illness or affliction
in the family or the neighborhood or among our friends can offer us the
occasion for talking over these facts with the children, and for doing
whatever we can to act on them.
On the other hand, suffering itself patiently accepted in union with
Christ's sufferings, shares in the value of His suffering and is
positively valuable for the eternal salvation of souls. As the
practical St. Therese says, to accept suffering in this way (and all
forms of hardship, trial, and inconvenience) is, as it were, to earn
token money which we can give to our Lord to change into real currency
by the value of His sufferings, and to use to ransom souls from sin, to
free souls from purgatory, to win graces and blessings for those who
need them. When our children have to undergo any severe pain, or dis-
agreeable illness, we can begin to give them such a simple and
practical view of the possibilities of suffering, and so teach them how
to endure it without self-pity, stoicism or softness, with at least the
makings of true Christian heroism.
But, in connection with all these truths, whenever we have occasion to
talk with the children about our Lord's sufferings, the value of
suffering and so on, we should take great care to bring out the fact
that it was original sin and, in its train, the effects of the actual
sins of all the generations of men, that are responsible for all human
suffering. God the Father does not enjoy seeing us suffer; He did not
enjoy seeing His Son suffer. But His wonderful ingenuity, so to speak,
by means of the sufferings of Christ has enabled us to make use of all
this suffering which we brought upon ourselves, to use it in helping
Christ with the very work of effecting our redemption.
All modern techniques of helping the handicapped now use the principle
of self-help above everything else; when the children are of an age to
appreciate such facts, we can point out how wonderfully and how
lovingly, "even to the death on the Cross," God Himself has been using
this very principle in the work of our redemption. Even small children
can appreciate the thought and skill needed to make use of otherwise
useless things, and so to appreciate what Christ has done in His
suffering, for our sufferings.
And, of course, we must also show them that no human wisdom can fathom
all the aspects of suffering; we can only know that God is infinite
Love and infinite Goodness, and that somehow He will bring a greater
good, far greater happiness for more people forever in heaven, out of
all this seeming evil.
Along the same lines, we can give the children the foundations of a
truly Christian attitude toward the handicapped. Any form of physical
or mental affliction shares in the objective dignity which our Lord's
Passion has conferred on all human suffering. In any form of special
consideration or service which a handicapped person may require, we can
find a special opportunity of serving our Lord. Moreover, only God
knows the degree to which any particular person's particular sufferings
or handicaps are of positive value in the great work of the redemption,
but we do know that such a person has, at the very least, a special
opportunity to help our Lord in a most valuable and difficult way in
the work of building up His kingdom.
A person so honored is not, then, to be pitied: for pity implies
superiority, and who are we to be superior to Christ? But he is to be
sympathized with, as our Lord allows us to sympathize with Him in His
Passion. Not, of course that we can expect every handicapped person
necessarily to be a saint, (or, for that matter, that any great
affliction or hardship will necessarily make us saints!), but that he
has been given a special opportunity to become so.
When our children are going to meet, for example, a man who is blind,
we should discuss quite frankly with them all the handicaps of
blindness, so that the children can begin to sympathize with ("suffer
with") their future friend. But we should not end up with "Poor Jack,
isn't it dreadful that he is blind!" Rather, "God must think a lot of
Jack to give him such a tough thing to bear for Him. That's why it is a
great privilege to have Jack with us, and let's try to give him as good
a time as we can."
Along the same lines, we can show the children how best to help and
serve Christ in the handicapped or needy. Obviously, this will not
consist in doing what we would like to do for them, but what will help
Christ to live more fully in and through them. In the case of a blind
person, again, the greatest kindness is to help him to independence; to
let him realize that we accept him as a normal human person. So we need
to learn to restrain ourselves from the fussy rushing to his assistance
that bolsters up our own cozy feeling of helpfulness, to find out
instead what kinds of help are really needed, and to accept help from
him in our turn whenever possible.
If we thus try to think out and practice consistently the implications
of the truth of Christ's special presence in those of our neighbors
with special needs and afflictions, our children may be able to learn
from us what true Christian charity means. But if we only try
thoughtlessly, spasmodically, and sentimentally to "be kind to" the
poor or handicapped, our children will be in danger of contracting that
sentimental pity, and fear of all forms of affliction which is the
modern caricature of the true Christian attitude.
We need also to try to get across to our children the correlative
aspect of these truths which concern their own acceptance of help, of
Christian charity in every form. One of our great modern vices is to
feel disgraced by any need for help, to feel that we must be able to
pay in some immediate and concrete way for everything, even for
Such an attitude is obviously a barrier to the free flow of the warmth
and vitality of mutual charity among the members of Christ's Body. For
it is, ultimately, a form of selfishness to try to seize every
opportunity of serving Christ in one's neighbor and yet to refuse to
others that same opportunity as far as one's own needs are concerned.
So St. Thomas says that it is itself an act of charity to receive
charity--of course in the proper sense of that wonderful word: love
shown in loving service of God and neighbor.
We need, then, to try ourselves to give the example and to teach our
children how, graciously and gratefully, to accept help of all sorts as
coming, somehow from Christ Himself. Such training begins with the
inculcation of the simple "Please" and "Thank you" which curiously is
so difficult to make habitual with many children. For such ordinary
politeness involves a certain amount of true humility, recognizing that
one does need things from other people, but that one does not have a
right to anything, and that gratitude is only decent.
We want, of course, to bring the children up to be as properly
independent as possible, especially of us, in the sense that they gain
the habit of trying first to figure things out for themselves before
they ask for advice, and the habit of doing what they can for
themselves before they ask for help. But we need also to teach them
when and how it is sensible and Christian to ask for advice or help,
and to accept it, not as one's due, not as if one had been disgraced by
needing it, but simply and gratefully in the spirit of true humility.
For the spirit of humility is basically a realistic sense of what we
are in relation to God and to each other; and, in relation to each
other we are all needy in one way or another; we all need others' help;
we all need to give and also to receive.
Only many volumes could begin to cover the whole field of human
relations and their wonderful possibilities to the eye of Christian
charity. We have to show our children how to be truly neighbors to
Christ in the people who are our actual neighbors by physical location
in our community and parish; how to be neighbors to Christ in needy and
suffering men all over the world, to the holy souls in purgatory, and
to all the host of heaven. And we need to show the children also how to
accept help themselves gratefully and graciously, as coming somehow
But, surely, the sacramental view, the effort to recognize and serve
Christ as He comes to us in person, is the Christian key to "human
relations" of all kinds. All sound knowledge of how human beings act
and re-act, about our bodies and nerves and minds and souls, all
rightful "techniques" of dealing with people and helping solve people's
problems, all this can thus be ordered to the love and service of
Christ in our neighbor. And, if we try to begin at home, we can help
our children to form the fundamental habits of true Christian charity,
capable of taking up all such modern knowledge and equipment and
putting it all to the service of Christ.
1. Discuss the ways in which parents can foster religious vocations
among their children. What methods are objectionable?
2. Discuss methods of discipline and of punishment of children in the
light of the fact that parents are images of God's perfect love,
perfect authority, and perfect providence. What are some practical
means of balancing love and justice toward children? How can parents
tell if they are too indulgent or too stern? if they are inconsistent
3. Make applications of the principle: "When a guest comes, then Christ
comes." Can this spirit be maintained toward all who come to our front
door, including salesmen, baby sitters, neighborhood children, and
visiting teenagers? Should we make an attempt to invite people to our
homes as guests if we think they need help, although we would prefer
4. "It takes as much charity to receive as to give." Explain this
statement and show how it applies regarding aid and gifts to us from
relatives, friends, and neighbors.
5. Discuss the Christian attitude toward pain and suffering as it
affects the lesser ailments of daily life. Should parents complain
about their ill health in front of their children? Should they act as
though they never had pain or discomfort? Should children be encouraged
to put up with pain and suffering? What should be the parents' attitude
toward the bumps and pains the children suffer?
1. In what ways does a priest particularly represent Christ?
2. List suggestions for making priests "realities in our children's
3. Since children obtain their ideas about authority and parenthood
from their parents, does this mean that parents should act as though
they think they are perfect and infallible?
4. What part does original sin play in suffering?
5. What is the Christian attitude toward suffering? toward those who
Thinking next over the question of how to help our children to grow up
with a "sacramental" attitude toward things proves to be a somewhat
startling experience. For when one begins to consider the
specifications of this Christian attitude, one realizes with dismay how
different it is both from the attitude of previous generations, and
also from the modern attitude which is now, unawares, forming our chil-
dren's views and re-fashioning our own.
The old attitude was one of appreciation of the value and quality of
things as satisfying needs, providing luxuries, and laying the
ground-work for the "finer things of life." Human prudence, thrift,
foresight, carefulness with regard to possessions, were among the
highest virtues known to this attitude; wastefulness, prodigality,
taking no thought for the morrow, lack of ability to make a living,
were considered the worst of vices. God was the source of all
blessings, but He only helped those who helped themselves, and solid
worldly success was a sign of His approval.
Our own parents and the Christian teachers of all ages have warned us
against the danger of this attitude. It encourages selfishness, for it
makes it seem a positive duty to amass things for oneself and one's
family even at the expense of other people and other families. It leads
people to overvalue physical comfort, luxury, as well as "refinement,"
and either to despise or to envy and over-value the "finer things of
life" like music, art, literature. Above all, it leads people to see in
earthly possessions the guarantee of security and the reward of right
living, as did the rich man in the Bible whom our Lord called a fool.
The basic assumption of the modern attitude, on the other hand, an
assumption sanctioned both by modern science and by the existence and
operation of the mass-production system, is that things really have no
permanent form or value in themselves. The form in which we find any
object at the moment is accidental; the thing can be junked tomorrow
and turned into something quite different and also much better than
what we have now, for "progress" is seeing to it that the products of
our civilization are inevitably improving year by year.
There is little use, then, in learning to appreciate anything for
itself, in learning to value the quality of anything, taking great care
of It, especially as there are in existence millions of other objects
just like this one, turned out by the same machines on exactly the same
pattern. What we can get out of a thing right now is all that really
matters, since, however we treat it, we can either get another, or turn
it in for something even more modern and more efficient.
Again, ours is, strictly, a "consumer" civilization, one which
literally consumes things, uses them up. Science has not yet discovered
for practical purposes how to turn everything into everything else--how
can we now make use of the component parts of the crude oil consumed in
the last twenty years, or the coal, or all the metals in our myriad
But we vaguely feel that science either has made such discoveries, or
soon will. And so we feel justified in continuing to use up raw
materials in making things designed to be used up and discarded in
order that people will buy new things and thereby keep the system
going. And the system must be kept going, because the mass-production
machines which are its focus and its fetish must be kept going or money
will be lost, men will be thrown out of work, fewer people will be able
to buy, panic and depression will follow soon.
The claims of these machines, in other words, have been allowed to
reign supreme over true human welfare, let alone the claims of God. The
real criterion of value has now become, not the satisfaction of
people's real need or what provides them with real pleasures, even on
the sensory level, but rather what people can be persuaded to buy in
order to keep the system going. For the real needs, and the desires for
legitimate pleasures of ordinary people do not provide the
ever-expanding market our system must have in order to keep going.
The only way out then, in times of peace or comparative peace, is
continually to "create" new "needs," to persuade people that they need
ever-new models of their present possessions as well as new things of
whose existence they never dreamed. And the means of persuasion
necessarily appeal, not to real human needs (which are, finally,
self-limiting2), but to the unlimited and illimitable desires that can
be awakened in fallen man by appealing to his emotions through his
If we contemplate soberly the implications of Fr. Vincent McNabb's
statement: "Every act of self-denial stops some wheel from turning," it
is startlingly clear that our system could not continue as it is
without the deliberate discouragement of self-denial, of Christian
trust and detachment; without the deliberate encouragement of anxiety,
fear, and of what theologians call the lust of the flesh, the lust of
the eyes and the pride of life, that is, of fallen man's inappeasable
itch for sensations, for acquiring things and "experiences," for being
up-to-date, "hep," just as good as the neighbors, secure, successful,
Again, since things are made primarily to be sold, not to be or to do
what they are presumably supposed to be or to do, the practice of good
workmanship is, generally, accidental, even where the mass-production
system still leaves room for its possibility. Things are not, then,
generally made as God Intended them to be, for somebody's special
needs, out of the proper materials, by an intelligent and skilled
workman who knows what he is doing and intends to do it for the love of
God and man.
Rather, incalculable quantities of God's inanimate and animate
creatures are being misused to provide raw material for junk,3 and
millions of men and women are either not using or are misusing their
human facilities to design, produce and distribute goods which,
whatever the individual workers good motives, actually promote not the
common good, but the common ill--increasingly widespread selfishness,
pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.
Obviously, then, the modern attitude toward things does not simply
contain dangers against which we could warn and fortify our children.
It is essentially wrong in itself, for it necessarily fosters
intemperance in the acquisition and use of things, false solicitude
about imagined "needs," the abuse of human work and of God's materials.
It necessarily discourages the Christian spirit of detachment, poverty,
and the right use of creatures.4 If it did not, it would break down.
Yet we and our children have to live, work and trade in this
civilization. We cannot transform it over-night. We can only do what we
can, in an infinitesimal way, to join with others of like mind, and to
begin thinking, studying, praying and working towards such a
transformation, and, at the same time, help to prepare our children to
carry on the transformation according to their future vocations. For
this purpose, obviously the first thing to do is to become consciously
aware of the Church's whole teaching about creatures and their use, and
to try continually to rectify our own attitude by this teaching. Then
we will be in a position to communicate the Christian attitude to our
children and to prepare them for their life-work in the world.
Where we can best, for our purposes, find the Church's teaching about
things and their use, is in Holy Scripture and in the liturgy and in
the social encyclicals of the recent Popes. From all these sources, we
find, to summarize roughly, the following:
1) God made everything for His glory and to be useful to man.
2) God made all things in wisdom, to the image of His Son, and,
ultimately, also for the sake of Christ. The vast diversity of
creatures was planned by Him: each thing gives Him glory by being and
acting according to the nature He gave it, taking its part in the great
harmony of creation and the drama of the history of the whole cosmos.
3) God gave to man, whom He made in His own image and likeness, a share
in his power of making and ordering created things. He made various
"raw materials" so that men could re-fashion them in various ways,
according to their natures and potentialities, and He gave man the
intelligence and potential skill to re-fashion such things. He also
gave man the power of "ruling" living and non-living created things,
that is, of ordering them. By making and ruling things, man was to
perfect his own nature as an individual and social being, and thus
fulfill the purpose for which God made him; so to live on earth as to
prepare for eternal life in heaven; and, in a sense, to complete and
perfect God's creation by acting in the capacity of His vice-regent
4) By the Fall, man handed over to the devil, so far as God permitted,
his own over-lordship of material things. This satanic power needs to
be exorcised by the power of Christ in order that Christians may be
able to use and order things for Christian purposes.
5) But, as all things were first made through the Son, made
fundamentally good and holy and given their proper degree of life
through Him, so by His redemption they have been, in principle,
redeemed from the devil's power so that they can be blessed by Christ
and given to us, who have been re-made to His image, to use through
Him, with Him, in Him, in the love of the Holy Spirit, for the honor
and glory of the Father.
6) God made things to be useful to men in two ways: a) by serving their
complex physical, mental, and spiritual needs, individually and
socially (the very complexity of these needs forcing men, even on the
natural level, to specialize in serving one or another, and to serve
each other's needs as well as their own), and thus enabling men to grow
up and live and work together on earth, according to God's plan, and
prepare together for eternal life in heaven.
b) Things have been made, and used by God in the course of history, to
serve also as signs of spiritual realities, so that in the very use of
those material things which necessarily take up so much of our time and
energy, we can raise our minds and hearts to God, and to the wonders of
our creation, redemption, sanctification and eternal life.
Our Lord's own words, and Christian teaching throughout the ages, add
several conclusions to these general principles.5
1) God only gives us things and lends us power over them to use them
according to their natures, to enable us to live according to our human
and Christian nature. We have no right to abuse anything.
2) Material goods have been "lent" by God to all mankind, to serve the
good of all mankind through all the ages of its history. We have the
right to private property only in so far as such an arrangement enables
us more effectively and fully to provide for our own needs and serve
those of our neighbor. We have no absolute right to anything, in the
sense that we are free to destroy it, or to use it wrongly.
3) We have no right, then, to own or to try to acquire more things than
we need to provide for our own needs as individuals or families
according to our state of life, and to enable us to satisfy other
people's needs according to our own special talents and capabilities.
We have no right to anything, in other words, which we cannot really
use to help us to take our own part in building up the kingdom of God.
4) Anything we have or acquire beyond this norm belongs, in charity if
not in justice, to others who do need it or could use it.
5) We shall be judged by our Lord on the last day primarily by how we
used material and spiritual goods to satisfy each other's fundamental
physical, mental, and spiritual needs; by how we used all these things
to serve Christ in our neighbor. Therefore, obviously, one of the most
important aspects of Christian education, to put it mildly, must be in
the intelligent and skillful and habitual use of material and spiritual
goods to serve other people's needs.
6) We are not to be "solicitous" about providing for our own needs,
that is, to be at all anxious about it, or to spend any more time and
strength on it than necessary. If we seek first the kingdom of God and
His justice (that is, if we are trying primarily to take our part
according to God's will in building up the kingdom according to our
vocation), then God has pledged Himself to provide for our needs (Matt.
7) If we are thus seeking His kingdom, and yet our physical, mental, or
spiritual needs do not seem to be provided for, we can be sure that God
sees that we have a greater need to share in the poverty and suffering
of His Son in His passion, in order to share in our Lord's work in the
special way He has planned for us, become the particular 'images' of
Christ that He wants us to become, and share in the special way He
intends in His happiness forever in heaven.
Now, if we set side by side the main characteristics of the Christian
attitude with those of the "modern," we shall see, perhaps, some ways
in which to go about our attempt to establish our children in the
Christian attitude, to strengthen them against the "modern" one, and to
prepare them to take their parts according to God's will in
First, the Christian tries to find out, to fit into and to take his
part in carrying out God's whole plan for the use of himself and all
creatures; while the modern attitude considers everything as man's, if
he can make it so by "science," to be used in any way he wants. Our
first effort, then, should be by the prayerful reading aloud and study
of Holy Scripture and of the blessings of the Church, to make ourselves
aware of God's whole plan, and of how material creation is included in
And our second effort should be actually to go about using things, as
far as possible, according to the Church's plan as outlined in the
blessings, and to use the blessings themselves,6 asking our priests to
administer them when possible, and otherwise we ourselves, father or
mother, saying the words of the blessings and making the sign of the
Cross with holy water.
We need to make a continual effort, then, to establish and maintain
ourselves in the Christian attitude. One of the best ways of going
about it is to read and study and think about the blessings of the
Church and the events in Sacred History to which the blessings,
indirectly or directly, refer. Then we should have things blessed, as
occasion arises, by a priest. And, lastly, we should try to use things
according to God's plan as it is shown to us in the blessings.
For example, if the family is about to acquire a new car, we could take
the opportunity to study with the children the Blessing for an
automobile. We could read over with them the passage from the "Acts" to
which the blessing refers. We could discuss our obligation to drive
carefully and so make ourselves worthy of the angels' protection. We
could also discuss the idea that every journey we are going to take in
the new car is a kind of 'sign' of our whole life's journey to heaven.
Then, when we get the car, we could begin our use of it by driving it
to the rectory of our parish and asking our priest to bless it. Again,
the occasion of a journey by train or boat or airplane could be used to
study the blessings for all these means of transportation. Or, lacking
a journey, books about trains or planes, cutting out pictures of them
and so on, could be used as the spring-board for interest in and
familiarity with, the blessings the Church has provided.7
In this connection also, since the Christian tries to find out what God
made things to be and do, to praise and thank Him for them, and to use
them rightly, we can try to be as conscientious and patient and
intelligent as possible in the never-ending task of teaching the
children to look at things as they actually are; to appreciate them for
what they are, and not for something else; to judge man-made products
by how well they imitate God's making in being well-made and in
fulfilling the needs they are supposed to fulfill.
Such training will involve, as any parent realizes with dismay, a
continuous process of "debunking" what the children are told by
advertisers everywhere, including their own friends; such debunking,
moreover, needing to be carried out as matter-of-factly, humorously and
unheatedly as we can manage. On the positive side, this training will
involve training the children's senses, to taste, smell, touch, see,
and hear what is before them vividly and discriminately, as the
indispensable prerequisite and accompaniment to training the children's
powers of appreciation, judgment, self-restraint and proper use with
regard to toys and tools, food and clothes, furniture and means of
transportation, as well as books, music, and pictures.
Then, since the Christian tries to use things as God meant them to be
used, while we are training the children to appreciate things rightly,
from God's point of view so to speak, we need to be training them to
use things rightly. Such use involves taking due care of things, using
them for what they were meant to be used for and not some other way. It
also involves constant care to avoid our great American vice of waste,
showing the children that it is foolish and expensive, but still more
that it is wrong, for it means not using something for what God meant
Children of bicycle age, for example, can be shown that a really
well-built bike, made to fulfill its purpose of carrying somebody
swiftly and easily from one place to another, is not necessarily a
bicycle with many gears, or complete with glittering accessories, but
one whose essential parts are strong, well-designed, well-put-together.
The children also can be shown that the right use of a bicycle is to
learn first to control it, then to ride it swiftly; but that to misuse
it by making the tires squeal, loosening the handlebars and so on, is
both silly and wrong, as doing an injustice to the nature of the
In all this, we will, of course, be working not only against the
children's natural carelessness and destructiveness, as parents have
always had to do, but against the whole spirit of the times, the spirit
of pretending that one thing is just the same and just as good as
another which costs more or is harder to make or obtain (why "butter
substitutes," for instance, why not simply "margarine?") and the spirit
of acquiring and using things for some entirely irrelevant or
non-essential reason or purpose (buying a brand of soap, for example,
because you get coupons with it to buy something else, admiring a car
for its "modern lines," using a college education to "get ahead").
All this training in rightful appreciation and rightful use may often
seem unendurably common-sense, old-fashioned and prosaic, as well as
difficult. Let us remember, then, that its purpose is not to turn our
children out as Horatio Algers or "solid citizens," but rather to give
our children as complete a training as we can give them in using the
things of this world rightly so as to achieve life eternal for
themselves and their fellow-men.
But by far the most important aspect of our training of our children in
the right use of things, is to train them in making things, especially
in making things for other people's needs; and this for many reasons.
First of all, such training in making is education of the whole child,
body, mind, and soul, towards perfecting him in the image of God the
Creator that God wants him to become.
Secondly, no other training is so efficient in inculcating true
appreciation of materials, tools and skill in the products of the
workmanship of both God and man. If you have once really tried to make
a table, you have an insight into furniture-making and a basis for
judging good furniture that no amount of book-learning alone can give.
And if you have tried to make a table for the use of someone who really
needs it, then you have had a full experience of mature craftsmanship.
And, finally, since doing things and performing actions are also forms
of making in the widest and truest sense, the children should be
trained to "make" a dance, a play, a tidy well-swept room, etc., as
well as being trained to make actual things, according to their age and
capacity. And a higher reason for all this training in making is that
the bread and wine used in holy Mass are artifacts of man's skill; if a
person had never made anything, it is much more difficult to show him
why and how the bread and wine can stand for us, for our human work,
for all we have and do and make and are.
In our encouraging and training of the children to make whatever they
can learn to make reasonably well, let us then try as far as possible
to lead them to make things that somebody really needs (rather, for
instance, than things that are easy and effective to make so that kind
grandparents will pretend that they like them). And let us try to show
the children by any means our ingenuity may suggest that these products
of their making are to be offered to God, with our Lord's offering in
the Mass, as their work is to be offered with His work, their very
selves with Him.
Obviously, also, if we are to train our children in the Christian
appreciation and use of things, we must take as much care to give them,
and to see that they learn to make and buy for themselves, things that
are well made and well designed, of good materials. How can we invite
the children to raise their minds to the true Bread of Life, and their
hearts in thanksgiving to God, how can we urge good craftsmanship, if
we sit down every day at a table made of some plastic that pretends to
look like marble, covered with a plastic cloth intended to look like
lace; when on the table is the white bread of commerce that has had
some small amount of nourishment "added" to its essential constituents,
a breakfast food that amounts to slightly sweetened air, and only
nourishes because of the milk and sugar put on it...?
Of course, it is simply not possible for most of us to be perfectly
consistent about buying real things today, but we can at least do our
best. It would be quite possible for some of us, for example, to find
out where the nearest furniture factory is, visit it, and buy the
furniture we need unfinished, and perhaps, with slight flaws in it
(much more cheaply than we could buy the finished product in a store).
Much good furniture is ruined only by the finish which tries to make it
look like something other than the original wood it is. In any case, we
can make it a habit to look for things that are well-made and not
pretending to be other than they are. And we can also point out
occasionally our own unavoidable inconsistencies to ourselves and the
Another characteristic of the Christian attitude towards things is to
enjoy the perfections that God, or man, His image, has put into things-
-whether or not one actually owns the thing and can profit from or
enjoy its use. We can, then, encourage the children to appreciate and
rejoice in the qualities of other people's things: gardens, lakes,
lovely china or furniture or houses, cars, and achievements.
A third characteristic of the Christian attitude as opposed to the
modern is that the Christian sees the use of things as a trust, a
"stewardship," to be exercised for the love of Christ, for the good of
one's neighbor and the whole mystical Body of Christ. We should, then,
when the children want us to buy things for them, or want to buy things
for themselves, help them to consider not only the quality and price of
the things, but also how it fits into the whole picture of their daily
lives as Christians: Can you really use it, or learn to use it rightly?
Can and will you take proper care of it? Will it cause unnecessary
trouble in the family or among your friends? Can you somehow share or
enjoy it with other people?
Obviously, this is a habit of mind to be established, not a puritanical
check-list. We and the children need things that are just for fun, need
to do things just for fun without always consciously adverting to
ultimate significances. But such significances do need to be in the
back of our minds, to have been thought out at some time or another, or
the fun will cease to be fun and become distraction and escapism.
So, in the same way, for major family purchases at least, we can call
the children into consultation: Will this laborsaving device, for
example, that we can now afford, actually give us more time and energy
to praise God better, to love and serve one another in Christ, to serve
our neighbors more effectively? Will this relatively expensive means of
entertainment really re-create us, or will it simply wear us out and
make us less fit to carry out God's will?
Again, the Christian realizes that he has no right to more things than
he can really use. We and our children, then, might well have a yearly
examination of conscience on our possessions, perhaps at the beginning
of Lent, or perhaps in connection with the Bishop's Thanksgiving
clothing drive, or some other special opportunity to give things away.
Should father keep that old dress suit he hasn't been able to get into
for twenty years? Should mother keep that old extra coat just in case--
when so many people don't even have one? What about those half-worn-out
shoes that John says he can't get into? Should we keep them for five
years till Tom gets that size? Or give them to somebody who needs shoes
Such questions are not always at all easy to answer with due prudence
as well as charity, and both virtues have their claims. But it does
seem from the lives of the saints as if the Lord preferred us to err on
the side of generosity when there is any real doubt as to which virtue
should be followed!
Again, we can try to show the children both by example and words that
giving is an essential part of living, that actually doing without
things in order to be able to give to those in need is a normal
Christian thing to do, especially in times of penance, Lent and Ember
But, since Christians are not to be solicitous or unduly worried about
their needs, while we must encourage the children in habits of
prudence, foresight, reasonable budgeting and so on with regard to
money and to possible future possessions, let us discourage them in any
undue amount of planning, worrying, working to acquire things for
themselves, especially things that are simply means to personal
And, finally, since we are followers of Christ, let us try to realize
ourselves and to communicate the realization to our children that we
have no "right" to freedom from want, that if we lack even necessities,
we are sharing our Lord's Passion to some small extent. Grumbling about
a lack of comforts, complaining about having less than our neighbors,
about not being able to buy things we want and that other people have,
all this is unworthy of soldiers of Christ, to whom hardships, doing
without and suffering are not important--so intent should we be on
accomplishing our mission, doing our job, taking our part in the
battle, looking forward to the final victory of Christ.
1. What does the author mean by the "old attitude" toward things?
2. What does the author mean by the "modern attitude" toward things?
3 What are the principal points from the Church's teaching regarding
things and their use?
4. What does the author mean by the "right motive" and the "wrong mo-
tive" for buying such things as bicycles and soap?
5. Why is it important for children to make things?
1. Read the Gospel of St. Matthew 6:25-34. Discuss how this teaching of
Christ gives us a guide for determining a Christian attitude toward
things. Is a housewife materialistic if she wants an automatic washing
machine? if she wants new furniture? if she wants a fur coat? a picture
window installed in the living room? Does the parable of Christ mean
that parents are not supposed to be "solicitous" about things for their
children? Should parents practice thrift? have insurance?
2. Discuss ways and means for increasing the use and the appreciation
of blessings of things in the home.
3. What things can and should children make at home? About what percent
of their time should children be "making things" as compared with the
time they spend "being entertained" by watching others perform? Suggest
ways in which the average home could be expanded in opportunities for
the children to make useful and functional things.
4. Discuss ways and means for aiding children to increase their respect
for property--for clothes, family furnishings, other people's property
and community property. At what age should children begin to buy and
take care of for themselves the more expensive items of property? What
standards should we teach them to employ in buying one item rather than
5. Discuss the "proper" amount of things that children should have at
the various age levels. Do children get too many toys or get them at
too early an age? How might the amount of things children have today
affect their idea of "stewardship" of property? Are the amount and
value of gifts given at Christmas or for birthdays an aid or hindrance
to children for developing a Christian concept of goods?
The modern attitude toward the universe as a whole, toward our earth,
toward places made by God or man is, naturally, as secularist as the
current attitude toward individual things and possessions. Few people
are brought up to look for the power and wisdom and love of the Creator
in His creation; even those scientists who recognize the "great
Mathematician" or "the great Architect of the universe" usually do not
recognize Him as a Person who is interested in mankind. To the majority
of people today, the heavens do not declare God's glory, but only man's
littleness and impotence; the wonders of heaven and earth do not invite
them to praise, but to a pagan sense of "lacrimae rerum," the tragic
fragility and passingness of all things, or still worse, to a kind of
wondering despair at the purposelessness and chanciness of nature in
all her manifestations.
As St. Bonaventure says, creation was meant to be for mankind a great
book in which we could learn about God. Civilizations other than ours
have realized in the main that this book was made to mean something,
even if they did not know the alphabet or the language. Ours, alas, is
the first to hold, as a general assumption of ordinary people, that it
is only a meaningless scrawl or, at best, a cold-blooded mathematical
We need to arm our children against this assumption as they will meet
it in their friends, in popular magazines, in literature, and even in
education. We want to equip them not only to possess, but to share with
other people the true vision of creation. The sense of the presence of
God in His universe which we try to give them must, therefore, be full
and deep and mature, rooted in faith and knowledge as well as the sense
of awe and wonder native to unspoiled childhood.
Our aim, then, is to give the children a positive sense that the
heavens are telling the glory of God. We want to give them the habit of
going from "When I consider the work of Thy hands, the moon and the
stars that Thou hast set up..." to the mystery of "What is man that
Thou art mindful of him," a mystery not of doubt that God could be
mindful, but of wondering love that He is mindful, even to making His
only Son the Head and Redeemer of mankind.
We want the children to come to appreciate all the wonders of nature as
signs of God's creative power, wisdom and love, and of His redemptive
and sanctifying love as well. We want them to learn to give God the
intelligent and loving praise for His marvelous work that only a man
can give, and to give that praise as part of the great praise which our
Lord is continually giving to His Father in the joy of the Holy Spirit.
Our special task as parents, here, is to lay in childhood the
foundations for such an attitude, and to be always ready to show the
children how to integrate into this attitude all the different kinds of
information they may acquire about the make-up of the world and the
For this purpose, we need first to see to it that the children actually
have sufficient opportunity to see God's works: the night sky, for
instance, and trees and fields and grass, and, when possible, hills and
lakes, the sea and mountains. (Here is an excellent argument for at
least some rural life for families!) Then, we need to equip ourselves
with an elementary knowledge of the natural sciences dealing with the
make-up and functioning of the universe, the solar system, our earth.
We also need a good working knowledge of the nature of Psalms, in
particular, 8, 18, 28, 64, 95, 96, 97, 103, 147, 148 and the Canticle
of the Three Children in the fiery furnace.
Equipped with such knowledge, we may be able to lead the children from
their initial wonder at, say, the sky full of stars, to a greater
wonder resulting from some real knowledge of what the stars are, their
distance from us and each other etc., to the praise of God as expressed
in human words by the Holy Spirit Himself. And if we can make it
habitual so to proceed from the observed facts of nature to the praise
of God, whenever the children's interest, some new view or piece of
knowledge, some startling event like a big storm, make it natural to do
so, then we will be laying the true and right foundations for a
life-long attitude toward all natural science.
And, as the children grow older, we can continue to deepen and broaden
the scope of this habit in all its dimensions. We can encourage the
children to observe accurately, to study and think about natural
science of all kinds (even by making collections of odd bugs or
butterflies); we can find out from bookstores or libraries where to get
more detailed scientific information about whatever most interests the
children; we can absorb enough of this information ourselves to give
the children the habit of looking first for the purpose for which God
made anything and made it the way it is; then to admire how marvelously
the design, material and functioning of the thing is adapted to this
We can continually try to complement the children's experience and
growing knowledge of nature and natural things with an ever-growing
appreciation of the way in which these things are used by our Lord and
in Holy Scripture as signs and "types" of His relations with us, of His
life in the Church, and of our lives with Him hereafter.
For example, Christian tradition has always seen the sun as a "type," a
sign of our Lord. Any child's spontaneous reaction to the wonder of a
sunrise, or of a glorious sunny day after many dark ones, can be made a
basis for some growth in the knowledge and love of our Lord as the Sun
of our lives. And any scientific knowledge about the action of the sun
on all the water of the world, for example, or in photosynthesis, can
be used as material to fill out and expand the analogy, to lead the
growing and grown-up mind and heart to God.
Perhaps our whole aim in all this can most powerfully and beautifully
be summed up in one paragraph from St. Bonaventure's "The Journey of
the Mind into God." For we want to train our children so that they will
always be free from the blindness, deafness, dumbness and stupidity he
speaks of, and train them so that they may be able to awaken others to
use all material creation as 'material for glory', for praising the
glory of God and so achieving glory themselves:
"He must be blind, then, who is not enlightened by the great splendors
of created things; he must be deaf who is not awakened by such loud
outcries; he must be dumb who does not praise God for all these effects
of His power; he must be stupid who is not led to the First Principle
by all these indications in His work.
"Open your eyes, then; listen attentively with the ears of your spirit;
move your lips and direct your heart, so that in all created things you
may see, hear, praise, love, serve, magnify and honor your God; if you
do not, the whole world may rise together against you.
"For it is for this reason that the whole world will fight against the
unwise. But for those who are wise, the world will rather become
material for glory, for those who can say with the Prophet: 'Thou hast
delighted me, Lord, with Thy making, and I will exult in the work of
Thy hands. How wonderful are Thy works, O Lord, Thou hast made every-
thing in wisdom, the earth is filled with Thy possessions.'"
But we need to show our children also how the great works of man's
hands are meant to lead our minds and hearts to God. A Christian is
crippled for God's service if he cannot see what is good and wonderful
in a great city, a great bridge or dam, a great building; if such
things do not give him material for thinking of and loving and praising
God, as well as reasons for shrinking from evil.
Of course, we need not try to blind ourselves or the children to the
evils involved in the very existence of a big modern city, of a
skyscraper, of a great factory. But the thrill that comes to anyone at
the sight of the New York skyline, or the Golden Gate Bridge8 can just
as well be ordered to God as that which comes, say, from the Grand
Canyon; and if it is not, a whole side of our children's lives will be
allowed to grow up cut off from God and His love.
So we need to direct the children's admiration for man's wonderful
works to an admiration for God who made men able to discover how to
make these things, able to get together and actually build them. Again,
when opportunity permits, from the sight of all the ordered activity
that goes on in putting up a new building, for example, we can show the
children how we should all be working to build up God's house; from the
care with which each brick or rivet is put in its right place, we can
lead them to think about the care with which God is fashioning us with
"blows and strokes" as the stones of His eternal dwelling.
When they come to experience the life of a great city, or to learn
about city organization and so on, we can show them that it is by no
mistake of terminology that the Church is called the "City" of God;
that the company of redeemed mankind will be the holy city, the new
Jerusalem coming down from God; and, therefore, it is part of the
Christian's work to make our human cities less completely unlike the
heavenly one, to see to it that life in these cities is better suited
to lead men toward that heavenly City rather than away from it into
that of the devil.
Along these lines also, we can begin to give the children some sense of
the Church at work all over the world, leavening with Christ's own
presence and action cities and towns, villages and country, wherever
there is a priest at work, wherever there are Christians building up
the kingdom of God. And so we can begin to give the children a
world-wide vision of the Church at work, of its needs in various coun-
tries, of our responsibility to pray for and support all missionary
Such a vision will mean also what might be called a Catholic sense of
geography, which sees Rome as the real nerve-center of the world, the
home of Christ's Vicar and of all the organizations by means of which
he governs the worldwide Church. Such a Catholic sense of geography is
also aware of the great spiritual centers in each country, of the great
shrines of our faith, of the Holy Land as what it is.
But above all it sees the world as being vivified and renewed by the
invisible force of Christ's life working through the visible
organization of the Church, reaching from the Holy Father in Rome to
our Bishop in his Cathedral, to our own parish Church in which we
receive the teaching, the life and the direction of Christ Himself.
It is hard for a 'born' Catholic to realize how featureless must be the
lives of those whose ordinary experience does not include any kind of a
'holy place.' All other cultures have had places known to be especially
filled with the power of their god or gods or demons; only to ours is
everywhere equally neutral, equally empty of any presence above or
below or beyond the human. But since we live in such a culture, we need
to do something to cultivate in ourselves and our children a real and
living sense of the sacredness of our churches. "This is a place to
fill one with awe," says the Introit of the Feast of the Dedication of
our own church, "Truly it is the House of God and the gate of heaven."
One seldom-used means of giving our children such a sense of our
church's holiness might be to ask our pastor or his assistant to give a
private (or, better, public) description of the marvelous ceremony of
consecration (if ours is a consecrated church, or of its blessing, if
it is not). Surely such a description would make a wonderful sermon for
the anniversary of consecration or blessing.
Again, we might ask our pastor to take the children, as a priest friend
of ours actually does, on a conducted tour of the church, showing them
the consecration crosses, letting them have a good look at the altar
and its furnishings, at the holy oils in the ambry, at the sacred
vessels and vestments for Mass, while he tells them as much as they
could follow of the special blessings of each thing and of its use.
Besides such special means, we must, of course, take the day by day
ordinary means of teaching the children to appreciate the holiness of
our church by teaching them to appreciate the wonders that take place
in it: the Mass, especially the Sunday Mass, Baptisms, Confirmation,
Confessions, blessings, prayers made and heard, the Presence of our
Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
We also need to give the children a sense of the sacredness of places
in which Christians live and work, not that this is of the same kind or
degree as the sacredness of a church, but it is nonetheless very real
in its own right. The most obvious among such places is, of course, our
own home. We need to bring the children to feel implicitly that their
home is, as it were, their special workshop, training-ground, gymnasium
in the work and exercises of real life, and not to feel that real
living takes place everywhere else, that home is simply a
filling-station for their physical or spiritual needs. (Though, of
course, they will always feel at times that other people's homes are
more interesting, more full of promise and vitality than their own.)
And, by the time they grow up, they should realize that it is now their
task to go out and form some new home, whether in a rectory, or a
convent, or a group, or a new 'little church,' an ordinary Catholic
home. But for the years of their home-life we should surely try to make
them feel positively and not merely negatively "at home at home." And
for this purpose, we need to make sure that real living, spiritual and
mental, as well as physical, is going on in our house. If we ourselves
are trying to lead a fully Christian home life, surely this effect will
In this regard, we can also try to make sure that the physical lay-out,
furnishing, decoration, etc., of our houses are, as far as possible,
suited to the life we are trying to lead in them, not to somebody
else's life, or to some notion of static unrumpled perfection.
So we can try to train the children in habits of order and tidiness;
teach them to help us with the cleaning and beautifying of the house by
showing them that all this is for the sake of more efficient, more
fruitful, more vital living both human and Christian; that if your
tools for carpentry, or for cooking, or for clothing yourself are so
mixed up that you cannot find what you want, such a mess is neither
practical nor efficient, nor worthy of a house in which Christ's mem-
bers and fellow-workers live and work.
So, also, we can not only have our houses blessed when we first move in
and, when possible, at Epiphany and Eastertime, but we can try to make
these blessings really understood by the children as vital forces in
our home life, forces with which we want to cooperate in order to live
as fully and happily as God intends.
In this connection also, we can try to give the children the sense of
going away from home and coming back as special events. For instance,
one mother known to the writer is careful always to give her children a
blessing, the sign of the Cross on their foreheads, before they go out,
even to school or to a friend's house to play.
We can also work towards awakening in the children a sense of
responsibility about going to other people's houses, being sure they
are invited generally or specifically, telling us just where they are
going, and being back home again on time. And, above all, we can try to
make sure, in our discussions of our home furnishings and improvements,
and in our comments on other people's houses, that our children come to
understand that it is not the material or size or plan or efficiency or
"niceness" or "loveliness" of beautiful surroundings or furnishings
that are important about a house, but rather the Christian life of
charity that is lived in it--that all these other things are only
important as possible means toward this end.
As the children grow older, of course, they will realize more and more
explicitly that, although God is everywhere, there are many places,
alas, in which He is not wanted, to which He is never invited, and many
from which He is as positively excluded as the perversity of human (and
devilish) wills can do it. Our task here, it would seem, is to be aware
of children's instinctive reaction to the presence of evil in places,
to encourage them to realize that our Lord has, in fact, overcome all
this, and that they can overcome it also in His strength with the sign
of His Cross.
We can show them also that their future work as Christians is to be our
Lord's instruments in bringing His life and grace to the human beings
who are responsible for the unholiness of unholy places, and so helping
Him to restore all places as signs of His presence. And we can also
reassure them, whenever the need presents itself, that in deepest
truth, unless by unrepented serious sin they have cut themselves off
from God's presence, wherever they go they will find, ultimately, "only
God and nothing strange."
1. What is the Christian attitude toward nature?
2. List the ways in which children can be aided in acquiring an
understanding of nature.
3. How can children be led to appreciate that the parish church is a
place of special reverence?
4. In what ways can we give a religious meaning to our own home?
5. What standard should children use in judging the homes of other
1. List examples of how the Church uses some places or some aspect of
nature as a symbol for religious truth. (Consult the litanies and
Scripture; for example, the Blessed Virgin as "Ark of the Covenant.")
2. Discuss the importance of religious places in our lives. Do we have
the same concern for learning about the sacred places in our area (such
as the Cathedral church and religious institutions in our dioceses) as
we have for places of civic interest? Would it be possible to arrange
pilgrimages to various religious places in the area?
3. A conscientious Christian housewife said: "One of the things that
bothers me is that now with several children I can't keep the house as
tidy as I would like to have it." Discuss this problem and try to set a
standard to guide a Christian mother in her housekeeping: can there be
too much "order"? too little order?
4. Discuss ways of building an appreciation for Rome and the various
European countries through which we have received our Christian
5. Discuss the places in the community where "God is positively
excluded." Do teenagers have difficulty in recognizing the places where
God is excluded and the places that are occasions of sin? What kind of
program can be suggested which would encourage teenage recreation at
places and in ways consistent with Christian culture?
"What are you going to do when you finish school?" "Oh, get some kind
of a job, I guess."
How many Catholic young men and women today give this vague and dreary
answer to a question which should call forth intelligence and heroism,
zeal and hope! And how many of us who are now parents, even those of us
who had good Catholic parents and a good Catholic education, look back
regretfully on many dismal years spent in finding out what our lives
were for, convinced as we were that since God had not given us a
priestly or religious vocation, He had no special plans for us at all.
But it is part of our faith itself to believe that God has a special
plan, a vocation, for everyone, and that means for each of our
children. And it is part of our faith to believe that this plan of His
for each child is an integral part of His plan for the whole human
race, for the upbuilding of the whole mystical Body of Christ to its
Surely, then, one of our main tasks as parents must be to give our
children a positive and realistic idea of the Christian vocation as a
whole, and of the various vocations, professions, and occupations by
which that vocation may be carried out by Christ's members. And we must
also do everything in our power to equip our children to find out and
to fulfill the part which God has given each of them in His great plan.
Obviously, all our home life, all our education and training should
tend to give our children the great plan of the Christian vocation, "to
know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His
sufferings...doing the truth in charity, to grow up in all things in
Him who is the Head."
But even if we teach our children the outlines of this great plan, even
if we also show it to them in our daily living, our education may yet
fail of its purpose if we do not give them some idea of the various
ways in which this great plan actually is to be furthered by daily
Christian life and work, of how it may be furthered not only by a man's
general 'state in life,' but by the works of that state and, in
particular, by the work by which he earns his daily bread.
For unless God gives our children a clear and early vocation to the
priesthood or religious life, the necessities of earning a living will
face them as soon as their schooling is over. And if we have not
managed to show them how 'real life' and earning a living, in all its
rightful forms, is meant to be part of the Christian vocation, the
vision we have tried to give them of God's plan may well prove to be
more of a torment than a guide, more a cause of schizophrenia than of
sanctity. And what a waste!
Let us begin, then, to give ourselves as clear an idea as possible of
all the rightful forms of human work, of how each of these has been
'Christ-ened' by our Lord's own example and by the grace He gives us to
work in Him and for Him, and of how each is meant, in God's plan to
contribute to the building up of Christ's Body and to the re-
establishment of all things in Christ. For if we ourselves can truly
see how the work of a farmer, a storekeeper, a train-dispatcher, as
well as that of a doctor or teacher or priest can be truly a share in
Christ's work, then we will be prepared to give our children an
intelligent and comprehensive idea of real life and of the
possibilities of their own future lives.9
Moreover, if our children really possess the Christian idea of work,
then they will be able, with God's grace, to help make sense out of
life for their fellows in high school or college, in their neighborhood
or place of work, at that most trying and difficult age when one wants
the best, but is learning to expect the worst. What a marvelous
opportunity for charity this would be, were more Catholic young people
trained to take advantage of it!
If we consider human nature, then, in the light of Christian teaching,
we see that God made men as incomplete creatures, needing each other's
services and many kinds of material and spiritual goods and services in
order to exist and grow and perfect themselves. We see also that God
made men to His image and likeness so that they could fulfill each
other's needs and their own. As God is our Creator, He made men able to
be makers: as He is Truth itself, He made men able to be teachers,
communicating what they learn of His wisdom to each other. And as He is
Goodness and Love, the end of all human wills, He made men able to rule
and guide one another toward the ends of human life.
The work of mankind, then, consists in one way or another in making,
teaching, and ruling, and, because of the very relation of men to God,
in the work of uniting men to God, the work of priesthood. Farmers,
herdsmen, miners, builders, storekeepers, businessmen, all who work to
make or produce or make available goods and services, are, obviously,
makers, and many of them are also rulers of their enterprises and of
those who work under them.
A doctor is a maker of health and a teacher, as his name implies, of
how to become healthy. A lawyer is (or should be) a maker of peace and
order and a teacher of how to achieve it. A writer is a teacher of some
aspect of wisdom and a maker of the story or play or poem or article by
which he communicates his vision to others.
Now all this four-fold work of mankind was planned by God in the
beginning. But it has been, obviously, warped and thwarted and
perverted in many ways by sin and sinfulness throughout human history,
as it has been made arduous and difficult in punishment for original
sin. But it has all now been redeemed and consecrated by Christ our
Lord, so that men can now, in Him and through Him, work as befits God's
Our Lord was anointed with the Oil of Gladness of the Holy Spirit at
the very beginning of His human life, to be the Priest, the King and
the Prophet of all mankind (see the Preface for the Feast of Christ the
King and the ceremony for the Consecration of Holy Chrism). And the
great work which His Father gave Him to do of making us all into a
Kingdom, included during His life on earth the ordinary human work of
making tools and furniture at Nazareth, and of making stories and
sermons in His public life.
Since, then, by Baptism and Confirmation, we share in our Lord's life
and His powers, His work and His purpose, we can in very truth work in
Him, with Him and for Him. We can make the work by which we earn our
daily bread a part of our Lord's one great work of building up the
Kingdom of God.
In the first place, as we all realize from the words of the Morning
Offering, because of our share in Christ's Priesthood as baptized and
confirmed Christians, we can offer our lives and work and sufferings to
God with Christ's sacrifice in the Mass. We were incorporated into
Christ's mystical Body by Baptism. Our vitality as members of that Body
is increased as we grow in grace; we are living and useful members to
the degree of our union with Christ in love.
According to the degree of this union, according to the measure in
which our life is at the service of Christ's life, our activity is
somehow united with His so as to share in the value of His great work.
The more perfectly Christian we are, then, the more whatever we do and
suffer is united with His work and suffering, represented in the Mass,
for the redemption of mankind. In this way, all our work and suffering,
whatever its other value, may be transformed into a positive
contribution towards the greater vitality, growth and perfection of the
whole mystical Body, the welfare of mankind and the glory of God.
One of the deepest and most glorious truths of our faith certainly is
that what is only waste and loss in terms of temporal value--mistakes,
suffering, failure, and death itself--can, in Christ, have the greatest
possible value, individual and social, for all eternity.
But our attempts to realize this should not make us forget that
ordinary human work which does produce temporal results can also have,
in Christ, its eternal value. No normal man wants to spend his time and
strength and energy on mere busy-work or boondoggling. And normal men
resent, at least subconsciously, that so-called Christian view of work
which would make of it only a punishment, or a kind of busy-work to
keep us out of trouble during our earthly exile.10
But this is, of course, nowhere near the glorious Christian truth. The
fact is that all rightful human work duly satisfies a real God-given or
God-permitted human need, has the eternal value of helping to build up
the kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, to its full and everlasting
perfection.11 The City of God is "not made with hands," the houses and
statues we make will not last for eternity, neither will the books we
write, the laws we frame, the institutions we establish. But the
effects of all these things on the human beings who are to be the
living stones of God's eternal temple will last forever.
The way in which a man is fed, clothed and housed, the way in which he
is taught, ruled, and entertained, given the tools and conditions under
which he himself does his work--all this affects the quality of his
human living (and so of the meritorious value of his actions); all this
aids or hampers his achieving his final perfection as the unique member
of Christ's Body that God means him to be for all eternity.
When our Lord said: "Whatever you do to these My least brethren, you do
to Me," He meant it as a fact, not as a mere manner of speaking, for in
feeding, clothing, comforting, advising, guiding one another, we are
actually 'edifying,' that is, building up the members of Christ's own
Only God himself knows, of course, when and to what extent His grace
makes up for our mistakes and failures and mistreatment in fulfilling
each other's needs, so that somehow in spite of all this, 'all manner
of things shall be well' and the perfection of the mystical Body and
each of its members finally and beautifully achieved. But we do know
that we shall be judged and given our place for all eternity on how we
have tried to fulfill each other's needs..."Come," or "Go" as we fed,
clothed, housed, comforted Him in His brethren.12
We can easily see that a well-planned and well-built house, for
instance, contributes to the possibility of men's living a good and
Christian life. The lack of proper housing is one of the chief
occasions of sin and discouragement today a poorly planned and built
house is a source of irritation; of waste of thought and energy that
might have been put into prayer or study or needed relaxation or the
fruitful service of others.
But a house planned for the needs of those who live in it and built as
well as a house can be, conduces to contentment, to hospitality, to
good human living and so to the more effective service of God and our
neighbor. Clearly, then, the work of the architect, of the contractor,
of all the craftsmen who gave their time and strength and skill to
building such a house, in actual fact contributes objectively to the
building up of the kingdom of God. So too, for all other forms of work.
But if our work is to have such an everlasting value (as well as a real
temporal value), it must satisfy duly a true human need. This means
that it must be done both charitably and skillfully, so that we try to
find out and satisfy our neighbor's real needs rather than to seek our
own gain, and that we try to satisfy these needs as well as possible,
rather than try to get away with whatever a patron or customer will
take. For, obviously, if the work we do is actually for the purpose of
pandering to our neighbor's vices, of hindering him from leading a good
life, it is serving not Christ, but the devil. And as we would
certainly not offer careless, shoddy work to Christ Himself, so neither
should we offer less than the best we can, or could learn to do, to
Christ in our neighbor.
If we look at the list of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we
see that it adds up to a summary catalogue of human needs in an acute
form. The only difference, then, for a Christian between performing a
work of mercy and doing the work by which he earns his daily bread
should be that he expects no return from the work of mercy, while he
expects, in justice, to receive from his daily work either enough of
its products, or a fee, salary, or wage sufficient to enable him to
continue to satisfy his neighbor's need by means of his own particular
skill, and to support his family and bring up his children to take
their due part in the work of mankind, the work of Christ.
How fruitful and how wonderful, therefore, every rightful form of human
work might be! As things are, few people besides priests and religious
realize that they are co-workers with Christ and that their daily work
has an eternal value of its own. And so the vast majority of Christians
have lost the joy of this realization, and, what is worse, have lost
the norms of what constitutes true and fruitful work.
Here is one of the chief causes for the desperate state of things in
the world today. For the Christian truth is only the fulfillment and
perfection of the true human idea of what work should be, and today we
have almost completely lost both. While, thank God, many a doctor, many
a small-town storekeeper or banker, many a farmer and craftsman still
works primarily for other people's welfare, yet in general all kinds of
vicious and artificial wants are mistaken for true "needs," the
efficiency of machines and not the true welfare of the worker or the
customer is the norm for what should be made, keeping up with or
getting ahead of other people are the norms for success, rather than
the true service of others.
Now, surely, it is the full Christian truth about work that we must be
ready to give to our children. For if they are called to any form of
lay life, they will have the double vocation of carrying out their own
daily work as Christians, and of doing whatever they can to
re-establish their chosen profession or occupation "in Christ"; to make
it easier for others to work as Christians and to produce the full
effects of Christian work and so leaven the whole of society. Or, if
God calls our children to be His priests or religious, a part of their
vocation will be to teach and lead and guide others by work and prayer
toward the Christian idea of work.
In the next chapter, then, we will consider some concrete suggestions
as to how we may best communicate to our children this Christian view
of work and train them to work in accordance with it.
1. Discuss the place of work in the life of a Christian. Is work to be
considered primarily as a punishment imposed on man? A man has an
independent income sufficient to satisfy his normal needs; would this
man be a better and happier person if he did not work at all?
2. Contrast the basic Christian motives for work with the prevailing
secular ideas about work. Analyze the various professions in terms of
how their members seem to be motivated by Christian motives of work.
How many workers get satisfaction from their work because they are
filling a "true human need" of someone else? How extensive is the
concept that work is to provide a service for others?
3. A husband works long hours and overtime because he wants to provide
the "best" for his family. The wife works regularly away from home in
order to increase family income so they can buy things of the same
standard as their neighbors and friends. Do their motives reflect the
Christian concept of work?
4. Discuss methods of developing a Christian idea of work in children.
How far can children be expected to appreciate the deeper motivations
of routine work at home? The mother of a family does most of the
cooking, cleaning, and sewing rather than have her daughters help
because, she says, "It's easier and faster to do it myself than to try
to show them how--and besides, I can do it better." Is this the
5. To what extent should the father share in the work of homemaking?
Should the wife assume that her husband will take over the chief
responsibility for family work after he gets home in the evening?
Should the husband and wife share equally the necessary work on
Saturday afternoons and Sunday? How does a Christian philosophy of work
provide a basis for solving this problem?
1. Classify the four ways in which man works.
2. Explain the meaning of the word "works" in the Morning Offering.
3. What is the principal purpose of work?
4. Why are the conditions under which men work important?
5. What is the difference between one's regular daily work and a
spiritual or corporal work of mercy?
7. TRAINING FOR LIFE'S WORK AND PLAY
In the preceding chapter, we considered the Christian idea of work. We
saw how this idea means, practically, that we can each in our own
degree and way, work with Christ in His four-fold work of making,
ruling, teaching and uniting men to God; that we can work for Christ by
serving Him in serving one another's needs; and by this service, if it
is true service, on however humble a level, we can help to build up His
kingdom, both by the merit of our charity and by the objective effects
of our work itself. How can we, then, best communicate this idea of
work to our children and how can we best train them for it?
The first means must surely be to try to give them an ever-increasing
appreciation of the sacrament of Confirmation. When the children are
still quite young, we could, perhaps, ask our pastor to show us the
actual Holy Oils as they are treasured in our parish church, and to
explain the use of each. The children have already been anointed with
the Oil of Catechumens and with Holy Chrism at Baptism; and we could
tell even those who are small something of the meaning of these
anointings; of why oil is used, of why a fragrant perfume is added to
the oil to make Chrism, and so on. The children have already
experienced many of the various uses of oil in daily life; it should
not be too hard to give them the basic idea of sacramental anointings.
Then we could take the opportunity of the blessing of the Holy Oils
each Holy Thursday to go over with the children the glorious prayers of
the Consecration of Chrism (and of the other Oils as well), and, when
it is practical, we could attend the Bishop's Mass in our Cathedral.
Again, we can do whatever is needful to supplement the instruction each
child is given for the reception of the sacrament itself. We can
emphasize the spiritual dignity and responsibility and maturity which
Confirmation implies. And we can also emphasize its dynamic quality,
that it gives them the right and makes them able to do special things
In particular we can begin to show them that this glorious sacrament
"penetrates them through and through with Christ's kingly, priestly,
and prophetic honor...clothes them with the robes of special office"
(Consecration of Holy Chrism) so that they can share in Our Lord's work
of ruling and teaching and of the lay priesthood.
We can here begin to show them the connections between their daily
jobs, their small responsibilities to each other, their participation
in the Mass, with the effects of this sacrament. We can also go over
the text of the administration of the sacrament of Confirmation and
show them how these Gifts of the Holy Spirit which they are to receive
are the special equipment that they need for living and working as
grown-up Christians, in, with, and for Christ.
And each anniversary of a child's Confirmation can also be used to
deepen the lessons of the great day itself, to integrate these lessons
with all the new experiences and responsibilities of the past year. In
particular we can try to connect the sacrament practically in their
minds with their daily work, with their lessons, with all their
training for the future, and, as they grow older, with their ideas of
what their life's work might be.
Is young John, for example, age 14, trying to cooperate with the gift,
let us say, of counsel? When he doesn't know what to do in a given
situation, does he raise his mind and heart, does he think of asking
the Holy Spirit? Does he then take all the prudent human means of
consulting parents or older friends about how to face a similar
situation in the future, and then ask the Holy Spirit to give him a
greater share in the gift of counsel for the next occasion? Is he
studying his religion lessons so as to cooperate as fully as possible
with the Holy Spirit and His gifts of wisdom, understanding and
knowledge, so that later on the Spirit of Love will be able to use him
to tell other people about the wonderful works of God?
Perhaps the anniversary of each child's Confirmation could be used in
such a way for a kind of personal check-up on the use of the graces of
this sacrament, while during the novena for the great feast of
Pentecost and the feast itself, the whole family could cultivate an
appreciation of the sacrament of Confirmation and of its wonderful
practical effects in our lives.
But, of course, none of this will be of much value to our children if
we ourselves are not trying to show the effects of Confirmation in our
own daily living and working, if we mothers and fathers are not trying
to work with and for Christ in whatever we do, as we share in His
priestly, kingly, and prophetic honor.
As far as we mothers are concerned, it is not very hard for us to see
how we ought to go about the day's work; the difficulty lies in trying
actually to do it that way. For in our lives with our family, in our
housework, in whatever we do over and above for our parish and our
community, we women are usually concerned with meeting basic human
needs, providing basic human services for people whom we personally
know and love.
We can easily see, then, how our day's work consists of the whole
four-fold work of mankind, the four-fold work of Christ. We share in
His work of making by means of all our housework; we share in His work
as Prophet as we answer the children's endless questions, in His work
as Ruler when we discipline and train them. We can easily see how we
are working for Christ in His members, in our husband, children, and
neighbors. And we can see also how we are working to build up His
kingdom by assisting our husbands in their life-work and by helping to
build up and educate His future co-workers, our children.
Our difficulty is, of course, actually to carry out our work every day
in the spirit and manner which this all implies. But, surely, some
effort to think about the real significance of all the jobs we are
doing, and much prayer to our Lady and St. Joseph, will help us to give
that example of a Christian at work which our children should be
finding in us.
As the children grow older, while we give them explicitly the ideal of
Christian work, we can, perhaps, correct the inevitable defects of our
example by giving them also some understanding of our own special
difficulties--physical weakness, previous lack of training, etc.--as
well as of our weakness and sinfulness, which have prevented us from
fully realizing the ideal.
The father's part of this task of giving an example of Christian work
is far more difficult than the mother's, yet it is, in many ways, even
more important. For if the breadwinner of the family is doing his best
with the help of God to win the bread in a Christian way, then the
children will easily realize that integral Christian living in the real
world is possible; that the effort to re-establish all things in Christ
is a realistic program for every Christian; that man's chief channel
for that effort can be and should be his own daily job. But if the
father is not even considering his own work in such a light, it must be
very difficult for the mother to feel that in being his "helpmate" she
is helping Christ, and it would be doubly difficult to show the
children how a real man can be Christ's co-worker within the frame of
ordinary work and life.
One aspect of a father's task, then, would seem to be the work of
examining his own job or profession in the light of Christian
principles of work, to consider seriously how he personally might carry
out his work in a more fully Christian way; and, how he might, on
however small a scale, begin to work to bring about the changes in the
whole set-up or profession which would make it more possible or more
easy for everyone concerned in it to work in a more fully Christian
One of the best ways of undertaking this task would be, surely,
wherever it is possible, to gather together any like-minded men in
one's neighborhood to discuss together the problems of each man's job
or profession in the light of the principles of Christian work.13
Another and most important means of communicating the Christian idea of
work to our children is by our own habits and methods of purchasing
goods and services. It is, of course, impossible to be perfectly
consistent as a Christian purchaser in today's world. But we can at
least try, with the money and time and energy at our disposal, to
patronize preferably those workmen on every level who are on the way
toward Christian norms, rather than those who are working against these
norms. Already, for example, most of us are aware of our duty not to
patronize industries and stores which allow bad working conditions,
wages, and so on, if we know about it; and we could make it our
business to find out more about such matters.
We could also begin to consider the fact, admitted by anyone with much
experience in the retail field, that almost every "bargain" means that
somebody is getting cheated out of a just wage or price; or that one
customer is paying for another customer's advantage; or that the
purchaser is simply not getting a bargain at all, even though it is
labeled as one. We can begin to take a good look at the "I'll get it
for you wholesale" or the "I'll give you a good discount on that" type
of salesmanship, and see what they imply all down the line from first
producer to final consumer.14
We could, perhaps, spend at least the same amount of time as we now
spend in hunting bargains in trying to find out where we can buy good
things, produced by people who are really trying to do good work and
serve their neighbor's needs. We could try to patronize the stores
that, so far as we can tell, really try to give real service rather
than talk about it; and to avoid those which clearly pander to vice by
selling obscene magazines and comics, etc., and also those whose avowed
policy is to drive all competitors out of the neighborhood or field in
order to make more profits for themselves. And we could try to apply
such a policy all up and down the line of the goods and services we
need: in choosing our doctor, our lawyer, our banker, our investments
(if any!) and so on.
Such a buying policy might seem to involve an impossible drain on the
ordinary family's budget. But, as a matter of fact and in most cases,
it would actually work out to the economic benefit of a family, since,
for one thing, consistent purchasing at stores whose chief aim is to
make profits for their owners, results in the customer's getting less
than his money's worth over the years.
The family purchasing policy recommended here is certainly more in
accord with the Christian idea of work (let alone of justice and
charity) than is the policy of getting things as cheaply as possible
for the benefit of one's own family (or community for that matter) at
the expense of other families and other people. To try to buy in a
Christian way is also in accord with the Christian idea of poverty, for
it will mean that we have fewer and better things than if we always buy
what is cheapest and easiest to get.15
We need, then, to try to give our children the Christian idea of work,
especially in connection with the sacrament of Confirmation (and,
obviously, with taking part in the Mass); we need also to give them
this idea by means of our own example, both as workers and as patrons
of other people's work. And besides, we need to make sure that the
children's education includes basic training in all the four types of
work, and in the Christian way of carrying them out as skillfully as
possible for the love of Christ in our neighbor.
Every whole life, every vocation, every profession and most jobs
require some skill in all four kinds of work, with the emphasis on one
or two. Everyone needs to know how to make and to do a number of
things, as well as how to share natural and supernatural truth with
others, and how to exercise authority. And every Christian needs to
know the basic skills of his lay priesthood, in particular how to take
full and active part in the Mass (including what comes after the Ite
Missa est), how to pray with the Church, how to continue all his life
to grow in Christ by taking part in the liturgy.
We owe it to our children, then, to make sure that they get basic
training in making and doing, in communicating and having something to
communicate, in exercising authority, and in acting as members of the
royal priesthood of the Church. For if we do not, our children will be
less able to choose their life-work rightly, not knowing their own
chief abilities; and they will be crippled in carrying out their life-
work since they will not enter on it as well-rounded, complete
co-workers with Christ.
How handicapped is the mother or father, for example, who never learned
before marriage the fundamental skills involved in housekeeping and
house-keeping-up, or who has never learned how to exercise any kind of
authority until required to do so by the inescapable necessity of
managing small children!
What, then, will this four-fold training involve in the pattern of
daily family life? First of all, that we do not leave the children's
religious education entirely to "Sister," but make sure ourselves, as
she cannot, that our children are really learning to take part in the
Mass, to pray both formally and informally, to understand God's truth
in such a living fashion that they can begin to communicate it to
Again, we can plan how to give each of the children some chance to
"run" things, to exercise authority over others, in carrying out
household jobs or family projects, so that we can help them to learn
what authority should mean--the good of the job and of one's fellow
workers--and give them some real training and practice in exercising it
during all their formative years.
We need also to plan how best to give the children some basic training
in all the major forms of human communication: speaking, writing, the
fine arts, dancing; as well as in gathering the knowledge and wisdom
necessary in order to have something worth communicating to one's
And we need to see that they gain the basic skills in making and doing
required for ordinary human living, cooking, cleaning, washing,
mending, repairing, care of animals, etc. We need also to make the
effort to see that the children do whatever they are doing as
thoroughly and as well as is possible under the circumstances; and that
they do and learn to do things thoroughly and well, as far as possible,
for the sake of Christ and for the sake of other people rather than
simply for self-satisfaction or self-improvement.
At first sight, this may well seem like an impossible program for any
parents even to begin to carry out. But when we begin to consider what
it would involve in actual practice, we see that in trying to make sure
that the children are being thus fully prepared for Christian life and
work, we shall be at least on the way toward solving various other
major problems of family life, perhaps the very problems which make
such a complex program at first seem out of the question.
For one thing, the more we succeed in training the children to exercise
due authority and to assume due responsibility in family life, the less
squabbling will there be, and the less will we have to bear the whole
weight of responsibility. Again, the more we succeed in teaching the
children how to do household tasks reasonably well, the less will our
own energy be overtasked by having to do everything ourselves. And, in
so far as we can ourselves teach our children the basic skills involved
in human making and communication, we will be solving also the problems
of family recreation and of training the children in habits of
The habit of reading that fosters a knowledge and love of truth, real
imagination, the knowledge and skillful use of words, for example, or
drawing, painting, making pottery or "sculping," singing, dancing,
making up stories and plays, acting, carpentry work, gardening, etc.,--
all of these skills are tools both for working and playing, depending
on what they are done for and how they are done. Of course, we cannot
ourselves teach our children how to do all these things well, but we
can at least let them try to work with us, not only in sweeping and
dusting and tidying, but in making essential repairs, trying to grow
our own vegetables, or whatever naturally interesting family project
may be under way.
And we can also do something to give the children whatever slight skill
we may be able to recover from our own childhood, if we have no more,
in singing and painting and so on, so that they may at the same time
learn the basic skills of artistic communication, the basic skills of
grown-up play, and, actually be playing with us (as well as learning
how to play without us).
One difficulty here is, of course, that most of us have to contend with
our own long-established bad habits of seeking distraction in some more
or less passive form of entertainment rather than in true recreation.
Work and play are the same for the Wisdom of God: "I was with Him
forming all things, playing before Him at all times." But for us human
beings, work is basically differentiated from play by the fact that in
working we have a motive beyond the activity itself (to serve our own
or others' needs, to build up the kingdom of God, to do a good job, to
earn a living) while in playing we have no other explicit, conscious
motive than that of doing for fun what we are doing. And for us, fallen
children of Adam, work also involves drudgery (conscious effort sus-
tained far beyond the point of interest or delight) whereas play does
Play or recreation, however, should not be primarily passive, any more
than should work. We are made in the image of God who is pure Act. We
are made primarily to act; rest is only necessary because of the
weakness of our physical nature. Recreation and play should, therefore,
delightfully exercise our powers, especially those which are mainly
unused by our day's work.16
It would seem, then, that the more passive the form of entertainment or
recreation, the less it has any legitimate place in normal living. The
proper role of most "good" or "harmless" television shows, radio
programs, detective stories, movies, etc., is that of soothing, amusing
and entertaining invalids or shut-ins or very elderly people, or those
who are so completely exhausted by inhuman forms of work or the inhuman
strains of modern life that they do not have the energy for true
Here is another difficulty about any sort of family play: most of us
parents think that we are in this last condition. But let us make sure
that there is nothing that we can do to increase our energy (such as
getting to bed early two or three nights a week), before we entirely
give up the idea of trying to play with our children!
A more serious objection is that most of us suffer in one way or
another from that American snobbishness of "I never could draw a
straight line...I just can't sing a note..." which we ourselves were
trained to think sufficient excuse for not being fully human, not
possessing some of the basic skills of all mankind. And the greatest
difficulty of all lies in the habits and ways of thought of our whole
modern society, of which the children will feel the pressure more and
more increasingly as they grow up.
But we can all do something, beginning with the natural talents and
with the already existing interests of ourselves and the children; and
we can try to make their increasingly active interests call on new and
greater skills of various kinds. The ideal, of course, is to center the
family's work and play and acquisition of skills on the daily and
seasonal liturgy, and so grow up integrally in wisdom and age and
grace. To celebrate a feast or fast by special household work, singing
special songs, praying special prayers, acting out some relevant scene,
etc...., all this makes the most truly integrated and Christian method
of family life and training.
Too many of us, certainly, simply cannot imagine ourselves or our
children (especially teen-age children) being willing or able to live
consistently according to such a program. But we can all start from
wherever we and the children are, and from their already existing
interests, and try to begin from there to make our recreation truly
And there is another vitally important effect of proper training in
work and play, an effect which is so essential to the children's future
Christian lives that no effort can be too great to achieve it. This is
that the children retain and continue to grow in enjoyment of doing,
and of doing for others. Children are naturally participants in, not
passive spectators of, worship and work and play. Many of the forces
bent on the destruction of Christianity are out to destroy this natural
tendency, to make passivity and enjoyment seem inseparable, to make
normal activity of body or mind seem unnatural and disagreeable, so
that human nature may be remoulded to the image of a machine, instead
of to that of God, who is pure Act.
One of our special responsibilities as parents today is, then, to see
to it that our children's natural interest in real and rightful doing
receives its proper nourishment, encouragement and guidance; that we do
not let it die out for lack of something to do or for lack of materials
and training, or be smothered out of existence by a surfeit of
For example, how many a small child's desire to sing has been murdered
by some teacher who told him to keep quiet because he had a voice like
a crow. The teacher wanted her chorus to "sound well" to the other
teachers and to parents, when she should have wanted all her pupils to
learn to use their voices as God intended, for His praise and their own
joy. Or, again, how many a child's normal desire to paint and draw has
died an unnatural death because he "had no talent," as his teachers or
parents thought, and so was given no help at the critical age when he
began to care how his productions looked to himself and to other
How many a young gardener or cook has been thwarted by lack of his
parent's interest and help, because it was easier for them to do things
by themselves than to teach him to help. When their normal desire to do
things is frustrated, both children and grown-ups take refuge in
passivity and escapism, or in vandalism (which is a form of escapism),
or worse; and the means of taking refuge are all too easy to find
Since this is true in worship and in work and in play, let us encourage
our children by every means our ingenuity can suggest, in every sphere,
to become "doers of the word and not hearers only." Nor need we fear
that in so doing we shall turn our children into mere activists. On the
contrary, training in true, purposeful, skillful, charitable action is
the best possible preparation for true contemplation. It is training in
passive inaction which leads to purposeless, nervous over-activity. How
can we expect the children to delight in Him who is pure Act, unless
they learn to delight in human actions that have the beauty of
rightness and skill and charity?
The aim of all our home training in work and play, then, should be that
the children not only know how to go about the fundamental kinds of
work and the skills of human living, that they have the spiritual,
emotional and physical skills needed for truly human and Christian
recreation, but, above all, that they have never un-learned the lesson
all children know, that real happiness is to be found in true human
action, not in "being amused."
And, beyond this, we need to encourage them to find their joy not only
in action, but in generous action. Some children know this
instinctively; others have to learn it by more or less difficult
lessons all through the years of their lives. But we can assist the
work of grace by giving the children the skills to be generous with; by
showing them how to use them to give pleasure to others; by making
generosity seem the normal and happy quality it should be in our family
life; by rewarding a child's generosity with his things or his time or
his strength by our expression of gratitude, and by showing him that
his generosity makes it possible for us to be more generous to him.
By all these means, then, we will be laying the foundations for that
highest lesson which only God's grace can teach our children that the
greatest joy of all is to be found in "spending oneself and being spent
for the sake of the elect." If our children have begun to learn that
lesson by the time they reach maturity, then we need have no fears
about their future, for they will have the basic preparation for
whatever form of Christ-like action that the Lord has in mind for them.
1. What is the connection between the sacrament of Confirmation and
2. How do the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially counsel, help us in
our daily work?
3. How does the work of the housewife fill the four-fold work of
4. List the basic responsibilities of parents for their children's
development, as outlined by the author.
5. Explain the difference between active and passive entertainment, and
summarize the author's attitude toward Passive recreation.
1. Review the author s evaluation of motives and methods of purchasing
goods. Is it true that bargains mean that "somebody is getting cheated"
or else that the bargain label is only a label? Is there room for
improvement in our methods and motives of purchasing? What might be the
effects on children if they observe failures in justice and charity in
their parents in the economic area?
2. List practical suggestions for activity by the children (at the
various age levels) which will help them develop a Christian sense of
responsibility. Is it possible to put too much responsibility on
children before they are ready for it? to give them too little?
3. Discuss practical ways for enabling children to achieve active forms
of work and recreation to offset the temptation to be mere viewers of
TV and movies. What encouragement do we offer our children for group
games? for good reading? for dancing? playing musical instruments?
Would it be possible for like-minded Christian families to adopt an
informal program so their children could enjoy Christian recreation
4. Discuss ways and means of raising standards in regard to the quality
of things made and purchased. What should be done to develop an
appreciation for classical music for artistic paintings and statues and
home furnishings? What can be--suggested for raising the level of
sacred art in the home?
5. Discuss the author's emphasis on the fact that Christian living is
dominated by the idea of enjoyment of doing, and of doing for others."
What are the sources of the Christian's joy? What natural and
supernatural means are available to aid the Christian family in
achieving this joyous atmosphere?
The whole purpose of all our work as parents is, of course, to prepare
our children to cooperate with God's grace, to choose the vocation He
has ready for them and to carry out that vocation to the full. In the
last two chapters, we have been considering this aspect of the
children's preparation for life here and hereafter, how to give them
some understanding of the whole fourfold work of Christians in this
world, and some experience and training in each kind. It may be well,
therefore, to consider next how we may best give them a realistic idea
of each of the chief ways of life, or what are commonly called
"vocations" in the Church.
The first essential here is, obviously, that, by the time the children
reach an age to choose their own way of life, they may have some real
grasp of the Christian vocation as a whole. We must try to make sure,
in other words, that they realize that their lives on earth are given
them for the purpose of being united with conformed to, Christ in His
Passion and Death so as to share with Him in the glory of His
In terms of the life ahead of them, this realization implies that the
children understand that no way of life is meant to be easy, that they
have no right to future freedom from want or care. It means that they
look forward to life as an heroic adventure, a chance to spend
themselves and be spent with Christ for the sake of His members.
It means that they understand, as well as young people can, that many
stretches of their lives will seem painful, many will seem difficult,
many will seem dull, but that all this is a sharing in Christ's Cross
with the assurance of sharing in His victory, and all this, if lived
with Christ and for the glory of God's love, will be permeated with the
vitality and joy of the Holy Spirit.
Young people are normally heroic-minded, they want to be called on for
heroism, they want to be convinced that their strength and talents can
be used for some great cause. We shall, therefore, have the assistance
both of grace and nature in giving them the Christian view of their
On the other hand, we shall obviously have to contend with the whole
tone of the society in which we and our children are living, which
encourages young people to believe that security and success,
especially security, are the two chief aims of life, that one is
entitled to a "good living," especially if one has had a "good
education," that if one obeys all the rules one will inevitably "get
ahead." And we shall also have to take into account the depressing
undertones registered in much modern literature and in the actual
mental and emotional state of innumerable ordinary citizens, that life
actually is a rather dreary fuss about very little, so you might as
well get as much out of it as you can when you are young.
We shall need, then, to try to debunk both these ideas, to offset both
these mental tones, as the children become aware of them and begin to
react to them. We shall have to show the children from actual cases,
first, that no human life is in fact easy or inevitably prosperous, and
that in any case people who are called successful are not necessarily
We shall have to show them that, in consequence, when our Lord gives us
the chance to use our lives for Him, following Him in His Passion, He
is not making our lives dismal--as if they could be comfortable and
serene if we were allowed to live them on a purely natural level;
rather He is taking the stuff of actual human life which is, by and
large, dreary and dismal indeed when it is not lived in Him and for
Him, and giving it real meaning and purpose, glorifying it with the
glory of His victory over death and sin, and making it truly joyful
with the joy of His resurrection.
Giving the children this dynamic pattern of Christian life, at least
implicitly, is of course the supreme work of all the years of their
training. But at the time when they are seriously beginning to think of
their choice of a way of life, they will want and need trusted advisors
other than their parents. We should, then, look forward to this time
when explicit teaching from us about the future will probably be of no
use to our children, and try to see to it that they have come to know
and trust and confide in other people, laymen, religious, and priests,
who are endeavoring to live heroically Christian lives. Our part then
will probably be that of prayer; whatever else we can do to help our
children find their vocation will, in the main, have been done already.
Within the unity of the one Christian pattern of life, the great
Christian vocation, the children will need to know something of each of
the chief ways of Christian life and of the special place of each in
carrying out the one work of Christ, the redemption of mankind.17 Of
course, nobody can fully appreciate what a vocation implies until one
is actually living it; but one can know what are its essential features
according to God's plan, what are accidentals, and what each vocation
is not meant to be.
But we owe our children at least that much of a grasp of all the great
"vocations" in the Church, so that they may have all the information
they need in order to cooperate intelligently and freely with God's
grace in their choice of a vocation, and also that they may be better
fitted to carry out that vocation fully. For, since all vocations are
meant by God to contribute their own share to the one work of Christ,
the more a man appreciates what other people are doing, the better can
he carry out his own special task. The greater the priest, the more
fully he appreciates the work of laity and religious; the greater the
layman, the more he appreciates his priests and religious, and so on.
We want our children, then, to see a vocation to the priesthood as a
call to become another Christ in the very special sense of taking part
in His work of mediation between God and man in a unique and special
way. All Christians share by Baptism and Confirmation in our Lord's
office as Priest; but our share can only be made fully operative by the
special work of the ordained priesthood.
We marry and have children to bring to the font of re-birth in Christ;
the priest baptizes them. We train them to be Christ's soldiers and
co-workers; the Bishop gives them by Confirmation their actual
commission and the powers to act on it. We gather human learning and
experience; the priest teaches us God's truth from day to day so that
in its light and by its power we may continually transform our human
experience into Christian wisdom.
We rule ourselves and our families and our businesses to try to provide
the necessary order, the conditions of human and Christian living; the
priest rules some part of Christ's flock so as to make our lives
fruitful for life everlasting.
We bring to the sacrifice of the Mass our whole lives and work, along
with the money our work has earned to provide the materials for the
sacrifice; the priest transforms the bread and wine into the Body and
Blood of Christ, makes it possible for us to offer ourselves in His
offering, and gives us Christ's Body in holy Communion to unite us
together in love, to give us the energy for Christian living, to
transform us into Him.
It is the work of Christ's priest, then, to unite God and man, to make
the life of the people of God both possible and fruitful. He it is who,
as Christ's special instrument, gives other people's lives their
Christian meaning and value. Like the Holy Father himself, the chief
Shepherd of Christ's flock on earth, every priest is the "servant of
the servants of God," and so he achieves his own sanctity by this
splendid and selfless service.
Thus the priest's vocation is unique. He is part of the teaching,
ruling, sanctifying hierarchy of the Church; all the rest of us make up
the laos, the People of God, all leading the one Christian life.
Now the highest way of living this Christian life is, of course, as a
religious. For religious are called to specialize in the acts of the
virtue of religion, the acts that directly bind man to God: taking part
in the Mass, the Divine Office, prayer. We married people ordinarily
have to subordinate to the works and duties of our own state in life
more than the essential minimum of such strictly "religious" actions.
But for the religious they constitute, as laid out in his Rule, the
very essence of his daily life.
Again, religious are called to specialize directly in living and
perfecting themselves in the bridal relationship of the Church with
Christ. We all share in this relationship as Christians; it is the very
purpose of our existence; but married people are called to work towards
perfect union with Christ as it were indirectly, by learning and
practicing the love of each other in Christian marriage. Religious, on
the other hand, explicitly by vow, deny themselves the symbol, and go
straight toward the reality, the eternal Marriage of redeemed mankind
In the same way, we who are in the world try to use goods and
possessions rightly so as to bring them into the sphere of Christ's
life and work, so as to help to restore all things in Him. But
religious deny themselves the free use of possessions so as to be freer
for the work of uniting themselves to God. We who are in the world are
sanctified by our obedience to God's will as it is shown to us in the
Commandments, in the duties of our state and work, and in all the
circumstances of our lives. But religious are called to take the far
clearer and surer way of obedience, under the Commandments, to their
Rules and to their Superiors.
A vocation to the religious life is, then, a call to a state of life
higher and more extraordinary than that of marriage and lay life in the
world for the reason that it dispenses with the, so to speak, slower
and more indirect means of sanctification which are necessary for the
majority of Christians. The religious life takes a difficult but clear
and straight shortcut to the summit of the mountain; married and lay
life is planned by God to arrive at the same goal by a less clear, more
winding path which has been suited by His mercy to the needs of His
There is also the vocation which seems to be a special answer to the
special needs of today--a life of dedicated virginity in the world,
lived in family-like groups, whose purpose it is to give an example of
integral Christian living, and to work out ways and means of helping
other people to live fully Christian lives. This vocation is
essentially "lay," in that it implies no withdrawal from the world
(using the word in its good sense, as in "God so loved the world"), but
rather a special study and effort to carry out the lay vocation of
using the things of the world rightly.
It also shares in the complete dedication of self directly to Christ,
which is characteristic of the religious. The vocation to a lay
institute would seem to be a call to live the life of a religious, but,
because of one's special circumstances or work, to lead this life in
the world, not in a cloister.
The special characteristic of a vocation for a single Christian "in the
world" consists in its freedom to concentrate on carrying out some
particular work for the sake of Christ and His members. A priest is
bound to answer the call of his bishop in serving the flock of Christ
as a priest. No special taste, talent or training for, say, writing or
teaching chemistry or scientific research can be put ahead of his
obedient service as a priest of Christ's flock.
The religious is also bound primarily by his whole rule of life, by the
day's schedule and by his obedient service of the good of the whole
community. His superiors may take his special tastes, talents, or
training into consideration in assigning him to his work, or they may
not; he may be changed from one field to another overnight, if the good
of his soul and the community demands it.
Obviously, too, married people are obligated first of all to the duties
and demands of their state of life. Husband and wife are bound,
ordinarily to arrange their lives so as to have time and energy to
perfect their married life; parents are bound, again in general, to
keep sufficient time and energy for the work of parenthood. Only the
single Christian "in the world" is free to concentrate on his work, to
put his special work for God and his neighbor above the demands of a
whole pattern of life directed toward the same service.
This characteristic of freedom from the demands of a special Christian
pattern of life for a particular form of Christian work gives this
state of life its value as a preparation for the other vocations of
Christian living. It leaves young men and women free to try various
kinds of work, free to prepare themselves for some special work and to
get started in it, before they take on a whole pattern of life into
which that work must be fitted.
Since our children will certainly be leading this single life "in the
world" from the time that they take over the responsibility for
arranging their own lives until they enter, if they do, into the
priesthood or religious life or marriage (all during the years of their
college and professional training, for instance), we should give them
some idea of its special value and of its special hazards, the hazards
that arise out of its very freedom from a pattern or from the demands
of the other ways of life.
Various kinds of formal dedication to the single Christian life and to
some special work are ways of making explicit the fact that this way of
life is not meant to be only a stage on the road to other vocations,
but may also be a true vocation in itself. And this vocation lacks the
safeguards, the supports, the frame-work of the others, while it puts
itself at the service of all the others. Christian family living, the
works of the priesthood and religious, all are made less difficult and
more fruitful by the work of the single Christian. All of us should in
gratitude give him or her the honor that is due to one who is pursuing
such a great vocation of service, whether it was more or less inspired
by the will of God under the guise of circumstances, or undertaken of
As our children begin to ask questions about each state of life, we can
begin to outline the characteristics of each vocation. And we can also
do everything in our power to see that they come to know men and women
who are leading these vocations to the full. But our special task as
parents in preparing our children for the choice of a vocation is,
surely, to show them as fully as we can during all the years of their
growth the special characteristics, rewards, and difficulties of our
own state of life, the vocation of marriage. For such understanding of
this vocation as our own home life can give, should shed light on many
aspects of other vocations as well.
The first necessity here is, surely, that we ourselves should be
convinced that marriage is a vocation, that is, a Christian way of life
planned by God to lead men and women to holiness; and that we should be
trying to act accordingly. We must, then, take every means in our
power--study, prayer, thought, effort--to convince ourselves that
marriage is truly a way of holiness, the way that God has chosen for
We must avoid all temptations even to dream about how much holier,
healthier, more fully developed, etc., we might have been in some other
state--temptations that occasionally beset even the most happily
married!--for such dreams bear fruit in our remarks and our outward
attitude, and the children may come to feel that we are bitter against
home life and marriage as such.
For this purpose, most of us need frequently to re-think and meditate
on the fact that marriage has been planned by God as the usual vocation
not only of mankind in general, but of the great majority of His own
people, the holy nation, the royal priesthood of the Church. And in the
light of the sacramental principle of His dealings with us, we can
begin to see why He did so. For the way of Christian marriage is
beautifully suited to the needs of human creatures who are made up of
bodies and souls, and inclined by original and actual sin to make too
much of the needs of their bodies.
The essential characteristic of Christian marriage is to lead us by
means of the rightful use of our physical powers, as well as our mental
and spiritual, to the fullness of knowledge and love and service of
God. Our Lord has made marriage a sacrament, the sacrament which is the
sign of the union between Christ and His Church for which mankind was
made. The whole life of marriage, then, and the act which is
characteristic of that life, partake of the sacredness of this union
between Christ and His Church, and are means toward our achieving it
more and more perfectly.
The great difficulty about the vocation of marriage for many of us
today (especially, perhaps, what are called well-educated men and
women) is to learn how to appreciate the sacramental value of the whole
physical side of married life, not only of the marriage act, but of all
the processes of childbearing and child care and of ordinary household
tasks. A great many of us never realized until we were married and had
children that human life was so very physical, or that so much time and
effort has to be spent on basic physical needs. Our education, our
special training, our 'careers' had given us to suppose that our bodies
were more or less incidental to our human make-up, rather useful
instruments, perhaps, or annoying handicaps, but not to be particularly
considered in getting ahead either on earth or toward heaven.
We need, then, to devote thought and prayer to the sacramental
significance which God Himself has given to all the basic functions of
ordinary married and home life. We need to realize, (at least in the
depths of our souls, if not explicitly at the end of Monday morning),
that cooking and cleaning and tidying and so on are not merely
regrettable necessities in family life, but are meant by God to raise
our minds and our hearts to Him, and to be a part of our reasonable
service of Him in the vocation of marriage.
If we try to live, then, as if the whole of married life were truly a
vocation, our children should grow up with some real idea of what
Christian marriage is and is meant to be. They will see it neither as a
path of roses, starting at the altar on the wedding morning, along
which a young man and woman and a growing train of healthy happy
children dance easily up to the gates of heaven, nor as a dreary form
of human bondage into which the majority of mankind is trapped by the
force of sexual desire and the pressure of society and circumstances.
(Nor as the horrid combination of these two pictures which is the
impression given by all too many Catholic writers and preachers.)
The children will realize, rather, that Christian marriage rightly
lived is the vocation in which we learn to love God and all our
neighbors with the love of Christ, primarily by loving one man or
woman, and some special children; that it is the vocation of trying to
use rightly the things that are seen for the sake of the unseen God;
and of helping to build up His kingdom by helping Him to make and form
its chosen stones, our children.
Such a view of marriage should also shed light on the other great
vocations of Christian life, as they resemble it or differ from it. And
it should also help to prevent our children from choosing the wrong
vocation, or from choosing the right one for mistaken or warped
motives. For one thing, they should not be easily misled into thinking
that holiness and the full service of God and neighbor can only be
sought in the priesthood or the religious life, for they will have
learned that these are the purposes of every Christian life.
Nor will they think that the desire to spend themselves and their
talents for God can be satisfied only in the priesthood or the
dedicated single life. They will not think that marriage or 'ordinary
life' is meant to be an easy way to heaven, so that they would be
likely to refuse a real call to the priesthood or religious life or the
dedicated single life on the grounds of hardship or difficulty. Nor
will there be, please God, any of that shrinking from sex or mistaken
valuation of its pleasures which can so complicate both the choice of a
vocation and its fulfillment.
And so the children should be at least comparatively free to choose
their own vocation and life work in accordance with God's will. They
should be free to put the question in the right form: What does God
want me to do? rather than: What do I want to do, like to do, think I
can get ahead in, etc. And they should then be free to use all the
proper means to find the right answer to that question--their own
knowledge of themselves and their capabilities, circumstances, the
advice of authorities, and, above all, prayer and the search to conform
themselves to God's will.
Then, even if they do not feel sure of what God wants of them when they
finish their education, even if they have to feel their way, to try
various kinds of work, to take the first step towards more than one
vocation, they will be sure that God does have a vocation for them, and
that if they keep asking and seeking and knocking, in His own best time
He will show them what it is.
1. What is the meaning of the term "Christian vocation"? Does the term
have meaning only for those who enter the religious life?
2. What are the chief aims of life according to secular standards?
3. What is the work of Christ's priests?
4. What are the characteristics of a call to the life of a single
Christian in the world?
5. What, according to the author, are the most important aspects of
1. Discuss the author's statement that "Young people are normally
heroic-minded." To what extent does the secular standard of security
and pleasure and ease affect modern youth? How can we rebuild the
mentality that the various Christian vocations are challenging and
exciting and truly satisfying?
2. List the various factors that seem to be productive of religious
vocations in families. What can be done to increase the number of
3. Discuss marriage as a vocation. What does the author mean by stating
that we must learn "to appreciate the sacramental value of the whole
physical side of married life."
4. Discuss the role of parents in aiding their children to choose the
right vocation, and for the right reasons. Is there any danger that
children will be poorly prepared for their vocation even if they have
the right motive?
5. Reflect on the dignity of the priesthood. What practices and
attitudes on the part of parents help to build a respectful and
balanced understanding of the clergy in the minds of the children? What
practices and attitudes may lead to critical and unappreciative ideas
about the function of the priesthood?
9. REDEEMING THE TIMES
The irreligious character of modern civilization is, certainly, shown
most clearly in the kind of daily, weekly, yearly schedules which it
tends to impose on us. Consider the daily program of a typical American
family: father rushes off to work by train or bus or subway or car; the
children hurry to school; mother hurries to get all her housework and
marketing finished; as soon as anyone gets home again, or finishes what
he is doing, he begins to think about the next pressing demand of
social or economic life. How little is such a program of hurrying and
worrying designed to foster a sense of the presence of God, how little
to develop the religious potentialities of daily life, or growth in
Or consider the plan of the typical American family's week: the strain
of the five working days, the weekend filled with odd jobs, violent
amusements, and the relaxation of exhaustion. What relation has this to
the Christian idea of the week? Or, again the typical yearly round:
school begins for the children, all sorts of activities begin for the
parents, the Thanksgiving turkey, the Christmas rush, Valentine's Day,
winter, Easter bunnies and chocolate, spring, end of school, plans for
a vacation, etc. How can years that concentrate our attention on such
non-essentials do anything but hinder gradual normal growth in
Christian living for either parents or children?
Here, surely, is one of our greatest problems as Christian parents: how
can we give our children the idea of a fundamentally Christian pattern
for a day, a week, or a year, tied as most of us are and must be in so
many ways to the almost completely secular timing of the world around
us? We cannot simply take the pattern of a monastery's schedule, nor
can we impose a design of living taken from another time and place,
however Christian and desirable such designs, in themselves, might be.
For we need to give our children at least the outline of a pattern of
life which at once is Christian, and of our own time and place.
The only practical way to go about such a task is, surely, under the
guidance of the Church, to think out the purposes for which God gave us
days and weeks and years as units of time in our lives. The Church
clearly teaches us, by her own official schedule of daily and weekly
prayer and services, of yearly feasts and fasts, that the fundamental
time-units of our lives are meant to have a sacramental meaning and a
sacramerital purpose. If we understand this sacramental meaning and
purpose, then, we shall be able to plan how again under the guidance of
the Church, we can make the most Christian ordering possible under our
own circumstances of the days and weeks and years of our family living.
To begin with the day, then. The Church has always seen in each dawn
the image of our Lord's resurrection and of our rising to true life
with Him. Each day's Mass, in which the great Action of our redemption
is re-presented for us to share in, is the focus, the vital center of
the day, radiating its light and force through all the Hours of the
Church's prayer, with Vespers as its evening shadow, a sacrifice of
praise. And Compline shows us that each night's sleep is meant to be a
rehearsal for our death in Christ, teaching us how, with contrition and
hope, to commend ourselves and all our work and care, with our Lord
dying on the Cross into the loving hands of the Father.
Each day, in other words, is meant to be an image of the whole
Christian life, and is meant to help us toward that perfect
conformation to our Lord and to His redeeming action for which we all
were made, and for which we were given the fundamental powers at our
What does this mean for our daily family schedule? First of all,
surely, that we should try to see each new day as an image of the
resurrection, a rising to newness of life in Christ, to try to live
more perfectly to God, in the strength of Christ, than we did
yesterday. Children naturally begin each new day quite afresh; they
seldom have conscious hangovers from yesterday's mistakes and faults.
Let us, then, in spite of our own morning fatigue and irritation and
the complications of getting a family started on the day's routine, try
to show the children that each new day is a gift from God, that we want
to thank Him for it, that we want to offer everything in it to Him with
our Lord's offering at Mass, and ask His help to use the day all for
Some sort of family morning prayers are usually possible just before
breakfast, at least while the children are small enough to have the
same schedules and be able to eat breakfast together. Let us take this
opportunity to give them a pattern of morning prayer for their whole
lives, not simply a routine "Our Father" and "Hail Mary," but one which
will contain praise, joy, offering, prayers for help and protection.18
Let us also occasionally try to show the children, when occasion offers
during the day's work or play, that our morning offering (or,
obviously, our taking part in the Mass) means a willing consecration of
the whole day, that we meant to share in our Lord's work during the
day, and now should not be taking our offering back by complaints and
whining and rebellion.
Then, however we spend the morning hours, there is usually a pause
somewhere around noontime, at least for lunch. The Angelus is the
age-old sanctioned form of midday prayer for the laity, recalling the
whole mystery of our salvation, bringing us back to a moment's peace in
the presence of God. While the children are small enough to have lunch
at home, and on weekends and during holidays with the whole family, let
us, then establish the Angelus as a family habit; again, as far as
possible, not as routine prayer but as an opportunity to be reminded of
what the whole day is for.
Finally, somewhere in the course of the late afternoon and evening,
some sort of family "evening song" or praise of God is surely the
Christian order. Most families meet at the supper table. Let us take
this opportunity for some short psalm (Psalm 116, for instance) or
hymn, or prayer of praise as part of grace before or after the meal.
And, while the children are young enough to have a set bed time and to
say night prayers in common, let us give them a pattern of night
prayers which will include all the essentials: a sorrow for what has
been done wrong and prayer for forgiveness, commending one's soul and
all that one is and has into the hands of the Father with our Lord's
dying on the Cross, in the hope of rising with Him to new life and
The basic plan of a Christian day, then, would seem to be: getting up
with hope and joy and thanks (in our wills at least); offering
ourselves (by taking part in the Mass or, when this is not possible, by
a morning offering) to share in our Lord's work and suffering and death
during the day; recalling ourselves to this fundamental purpose of our
day's work and play and asking God's help to carry it out, at least
once during the day; and, in the evening, praising God for His
goodness, and for enabling us by His grace to make our life and work of
some real use and purpose; and, before we go to sleep, handing
ourselves over once more to Him in contrition and hope, with Christ our
Surely these essentials would not overcrowd a family's timetable, but
would rather serve to weld all the items in the day's schedule into a
more peaceful and purposeful unity. The first step, perhaps, would be
for the parents themselves consciously to try to mould their days on
such a pattern; then, if there are older children, to discuss the whole
purpose of a day with them and see how they think it should be
achieved. Then anything "new" would not be just another thing to do,
but seem part of a plan.
With small children, a new season is always a good excuse for starting
a new "practice," like a psalm at supper time, or a new form of morning
or night prayers. The beginning of Advent or Lent, for instance, gives
a fine chance to rearrange prayers and prayer-times to achieve their
purpose more perfectly. (For the sake of avoiding routine, if nothing
else, prayers of all kinds should surely be varied by season as much as
And when we have established these basic essentials of a Christian day
in our family living, then would seem to be the time to consider how
much more in the way of communal or private prayer, divine office,
reading, etc., should be part of the day's plan, what would truly help
each of us and the family as a whole, to conform ourselves and to be
conformed by God's grace each day to the image and action of Christ.19
The Christian week begins with Sunday, the "day of the Lord," a "little
Easter," a day of triumph in our Lord's triumph over death by His
death, a day of entering by hope into the happiness and peace of
eternal life which He won for us.20 In Sunday's Mass, the whole
Christian people come together to hear about the mystery of our
redemption; to offer themselves to be united with it; to re-live it
with Christ offering Himself through the hands of the priest and to
receive His own life and strength to unite them with Him and with each
other; to make ready for another week of carrying out His redemptive
work in their daily lives.
The weekdays following Sunday reflect and radiate its special light and
grace in their praise and prayers, until Friday brings us to remember
particularly the day of our Lord's death by the prescribed rule of
abstinence, and Saturday begins to end one week and to prepare for a
new Sunday, a new beginning in Christ.
For most of us, alas, such a program does not seem at all like the
actual weeks we live through. But, if we concentrate on the essentials,
we can do a great deal to make this pattern of a Christian week mould
the pattern of our weeks, so that they may become more nearly in fact
the Christian weeks we want them to be.
We need, first of all, to aim towards making Sunday a day of "newness,"
a day of Christian happiness, a day of recreative rest, all centered
around the Sunday Mass; and we need in some way to make the remainder
of the week take its start and tone from Sunday's light and grace,
until towards the end of the week, we begin to prepare for another new
Toward this sense of "newness," all the week-end cleaning and
preparations (which most of us do in any case) need only to be
undertaken not just because they have to be done sometime, but for the
sake of the Lord's Day. And, perhaps, if we can manage to do such
things more in the spirit of joyful preparation for a feast, the
children will take their due share less unwillingly. Towards making
Sunday a day of happiness and re-creative rest, we can also try to make
it the day on which, more than any other, we do special things, or have
the sort of friends to visit, or be visited by, whom the whole family
To center Sunday, and so the whole week, on Sunday Mass is, certainly,
as things are now both in the set-up of family and parish life today,
the most difficult part of remaking a Christian week. Sunday Mass just
does not seem like the focus of our lives. But, of course, we know that
it is. But there is no use in not admitting to ourselves the obvious
fact that it is only in the very deepest recesses of our faith that we
can center our lives, and each week of our lives, in the "hurry and get
'em out" type of Sunday Mass that is, due to many historical
circumstances, still prevalent in so many parishes today--a type of
celebration in which the Mass itself is treated as sacred magic, at
which the people "have" to be present, but which they cannot and need
It is difficult enough, heaven knows, even when one is free to use
one's Missal and to take silent part in such a Mass, to realize that
one has, in fact, taken part in the greatest Action of a Christian's
individual and social life. But when one has to go to such a Mass with
children, one can only pray that the Holy Spirit will somehow give them
a sense of its wonder and the fruit of its graces, in spite of the
hustle and bustle and general unsacredness of most of the sounds and
sights all round.
But there are hopeful indications in many places today of the action of
the Holy Spirit working in the Church to remedy this situation, to find
the best ways and means to make the whole celebration of the Mass once
more a meaningful sign to us of its supernatural reality and action,
and to educate us to appreciate this sign and to take our full and
rightful part in the celebration. The Encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy
teaches us what our part in the Mass should be; the same Encyclical and
the official instructions and the text of the restored Easter Vigil
indicate that the highest authorities in the Church want everything
possible done to make it easy for us to take that part as fully as we
While, therefore, we are doing whatever we can to cooperate with our
pastors in promoting fuller and more intelligent participation in the
Mass in our parish, while we are also doing whatever we can, with our
pastor and neighbors, to make Sunday Mass less of a chore and more of
an opportunity to worship for other people with families--what can we
do at home? We might try, for example, to find time on Saturday not
only for confession as needed, but also for teaching the small children
something about the Mass. On Sunday itself we might find some time to
read, if possible, the whole chapter of the Gospel from which the
Sunday's gospel is taken, or the Old Testament reading for that Sunday,
or the psalms of the Mass. Above all--and this we could certainly all
do without adding anything to our schedules!--we can try to speak and
act as if we realized the enormous privilege it is to take part in
Sunday Mass, never as if it were a chore or merely a duty.
Throughout the week, also, we could remind ourselves and the children,
as occasion offers, of the consequences of taking part in Sunday's
Mass. As a little girl once said: "You offer the whole week to God and
you mustn't take it back." Where possible we could continue the Sunday
readings and prayers, as part of our own family study and prayer life.
Then Friday's abstinence will take its place not as another chore (or
as a badge of loyal Catholicism!) but as a sharing by obedience and
some slight deprivation in our Lord's obedience unto death. And
Saturday will begin to become less of a day of no school, dentists,
shopping and amusements, more a day of happy preparation for another
In such simple ways, without adding anything to our schedule, we can
begin to re-fashion our weeks, however hectic they may be, more nearly
to the Christian design. And so we shall be giving our children a basic
Christian pattern of days and weeks, which they can carry out in their
future lives under any circumstances, and a basically Christian way of
thinking about days and weeks, which they themselves can develop, with
the grace of God, each according to his own vocation, towards the
building-up, if God wills, of a truly Christian culture.
In the same way, we can study the essential purpose and design of the
Church's year, and of each season and feast, and see how the already
existing elements in our lives can be used or adapted to achieve this
purpose, to carry out this design. Then we can see what we need to add,
and what would be wise and making for family happiness to add or adapt
to our family observances at each feast or season out of the rich
treasure house of age-old customs, and those developed by other
The purpose of the feast of Christmas, for example, (considering the
Christmas-Epiphany season as one great feast) is, ultimately, to
rehearse and prepare us for the final coming of Christ in glory at the
end of the world. Through Advent, the Church rehearses the preparation
of the whole human race, and of the Chosen People in particular, for
the historic coming of Christ. For our Lord's birth at Bethlehem, in
the grand design of God, was only the beginning of His coming in His
kingdom, in the Church, which will be completed and shown in its full
glory when He comes again at the end of the world.
Now it is by our active love, in Christ, for each other that we will be
judged on that final day of His coming. We prepare most perfectly to
welcome Him then in His glory by welcoming Him now in His least
brethren. The Christmas Masses, in the real order of sacramental grace,
and also all the time-honored ways of picturing and representing our
Lord's historic birth in Bethlehem, are, ultimately, for the purpose of
awakening our gratitude and love for Christ's coming to us as our Head
and our Redeemer; so that we will serve Him better now, in each other,
and so, all together, be the readier to welcome Him when He returns in
All the business, then of Christmas giving and of keeping in touch with
our friends all over the world by cards and presents (activities which
so easily become merely tiresome and commercial) could be
re-thought-out in this light, and, without omitting any of our real
duties and obligations, be made a true and happy service of Christ in
What still survives of the real "Christmas spirit" (and surely there is
more than pessimists admit, even in department stores) is actually a
joy in carefree and happy giving beyond the call of duty; since God's
Son became Man, when we give to each other we now truly give to Him,
and in the gifts we receive from each other, we receive gifts from His
love. By re-aligning, then, in this light, our Christmas customs and
Christmas doing, including all the preparations, we can accomplish a
great deal truly to "put Christ back into Christmas," or, better, to
let Him remake our Advent and Christmas according to His own original
The ideal is to orient every element in our daily lives--prayer, study,
work, play--toward the celebration of each feast or season, to allow
the special light and grace and vitality of each feast and season to
permeate every aspect of our lives. (The word "celebrate" comes from a
Latin root meaning "to frequent," to gather in crowds. So we should
gather ourselves and our lives round the Church's feasts and fasts if
we are to celebrate them fully.)
Even from the merely human point of view, to make our humdrum lives
into a succession of celebrations of different kinds would, surely,
give them the color and variety and interest for which every human
being naturally hungers. And since the feasts and fasts of the Church
have been planned by the Holy Spirit for our education and growth in
Christ's life, the color and variety and interest which they give our
lives is not merely human, but also divine.
No parent can help thinking about all the crimes and follies committed
by very young people today, sometimes even murders. And when we study
the published investigations of such crimes, we see that they were
committed largely because the boys were bored, because they saw no real
purpose or interest in their present or future lives and had been
taught no legitimate ways of finding interest and variety in the course
of daily living and so had recourse to drinking, dope, and unsafe
driving in an unending search for easy "thrills." Such considerations
force us to pray for our own children, and all children. And they also
should urge us to try to guide our children toward the never-failing
Source of all the true interest and excitement of life, and toward
making use of all the marvelous means He has given us for making our
daily lives truly interesting and full of variety.
The yearly course of the liturgy offers us also to make the "terrible
round" of our daily duties more purposeful and more interesting. For
each year we are given a new chance to think about the great sacraments
whose outward signs are taken from the ordinary materials and actions
of daily life.
Lent and Easter time offer us the opportunity to think about Baptism,
to guide our own and our children's thoughts to the whole idea of water
in God's plan, of what it does for us in daily life, of how God has
used it in the course of history, of how our Lord used it, and of how
in His name the Church now uses it as the medium of our rebirth in
Holy Thursday, Pentecost, give us the chance to think about
Confirmation, to consider why our Lord chose oil for the matter of this
sacrament of maturity and activity for Christ, why it is used in
Ordinations and for Extreme Unction So we can begin to appreciate from
above down, so to speak, the ultimate value and purpose of all our
family washing and cleaning and waxing and polishing and tidying and
decorating; we can begin to see all these actions, so full of drudgery
and fatigue, as means of raising our thoughts and desires to the
wonders of God's life as well as means of achieving the final fruit of
all these wonders, the life of the redeemed in heaven.
In the same way, each Holy Thursday, each feast of Corpus Christi, (as
well as every Sunday of the year) gives us the opportunity to think
about and appreciate the significance of the Bread and Wine of the holy
Eucharist, and to make our own use of food and drink more of a means of
appreciating that true Food of our Christian lives, of preparing us to
take part in the banquet and in the eternal feast of heaven of which it
is the pledge.
An element of the greatest importance in this "redeeming of the time"
in our homes, and in fact in every aspect of Christian life and
education, is the element of silence, quiet, the necessary substratum
of peace. This does not mean, of course, that we should aim at making a
house full of lively children as quiet as a convent. But it does mean
that we should try to eliminate unnecessary and purposeless noises from
our homes. Children have to shout, of course, but not all the time, or
everywhere; and they need a reasonable amount of quietness every day
for the sake of their nerves as well as their souls. Let us try to give
them the sense, then, that silence and quiet are quite normal, and that
sounds are to be made for a purpose. (Few things, for example, are less
calculated to foster growth of the Christian spirit than a radio or TV
set which is left turned on and simply allowed to make noise that
nobody really attends to, but which prevents anyone from paying full
attention to anything else.)
Real private or communal prayer, happy, intelligent conversation, and
all kinds of joyful noise to the Lord are the fruit of some real
silence and the chance to think. The most active children want and need
time to be alone, quiet in which to think their own thoughts, silence
in which to "just think." Privacy and quiet often seem some of the most
expensive of luxuries today; but let us try to give our children as
much of them as is possible. And then we will find it much easier to
cooperate with God's grace in instilling into both speech and silence,
necessary and happy noise and quiet, the spirit of Christian peace.
But, of course, all these means for sanctifying days and weeks and
years, all the framework of prayers and customs and the orientation of
work and play toward the life of the Church, need to be vivified and
made fruitful by the Holy Spirit, by the personal intercourse of each
member of the family with our Lord and His Father and the Holy Spirit,
with our Lady and the saints and his own guardian angel. Our part,
here, is, above all, prayer that God will show Himself to each of our
children and attract them to Himself as He wishes; and, of course, we
know that He is far more anxious to do so than we could be.
But we can do something to cooperate with His action by encouraging the
children to talk simply and naturally to God about their joys and
sorrows or troubles, not trying to tell them what to say but suggesting
subjects for conversation. Again, we can encourage their cultivating
the acquaintance of their guardian angels, "Why not ask your Angel what
would be the best thing to do about this..." And we can avoid, above
all, the error of only suggesting prayer when the children have been
naughty, or as a means of backing up our own whims, "Now you tell God
you are sorry you have been such a bad boy...," and the like. When a
child has been bad, and has realized the error of his ways, then is the
time to suggest, "Don't you want to tell God now that you are
sorry...," but also, on happy occasions, "Don't you want to thank God
for this lovely day..."22
If we are trying to sacramentalize our daily lives, to live the life of
the Church inwardly and as outwardly also as circumstances permit, then
the course of each day and week and year should offer its own
opportunities to teach the children as much as they are capable of
learning about God, about the truths of the faith. The guide in general
to what the children are capable of understanding and absorbing is,
here again, mainly the children's own interest and span of attention.
If the children are attending a Catholic school and having regular
instruction in religion, our job is to try to make sure that the
instruction becomes concrete and vital in the children's lives. If we
are solely responsible for their formal religious education, we must
see to it that our own preferences do not cause us to omit some
essential element of faith or morals, and also that the children
finally obtain the exactly worded and systematic knowledge of their
faith which they will need as part of their equipment.
But our main task, in any case, is so to present the truths of faith to
the children's developing minds and hearts that the children not only
assent to them, but begin truly to consent to them, to incorporate them
into their daily living.
Here again, obviously we should use above all the means used by God
Himself in His instruction of the human race in the mysteries of His
life and of our incorporation into it, that is, Holy Scripture and the
liturgy. God did not speak to His People in the Old Testament in
syllogisms but in figures and types, and in the very events of their
history. And all this is now, as St. Paul tells us, "for our
Our Lord did not speak even to His apostles in a logically ordered
series of lectures, but in parables and stories and, above all, by His
own life and actions. So beneath and all around the systematic teaching
of the truths of faith, let us give our children their inheritance of
Holy Scripture, the mental climate of the Bible and the liturgy, which
is, precisely, the climate which fosters the Christian sacramental
It is by means of loving familiarity with the Bible and with the
liturgy that we best learn how to look at all creation so that it will
raise our minds and hearts to God and to the mysteries of our
redemption, that we learn how to use created things for the love of
God. The Bible and the liturgy are the means of religious instruction
which satisfy all the complex requirements of our complex human nature;
they are truly incarnational, because they are the manifestation of the
Incarnate Word. They are inexhaustible sources of growth in the
knowledge and love of God, and nothing can replace them in the
If, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are to any degree successful in
our task of thus "redeeming the time" in our homes, then each day and
week and year of our family life and our children's growth will
contribute something towards giving them the basic pattern of Christian
life on earth, the pattern of living, suffering and dying with Christ
in the strength of His already accomplished victory, working with Him
to bring every human being into the scope of that victory, looking
forward to sharing fully with all our brothers and fellow members of
the mystical Body in the fruits of that victory forever in heaven.
One result of such a training should be that the children do not look
forward as a right to lives of security, ease, earthly comfort and
happiness, but rather to lives of struggle, work, hardship, monotony--
and joy in Christ.
Another result should be that they are not afraid of the thought of
death. No human being, of course, can help that natural fear of death
from which our Lord Himself suffered in the Garden. But we Christians
should certainly not share in the modern unrealistic avoidance of the
whole idea of death, which results in hiding from dying people the fact
of their nearness to death, and in obscuring the obvious fact that we
are all going to die and should make plans for it.
We should take the opportunities offered, then, by the thought of our
Lord's own death, by All Souls' Day, prayers for the dead, burials and
funeral Masses to show the children that death is meant to be the
crowning, climactic act of life on earth, the act by which we finally
can complete the offering of ourselves to God with Christ, the dying to
sin and living to God which has been the main effort of our whole
We can show the children also, beginning when they are quite young,
that the only real horror of death comes from sin, so that they should
pray for the dying and the dead, and begin to look forward and prepare
themselves for the hour of their own death. And we can teach them above
all that death is the gateway to true life, the door to our true home
One of the safest and most beautiful ways of teaching the children
about death is to use the Church's own prayers for the dying as a text.
For the wisdom of the Church has constructed these prayers in a perfect
balance of true fear of God and holy hope.23
And if we take such means to give the children some understanding of
death from year to year, we will be preparing both them and ourselves
for death in our own family, or among those who are dear to us. We
shall, then, when death visits our own house, be better able to make it
clear to the children that we are not sorry that our beloved is on his
way to the fullness of true life with Christ in God: what we are
mourning is our own loss; what we are praying for is that his soul may
go straight to heaven and that we may have the courage to go on living
in this valley of tears without him.
And, again, as we try to found our daily lives on the true Christian
pattern, we will be giving our children the basis for a realistic and
Christian idea of history. They will have a defense for the future
against that false optimism of our times which sees progress as
inevitable ("If thus and so does not come about, Western civilization
will end. Therefore it must come about..." You can find such a line of
argument in almost any speech or pronouncement about the future of this
country, of the U.N. or what-have-you), and the false pessimism and
despair into which such opinion is so easily transformed at the sight
of actual historical trends and events.
Our children will, rather, grow up to see all history as the struggle
between good and evil, in which Christ will be finally victorious, as
the process by which the dough of mankind is being imperceptibly
leavened by the action of Christ in His Church. They will realize that
what is visible to us now is mainly the struggle, the battle, often the
temporary outward defeat of Christ's forces, but that victory is
assured, that, though we cannot see it, the Kingdom of God is actually
being built up and will finally come down from heaven "prepared as a
Bride adorned for her husband."
Whatever catastrophe the future may bring, then, our children will have
the assurance of Christian hope, renewed every morning, every Sunday,
every Easter time, renewed above all with every reception of holy
Communion, that Christ has already overcome the world, and that they
can overcome it in and with Him. And they will have learned not so much
to dread as to look forward to the Coming of Christ, whether in their
own death or at the end of the world, and to pray the true prayer of
Christian expectation: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"
1. How is Sunday viewed by the average American? What suggestions can
be offered for a return to "keeping holy" the Lord's Day? What
practical measures within the family should be used to emphasize the
dignity and importance of Sunday? How do we spend our time? How do we
dress? How do we prepare the meal and the house? Would a pagan notice a
marked difference between the Sunday order of the day in a Catholic
home as compared with non-Christian citizens?
2. What is the significance of the Christmas and Epiphany cycle of the
Church year? What can be done realistically to "restore Christ in
Christmas"? How much of the reform can take place within our own family
circle? Does the story of Santa Claus interfere with the child's grasp
of the true meaning of Christmas?
3. Review the author's suggestions for a Christian day. How could this
plan be adapted to meet individual needs of our own families? What are
the best and what are the most difficult times for having family
4. Discuss possibilities for groups of Catholic couples cooperating on
a religious program to intensify the spiritual life of its members.
What are the opportunities for having a family day of recollection? of
making family retreats? of starting Catholic Action groups for married
couples? of family Communion Sundays? of increasing participation at
5. Make a comparison of the amount of time and energy spent by family
members in reading daily newspapers, listening to the news over the
radio, and reading popular magazines, with the amount of time given to
reading the Bible or spiritual books. If children can learn dozens of
"hit of the week" songs during the course of the year, would it be
possible for them to learn (and chant aloud) some of the Psalms?
1. What does the author suggest as a prayer pattern for each day and
what suggestions are made for family use of this pattern?
2. What is the significance of Sunday in the Church's week? of
Saturday? of Friday?
3. What is the meaning of the Lent and Easter cycle in the Church year-
-and how can the Christian mother tie the liturgical spirit of this
season in with her housecleaning?
4. Why should there be periods of silence in the home?
5. What is the Christian attitude toward death?
10. SEX EDUCATION
The question of sex education has certainly become a distinct and
anxious problem for parents today, more so, probably, than at any other
time in the history of mankind. But the chief, though not the only,
reason why it has become such a problem, is, surely, that for the first
time in the history of mankind a widespread culture has been developed
with no integrated view of reality into which the complex fact of "sex"
might be fitted. Every other great culture has had such a view, and, as
a result, sex was not thought of as an isolated phenomenon in human
life, but in some way organically related to forces above and below man
himself--at the least to his flocks and fields below him, and his gods
above. But the great majority of people today have no way of
interpreting either the fact of sex itself, or its many-sided
repercussions in individual and social life. They see it in isolation,
either as a rather distasteful biological device for propagating the
human race, or as a mere means to pleasure, or as an end in itself that
serves one's personal needs for self-realization and self-development.
Or else, under the pressure of the obvious fact that sex does have
echoes and repercussions on all levels of human life, people come to
accept the idea that an understanding of the role of sex in human life
is actually the master key to understanding the make-up of human beings
and the phenomena of human behavior. In any case, it is no wonder that
people find it embarrassing to teach children the "facts of life,"
since the teachers themselves realize, at least dimly, that they are in
the presence of a mystery, but do not know just where the mystery lies.
But we Catholics have no need to share in this embarrassment. Our faith
teaches us that God designed everything created to be in some way or
another a means of teaching us about Himself, and a means of leading us
toward Himself. In particular, we know that in His primal designing of
man's body and soul, God had in mind--to use human language--the final
purpose for which He was bringing mankind into existence, a
supernatural union of life and love with Himself.
He therefore designed man and woman so that their physical union would
at once be the expression and the image of their spiritual union of
life and love in marriage; and so that this whole psycho-physical and
spiritual union of marriage would be the image, the foreshowing of our
union with Christ. And, in the marvelous ordering of His Wisdom, God
designed the physical union of man and woman as the means whereby human
beings could cooperate with the creative power of His own Love to bring
new human beings into existence. And He planned the whole of marriage
and home life to be the first means whereby human beings are completely
formed, taught and trained to achieve the purpose of their existence.
Thus God has wonderfully designed us so that the means whereby His
creative love brings all the generations of mankind into being for the
purpose of sharing His life and happiness in love for all eternity--
this means should itself be the image of that final purpose of His love
for us in Christ.24
Catholic doctrine also teaches us that, when our first parents turned
away from God's love in the disobedience of original sin, this
wonderful power of procreation at once showed the tragic and disastrous
effects of sin's disordering of man and nature. This great force in man
and woman, designed to give them the glory of cooperating freely and
intelligently with the infinite Force of God's own creative Love, now
was no longer completely under their own control; it became a blind and
often uncontrollable power leading to confusion and further sin.
The history of mankind shows in how many ways men have misunderstood
and misused and degraded and perverted this most wonderful of all man's
natural powers. But God's primal blessing was never taken away from
human marriage; this power of man's still served God's purpose, though
blindly and unwillingly, bringing into existence the generations of
mankind down through the ages, so that Christ should be born and redeem
the race of which He made Himself a member.
And now, in Christ our Lord, God has revealed His whole plan to us; in
the Church, Christ's Body, He gives us the grace to cooperate with that
plan according to our vocation; and, by the sacrament of marriage, each
Christian marriage is actually formed on the image of Christ's union
with His Church, and married people are given the graces to make their
married lives develop and grow through the years in conformity with
this pattern, thus intelligently and lovingly using the marriage act
and marriage in free accord with God's designs.
Catholic teaching, then, explicitly shows us that the facts of sex are
most intimately interwoven with God's whole plan for mankind (as every
pagan culture rightly suspected without knowing the plan). We parents
surely owe our children the truly integrated and integrating "sex
education" which only Catholics can give, that sees the facts about sex
and the implications of these facts in the whole context of human life
and destiny, in the light of Christ's truth and by the power of His
The main thing is, surely, that we ourselves should take whatever means
we find necessary--study, prayer, thought--to relate all the various
aspects of sex to our knowledge of God's whole plan and of its
working-out in history, and to do so in such a thorough way, with the
help of God, that in neither our thoughts nor our actions or reactions
will there remain any clammy wisps of the fog of Manichaeism which, in
one or more of its myriad forms, has penetrated so much modern thinking
Then we shall be in a position to give our children the facts of sex in
their proper context, and, as need arises during all the years of their
development, help them to understand and to deal with the repercussions
of the facts in their own lives and in the lives of others. If we
ourselves are quite sure of the place of sex in God's plans, then
specific information about where babies come from will fit naturally at
the proper time into our day-by-day training in knowledge and
admiration of God's workmanship as shown in the whole range of created
Right ideas about purity, modesty, chastity will fit naturally into our
daily training in respect for oneself and others as marvels of God's
making and re-making, children of God, members and co-workers of
Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit. The warnings which we shall need to
give the children about the possibilities of misusing sexual powers,
and natural and supernatural precautions against such misuse, will fit
naturally into our whole teaching about the consequences of the Fall
and the Redemption in our own lives.
In the same way, all the other aspects of the whole training which we
are trying to give the children will contribute toward their gaining
the true sacramental appreciation of sex. The familiarity with nature
which is a normal part of children's education, the care of gardens and
pets, the link-up of all scientific information with admiration and
praise for God's designs, all this will give the children the
background for an appreciation of God's even more wonderful designing
of themselves and of all their powers unto His glory.
The training we try to give them in acquiring skills of mind and body
and in striving for skillful and charitable workmanship in everything
they do will prepare the way for their instruction, if and when they
come to be married, in the art of married life and the art of the
marriage act itself. Again, all our training in ordering the whole of
life to the loving service of Christ in others should help them to
distinguish true love and true affection from counterfeits, both in
themselves and others.
And, above all, our attempts to live the life of the Church, to give
the children true familiarity with the liturgy and Holy Scripture,
should be a most powerful means of truly Catholic education in sex, as
in all the other fundamentals of life.
Thus, with the help of God, we should be able to give the children by
the time they reach maturity, the essentials of Christian sex
education, so that they may be able to assimilate and deal with the
manifold expressions and repercussions of sex in human behavior as the
vocation of each child may require. They should have, first of all, the
makings of a happy and humorous appreciation of their own manhood or
womanhood, of the special flavor it gives to life and to all human
relations, of its special possibilities for full human and Christian
living, of its special dangers and difficulties whether physical,
emotional, mental or spiritual, and of the special place it enables one
to take in the whole work of the Church of God.
They should have, also, a positive love of the virtue of purity as
being the splendor of the right, undeflected ordering of one's powers
to the love of God; and the correlative horror of impurity as the
spoiling, misuse, violation of what is God's and meant for God.
They should have, again, the growing realization that the vast
possibilities of holiness and horror, of happiness and tragedy, to be
found in human love and union are the effects of the mystery of
sanctity--the mystery of marriage as designed by God--which is the
proper framework, fruit and ultimate purpose of the love and union of
man and woman.
In this light, they should also see that only in marriage and according
to God's laws for marriage, can our procreative powers be used as God
meant and designed them to be. And, therefore, the use of them outside
of marriage, or their abuse in marriage, cannot be expected to result
in joy, happiness, or, ultimately, even pleasure.
In the light of true appreciation for the mystery of Christian
marriage, the children should have a correlative appreciation of the
even higher mystery and vocation of consecrated virginity, the inspired
dedication of the whole and the best of oneself directly to Christ.
And, again, such a truly Christian sex education which is given as part
of a general sacramental outlook and training, should give our children
the ability to understand the reasons for the chief emotional and
spiritual overtones which inevitably accompany the idea of sex, and to
attribute these overtones to that aspect of sex to which they rightly
belong and not to some other.
Every normal person feels a sense of mystery in connection with sex.
But there is nothing unusually mysterious about the anatomical and
physiological facts of human reproduction in themselves; the mystery
lies in the wonder of the effect of human reproduction, a new human
being; in the intimate interweaving of God's design of human pro-
creation and marriage with His highest and most sacred plans for His
glory and our eternal happiness; in the marvelous release, which
follows on self-donation, of our powers of knowing and loving and of
self-realization; and in the horror of sin which can degrade and
pervert such a wonderful power to the services of evil.
Again, every normal person feels that there is something humorous about
sex, that both the marriage act and marriage have many funny aspects
together with their essential sacredness. The true basis for this
feeling is, of course, that here above all God does not want us to
mistake the image for the Reality, the temporal and human foreshadowing
of eternal happiness in love for that happiness itself. And so He made
the image, the foreshadow as crude, as humorously incongruous with the
Reality which it signifies, as His Wisdom deemed necessary to keep us
from mistaking the means for the end. A rightly-ordered sense of humor
about sex and marriage is, therefore, a proper reaction to the whole
range of Reality. But because of the disorder wrought by original sin,
this sense of humor is all too easily turned into something puerile or
really perverted; it joins hands with the sense of disgust which
properly applies only to the misuse of sex; and leads to that degraded
attitude made up of giggles and feelings of guilt which is so common in
our country today.
In all these matters, then, the whole form and spirit of the training
we are trying to give the children should provide them with the basis
for rightly interpreting their own and other people's emotions and
feelings about sex, and for continually rectifying their own by the
help of God's grace in accordance with the light of Christian wisdom.
The actual facts about sex--anatomical, biological, moral and
theological--we should be able to give simply and matter-of-factly as
their age and circumstances and general awareness of reality dictate,
avoiding both the dangers of overwhelming them with information which
they do not yet need and cannot digest, and of failing to have given
them sufficient information for their needs and circumstances. We
surely need to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit here, as
everywhere else, and for the protection of our children from danger
that we could not foresee or forestall.
Otherwise the safest guide in most cases would seem to be what a child
himself really wants to know at any given moment. The arrival of new
babies in the family or neighborhood, the events of each season in
nature and in the lives of their pets, should generally be sufficient
to promote a normal and healthy curiosity about reproduction on the
vegetable, animal and human levels, so that there will be little need
to make special occasions for imparting information about sex to the
And if a child, at any stage of his growth has, for one reason or
another, developed an abnormal interest in matters of sex, or picked up
distorted or inaccurate ideas from playmates and friends, the best
means of restoring the balance would seem to be, again, to give him as
much accurate information as he really wants, in practical terms of the
immediate purpose of the marriage act, the production of a new baby.
There are various books on the market written by doctors, in simple
language, for mothers expecting their first children. We parents might
do well to keep such a book on hand, so that if one of our children
needs to study at least a part of such an impersonal, sympathetic and
accurate statement of all the stages by which a baby comes into
existence, we shall have it ready. And such a book is invaluable for
our own use also, to insure that our knowledge of the facts of sex is
so clear and correct that we can translate it at need into language
that our children can understand.
And beyond the actual physiological facts of sex, we should of course
be ready to help the children, during all the stages of their
development, to relate their increasing awareness of sex to the great
Design of God for mankind. In other ages, parents might have felt with
some justice that their whole duty in this matter consisted in
imparting the "facts of life" to children in early adolescence, and,
perhaps, in giving some additional information on the eve of marriage.
We today, however, need to do a great deal more. We need to equip our
children, as future apostles and co-workers with Christ, to evaluate
and rectify the enormous amount of information and misinformation, of
truth intermingled with falsehood, of right attitudes tangled with
wrong, which are current in the world today.
It is not possible today for either adolescents or adults to avoid
thinking more about sex and its implications--whatever one's vocation--
than is, perhaps, normal or ideal. But if our children have been
trained to think about it, pray about it, and act about it rightly,
that is, in relation to the whole of God's plan and their part in
fulfilling that plan, then this modern preoccupation with sex need not
harm them. Let us then, do our part of this training as well as we can,
and ask God Himself to make up for our deficiencies, so that our
children will grow up and always deserve the Beatitude, "Blessed are
the clean of heart, for they shall see God."
1. What are the practical problems and difficulties of actually giving
sex instruction to the individual child? How can parents get over or
get around under reticence and other difficulties?
2. What are the sources from which children are most likely to get a
false, distorted and unhealthy attitude toward sex? What can be done to
offset these forces by a Christian approach to sex?
3. How does the Christian meaning of sex contrast with what the author
calls the "fog of Manichaeism," i.e., the idea that sex is shameful and
not to be mentioned?
4. Discuss the customs of modern society which raise special problems
about sex. What are the wholesome Christian ways in which teenage boys
and girls should meet? At what age should "dating" be allowed for
girls? boys? Should there be a set hour for returning from a date or a
party? Should parents themselves be responsible for chaperoning teenage
5. In what ways can the virtues of purity and modesty be positively
developed? What constitutes modesty of dress for girls? What if the
styles in formals and swimming suits are of questionable propriety? To
what extent is maintaining beauty and dignity and respect toward sex a
job for group action by parents?
1. Why has sex become a particular problem in modern society?
2. What were the effects of original sin on God's design for marriage?
3. What positive suggestions does the author make for helping parents
to give sex instruction naturally and honestly to their children?
4. What is the true mystery and awe about sex and human reproduction?
5. What advice does the author give for handling cases in which
children have an abnormal interest or have picked up distorted ideas
11. ATTAINING OUR IDEALS
We have been considering how best to try to bring up our children in
accordance with Christian teaching, what lines we should try to follow
in training them how to think about and deal with reality. For this
purpose, we have been trying to apply the great principle that God
Himself uses in teaching us His truth and giving us His life in the
Church, the sacramental principle that reality on every level is
planned by God to raise our minds and hearts to Himself, and, if
rightly used in Christ and for Christ, is meant to be a means whereby
we can take our part in building up God's kingdom in love. We have been
trying to see how this principle may be applied to the actual facts of
daily family life, and to do so in the light of Christian teaching,
particularly as shown in the liturgy of the Church and in recent Papal
We have observed that, for most of us at least, the process of trying
to give our children a thoroughly Christian education implies, first of
all, that we revise and rectify our own ways of thinking and acting. A
proverb attributed to the Jesuits says that nobody really knows a
subject until he has taught it; so we parents find that the necessity
for teaching our children the art of Christian living almost forces us
to try more earnestly to master it ourselves. As parents, we begin to
realize how much we need to think about our faith and its implications,
how much we need to pray for grace and to try to live fully Christian
lives, so that it may be a whole integrated way of life and thought, at
least in germ, that we hand on to our children.
In essentials, then, this sacramental way of living and thinking
implies that we think of everything dynamically, in terms of the growth
and perfecting of Christ's mystical Body, the building up and the
victory of His kingdom. We see all history at once as a battle and as a
work of construction, the battle of the City of God with the city of
the devil, the perfecting of the City of God taking place somehow in
and through the battle.
We see also that the life, Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord
is, so to speak, the main plot or story-line or pattern of this battle
as it should be waged in each life, as it is being fought out in the
whole history of mankind; that this redemptive work of His is also the
pattern for building up His City.
We are preparing our children, then, to become Christ's soldiers and
fellow workers, to share in the fellowship of His sufferings with all
their work, with all their sufferings, in the joy of His companionship
and of the victory that He has already won. We are preparing our
children to find and to take whatever special part God made and endowed
them to take in this great work.
This purpose implies that the children learn to think about themselves
and other people as Christ's members and to treat them accordingly. It
implies that they learn to think about all created things as signs of
God's truth, as means to His praise and service, as means to serve Him
in the loving service of others. This purpose implies that the children
learn to see heaven and earth as full of God's glory, that they learn
to see their churches as God's special meeting-places with mankind, the
gates of heaven, images of the heavenly City.
This purpose implies that the children learn that all human work and
human suffering is meant to be a share in Christ's work of building up
His kingdom, that Christian play is meant to be a reflection of the
effortless activity of Him who is Pure Act, in whose image and likeness
we are made. This purpose means that we try so to live that the pattern
and framework of our days and weeks and years is, again, the pattern of
our Lord's life, Death and Resurrection as the Church shows us how to
translate it into daily living.
And this purpose means that we try so to live and act in ordinary
family life that--as a shadow exists because of the thing that casts
it, as a picture exists to represent some reality, as means exist for
the sake of ends--so all our eating and drinking is ordered toward the
holy Eucharist and the eternal Feast of heaven; all our building and
decorating is ordered to the building-up of God's eternal Temple; all
our cleaning and clothing to the preservation and adornment of our Bap-
tismal robes of grace; all our care and training of the children to the
shaping of the living stones of the heavenly Jerusalem; all our
sleeping and waking to our Lord's Death and Resurrection, to our final
awakening with Him to the glory of everlasting life when all things
shall have been made new.
Now there are two obvious difficulties to such an application of the
principle of sacramental living to ordinary family life today. The
first is, how in the world can we parents find time and energy under
modern conditions even to begin to carry out such a program, to work
and play with the children, or even to be with them long enough
seriously to train them or to try to influence their outlook and
This difficulty is a very real one, as every parent knows. On the other
hand, all authorities agree on the fact that, even under modern
conditions, the basic assumptions and tastes and prejudices of a
child's own family are still the chief influence in his formation.
Willy-nilly, then, we shall hand on to our children to a great extent
our own ways of treating people, of acting about possessions and work
and the use of time, as well as our standards of taste in home
decoration, in food, in literature and so on. And since we cannot help
transmitting our standards in some degree, is it not our plain duty to
make as sure as we can that these are thoroughly Christian?
But it is also true that most of us could make some time to be with our
children, to work and play with them, if we really tried to do so.
Here, it would seem, is part of the necessary asceticism of married
life: to conserve one's time and strength so as to be able to work at
being a parent. Perhaps, for instance, if we went to bed earlier than
we have been doing several nights a week, Father would not come home
from the office too tired to discuss scouting with big Jimmie or to
play with small Peter or read to young Jane; and Mother would not be so
completely exhausted by the day's work that she only begins to come
alive again after the children are in bed...
At least we must always find the time and energy for the greatest
necessity of all, that of keeping open the channels of communication
with each child during all the years of his growth, by seeming to have
time at his disposal, time to listen, time to sympathize, time simply
to be with him. For otherwise he will resent whatever preoccupation
stands between him and us (and if this be religion, so much the worse
The second difficulty is, perhaps, even greater: Would not children
brought up along these lines feel queer, especially with their own
contemporaries; would they not grow up maladjusted, misfits for life in
today's world; might they not so resent their difference from other
people that they would come to hate us and their religion and even,
perhaps, leave the Church?
In answer to this difficulty, it must first be acknowledged that if we
hope to have our children grow up even as the most minimal sort of
Christians, obeying the commandments of God and the Church and keeping
out of serious sin, they will have to be and to feel "different" to
some extent at least. For we shall have to bring them up to think about
and believe many truths that other people do not think about or
believe, and we shall have to bring them up to standards of conduct
other than those of the majority of their contemporaries.
Since this is so, would it not be better to try to bring them up by one
integrated standard of positive Christianity? Would it not be an even
greater cause of neurosis or maladjustment to give them, even
implicitly, two different standards at once, that of Christ in
absolutely vital matters of faith and morals, that of the world in
everything else? Perhaps the restlessness, unhappiness, neuroticism of
so many Christians today (it is a fact, for example, that an undue
proportion of alcoholics are Catholics) is the result of trying to live
by such a double standard and to be as much like everybody else as
possible, short of actual sin.
In any case, our Lord knew that His followers would have to be
different from other people, "If you had been of the world, the world
would love its own, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore
the world hates you." If we do everything in our power, then, to help
our children to adjust vitally and healthfully to this inevitable
difference, rather than trying to minimize it, our Lord will surely
help them to grow up without being harmed by it.
How then, can we help our children to make such an adjustment? First of
all, let us try to make sure that we ourselves are deeply, habitually
convinced of the truth and value and joyfulness of whatever we are
consciously trying to influence the children to think or do.
Secondly, let us never insist on more than the Church herself does in
the way of Mass attendance, confession, holy Communion, prayers. And
let us never use the weapons of ridicule, displeasure, indirect
criticism and so on to persuade them towards more than the minimum, but
only the positive means of example, peaceful teaching, reasons suited
to their understanding. For instance, we ourselves may be most deeply
convinced of the desirability of daily Communion, but a child must
learn by God's grace to desire It himself; we cannot safely try to
impose daily holy Communion on an unwilling child.
Thirdly, let us try as soon as possible to show the children the
reasons for what we command, recommend and do, especially when our
practice varies from that of our neighbors and contemporaries. And let
us never insist on our own whims or strictly personal tastes.
For example, we must insist that our children do not read immoral or
realistically violent comics. But we have no right to forbid them to
read truly harmless comics on the grounds of poor art or bad taste. We
can only try to give the children a taste for real reading, and to show
them that much looking at comics is a childish and rather silly way to
spend one's time. Let us, in other words, try to enlist their own
reason and sense of humor on the side of Christian living from as early
an age as possible, but never try to enforce by our authority more than
is really necessary.
Again, let us try so to talk and live and act that the children will
never have real reason to think that being old-fashioned, dowdy, behind
the times, etc., are synonyms for being Christian. We should rather try
to show them that to be fully Christian means to be more truly
sophisticated, more "hep" than other people can be. To this end, we can
try to make sure that all the outward signs of our Christian living,
pictures, statues, cards, etc., are as technically good as we can get.
No teenager or grown-up is embarrassed, for example, by the presence of
a Fra Angelico reproduction in his home (and it is quite possible to
obtain such reproductions of masterpieces cheaply) or by a really
first-class example of modern religious art; it is the sticky-sweet
so-called "popular" and the inane-looking "modern" crucifix or statue
whose presence in the family living room makes the sensitive teenager
Again, let us try not to confuse the qualities of Christian
child-likeness with childishness, ineptness, or lack of due maturity.
We want our children to remain child-like and not to fall victims to
the false sophistication of the age. But this cannot be accomplished
alone or mainly by negative means. We must rather see to it that our
children dress themselves, for example, in accordance with real norms
of suitability and taste, modified by current and local fashion. And
where, for instance, modesty demands a great variation from the current
fashion, let us try to teach them to see for themselves that immodesty
is not becoming to anyone and that an immodest dress does not, in
actual fact, serve one of a dress' chief purposes, that of helping them
to look their best.
Along the same lines, let us try to ensure that the children acquire a
reasonable proficiency in whatever sports are played in their
neighborhood by children of their age, that they learn as they grow up
all the normal social skills, and are not kept away from all means of
keeping up on information about ball teams, popular songs, etc. We
should try to see to it, for example, that the children acquire a real
knowledge of what good swing is, and how to distinguish it from poor
jazz; that they know how to dance modern as well as classic and folk
To sum all this up, let us not be in any way afraid of any of the
manifestations of modern American culture, simply because they are new,
different from what we were accustomed to, etc. But let us try, with
the help of the Holy Spirit to find whatever is of value in them, and
to show the children what this is and how to use it, while rejecting
what is wrong and meretricious. Thus they will be on the way to
becoming truly sophisticated, men and women of creative Christian
taste, ready, if God wills, to help in the formation of a true American
But more than this, let us try to show the children that, as Catholics,
God has given them special privileges and responsibilities toward the
rest of the world. For no merits of ours or theirs, God has told them
more about reality than other people are aware of; God has given them
means of dealing with it that other people do not have; God has given
them a source of joy and vitality and strength not granted to everyone.
And He has done all this so that they will be able to share His truth,
His life, His joy with others not so highly privileged.
It may not be at all clear how they can go about such a task when many
of their friends and acquaintances seem to know so much more than they
do, to be so much more grownup and sure of themselves perhaps than
they. But if they work to appreciate their own great treasures of the
Christian faith, and to appreciate the needs of other people rather
than thinking about their own deficiencies, God will show them how to
be His leaven, His messengers, His co-workers in sharing that treasure
with all their neighbors.
Far greater, of course, than the difficulty caused by feeling different
from non-Catholics is that caused by feeling different from the good
Catholics among whom we may live, who, for one reason or another, have
not as yet become aware of the necessity for trying to think out and
carry out Christian principles in every field of human life. For if we
try to give the children any holier-than-thou feeling of superiority to
their fellow-Catholics, we shall only turn them into nasty little
prigs, not into apostolic Christians. The solution here would seem to
lie in the early enlistment of their own awakening faith, reason,
taste, common sense and humor in the battle against being just like
everybody else. Would our children really think it better to do exactly
what other children are doing? Do they think they would really enjoy it
for long? And if so, what other children, since every family differs
somewhat both in what is allowed and what is forbidden.
Obviously, whatever we do, the children will rebel often and again
against our authority and against any standards we may set. After all,
the children would be subject to the effects of original sin even if
all the parents around us had exactly the same standards as we. No
parent, however lax, seems to be always in good favor with his
children! And besides their natural rebellion against our authority,
the children will blame us for the struggle in themselves between all
kinds of temptations and the habits and standards which we have helped
to give them.
This again seems to be an inevitable part of growing up. Do we not
remember such rebellion in ourselves? Here, surely, is the place for
prayer and great love and sympathy to tide over the complete transfer
of authority from us to the children themselves, until they realize
fully that the task of becoming Christ's co-workers has become their
own responsibility, between them and God, and that we are not going to
Above all, therefore, we need to remember all during the children's
years of training that it is the formation of Christ in each child, the
special image of Him that each is meant to become, that is of supreme
importance. To have what looks like a "Christian home," to lead an
outwardly well-ordered Christian home-life, these are means to the end
that the children and ourselves may grow up in all things in Christ.
The value of all external practices, ceremonies, family customs, then,
must be judged by the norm of whether or not they really are helping to
achieve this purpose. (Here, perhaps, is also an answer to the question
of how to introduce older children to the more full, more externally
manifested Christian life which their parents have just discovered or
are in the process of discovering.) All externals are meant at once to
express and foster the reality of Christian living. But any Christian
who is old enough to reason and to choose must see the connection
between the reality and the external expression we are giving it;
otherwise it will neither express that reality for him nor foster it in
him. Younger children perceive such connections intuitively; but older
children usually need the same kind of patient, rational explanation as
do their parents.
For example, small children do not need much talk to grasp the general
purpose of an Advent wreath; they like the smell of pine, the special
ceremony, and the flame of the candles (especially if they are allowed
to take turns at blowing the candles out). And the growing light of
each week fits in beautifully with their mounting excitement at the
approach of Christmas.
But a teenager might well be desperately embarrassed at the whole idea,
especially if it was suddenly introduced into his home. Suppose his
friends found him going through all that some evening! An Advent wreath
is certainly not an essential part of faith or morals; if an
explanation of why we ourselves have come to think that its use is a
good way to prepare for our Lord's coming really does not register with
a child, it might well be better to give him ungrudging leave to stay
away from the whole ceremony. It would be still better, of course, if
he and his friends could be made interested in all that such a practice
implies, by methods similar to those which awoke our own interest. But
if this is not possible, let us try to adhere to the main purpose to
which such practices are, after all, only secondary; and look for some
other way, more suited to this child, of preparing him for Christ's
Yet, when all is said and done, the task of bringing up our children as
Christians is clearly beyond our own powers. We are only ordinary men
and women, not the marvels of sanctity, wisdom, prudence, discretion,
charity, and skill that parents obviously ought to be in order to carry
out their vocation. Even to bring our children up to be decent human
beings usually seems more than we can hope to accomplish! Our strength
and comfort, surely, is to realize that the task of training our
children is primarily not ours, but God's, and that He is far more
interested in the outcome than we. It is He who is in charge of our
children's up-bringing; we are only His instruments and deputies.
But, for His own mysterious purposes, He has given us these particular
children to bring up for Him. He must, therefore, in some way beyond
our understanding, have suited us to them, our special abilities,
circumstances, virtues, faults, and defects to their special make-up
and their special needs. If we try, then, to serve Him in them with all
that we have of intelligence and strength and skill, little as this may
seem or may be, we can trust Him to do the rest, to perfect His own
Work, so that "doing the truth in charity" we and our children may
"grow up in all things in Him who is the Head, that is, Christ."
1. List suggestions for getting children to participate in religious
practices over and above the minimum. Should children be promised
secular rewards (going to a movie) for performing a religious act?
Should they be threatened with the loss of a secular value (going to a
party) unless they perform certain religious counsels (going to daily
Mass for the week)?
2. Conduct an experiment in drawing up imaginary schedules in which
each family would review the past week and try to see if it would have
been possible to increase its religious participation simply by
organizing the schedule better. Would it be possible for most families
to cut down on the present activities of its various members? Do
teenage children today have too many extra-curricular activities? In
what way might religious participation help to strengthen the "family
3. Will the family which follows a pattern of sacramental living
necessarily seem "old fashioned" and "behind the times"? Discuss.
4. Discuss the relationship of children to their parents. In the
Christian concept of the home will the attitude of the children toward
their mother be somewhat different than toward their father? Is it
normal that parents should always be in "good favor" and "popular" with
their children? Can parents expect to discipline their children and to
hold up ideas and standards without the children sometimes resenting or
5. Read aloud the final two paragraphs of the chapter. Discuss the role
of Divine Providence in our efforts to establish
1. What are the two most serious difficulties to the application of
principles of sacramental living to ordinary family life?
2. Did Christ expect His followers to be "different"? Explain.
3. Should parents insist that their children do more in way of
religious observance than the Church herself commands?
4. Do the obstacles to sacramental living come only from non-Catholics?
5. Should parents expect that their children will be uniformly
submissive and agreeable to their plan for sacramental living?
and have our
1. Needless, perhaps, to say, the ideal of fully Christened family life
is not that of monastic life. St. Benedict modeled the monastic family
on the Christian family, but that does not mean that the Christian
family should try to pattern its life on that of a monastery. For the
monastery is designed to lead its members to Christian perfection, to
"run in the road of God's commandments," but the family has to start
its members on the road to Christian perfection and teach them to walk.
The ideal family meal, for instance (I speak as one less wise), should
normally include conversation, for part of the children's training in
Christian eating is to learn how courteously and happily to share
experiences and ideas while courteously sharing physical food. By such
complete human "sharing" we fashion our kind of sign and reflection of
the Eucharistic feast. The monastic meal, on the other hand, is
conducted in silence or with spiritual reading, so as to unite the
monks' minds on the highest possible level, leading them through the
"sign" of the meal to thoughts of the reality. But the monastic meal
presupposes many years of training in family meals, otherwise it would
seem (at least to the mother of small boys) that the participants would
distract each other from God, rather than lead one another to Him in
their common act of dining!
2. We are made to need food, drink, etc., in limited amounts and kinds.
Beyond this, nobody can try to obtain extra satisfaction by eating more
than so much food, or drinking more than so much drink without finally
suffering the immediate and/or long-range effects of over-indulgence,
which themselves take away the original appetite and of themselves
limit temporarily or perpetually the possibility of continued
indulgence--in extreme cases, by causing death. This holds good for all
physical satisfactions and also for all true cultural needs, namely,
for books, music, the fine arts and, even, for companionship. We cannot
really enjoy more than so much reading, music, etc. and over-indulgence
in such pleasure results in a form of mental indigestion which itself,
temporarily at least, presents further enjoyment. But the appetite for
"thrills," for more and better gadgets, for being ahead of other people
for "security," "success," etc., can never be satisfied, nor does it
bring the obvious punishments of these other forms of over-indulgence,
for it exists in imagination only, not in the realities of human nature
and human needs.
3. If this statement seems harsh, just go and wander around a depart-
ment store, especially its basement.
4. This is not to say, of course, that people do not practice these
virtues today, only that the whole spirit of the times is against our
doing so, and is rendering it more and more difficult.
Nor is this to say that "the machine" is essentially un-Christian.
There is no such thing as "the machine," only various kinds of
machines, each of which needs to be judged on its own merits and its
effect on human living. To quote a vital distinction made by John
Julian Ryan in a forthcoming book called "Practical Wisdom," a machine
which is a powered tool may certainly be an aid to human and Christian
living; a powered tool is one in which the machine provides the power
but not the control: the work remains always under the direct control
of a man's skill: e.g., a power saw, a dentist's drill, a steam-shovel,
a tug-boat. Again, a machine which really saves human drudgery (that
is, work that requires no intelligence), even though such a machine
performs several successive operations automatically, could also
obviously, be a means to human and Christian living, e.g., a washing
machine, machines for generating power preparing crude material. Of
course, even with regard to such machines the question would remain to
be investigated, whether or not they actually do or do not lessen the
total amount of human drudgery or distribute it more equally,
considering the work involved in procuring raw materials, making the
machines that make the machines, the actual manufacture, distribution,
sales, etc. And also whether or not such machines use up an undue
amount of irreplaceable raw materials.
Again, there is no intrinsic reason why the evils of mass production
could not be avoided and better results obtained if, in the production
of things which must be exactly alike (parts, small objects like pins,
screws, etc., and especially raw materials), the process of manufacture
were re-thought out and redistributed to allow a man or team of men to
work on whole tasks of producing at least whole parts, using their
human brains and skill and powers of cooperation instead of simply
minding machines. If the amount of ingenuity that is now spent on
"making the system work" were spent on thinking and planning to put
true human welfare as planned by God before the "efficiency" of
machines, perhaps a truly Christian civilization that used machines
properly might, with the help of God. begin to be built. Nobody wants
to "put the clock back" in the name of Christ: we want, rather, with
all human brains and intelligence and skill, to prepare for the coming
of "Him who is to come."
5. See "Rich and Poor in Christian Tradition"--Writings of many
centuries chosen, translated and introduced by Walter Shewring (Burns
Oates, London, 1948).
6. Inexpensive booklets containing translations of some of the commoner
blessings are: "Family Blessings," by Bernard Strasser, O.S.B. (NCWC,
Washington); "Family Sacramentals," by Walter Sullivan, O.S.B. (Grail,
St. Meinrad, Ind.): "With the Blessing of the Church," by Bishop
Schlarman (NCRLC Des Moines); "Lord Bless Us," by Rev. Harvey Egan
(Grail, St. Meinrad, Ind.).
7. An almost indispensable family tool here is Fr. Weller's translation
of the Blessings of the Roman Ritual (Vol. III, Bruce).
8. It is our own experience of such a thrill, for instance, which makes
us able to appreciate the wonder of the pilgrims at the glorious sight
of Jerusalem: "Thou city built into one perfect whole!" (Psalm 121),
and so to appreciate what our spiritual emotions should be at the
vision of the Church on earth and in heaven.
9. See "My Book About God" by Julie Bedier (MacMillan) for a wonderful
presentation for children of different kinds of work as God sees them.
10. If one may say so in all reverence, the common notion of the value
of making the Morning Offering is that it turns our work into a kind of
heavenly boondoggling (work which, people think, has no eternal value
in itself; whether it be well or badly done, if we 'offer' it to God,
He will pay us eternal wages for it in consideration of the merits of
11. Here is the truth about work which, largely forgotten by
Christians, has been re-discovered by Communism, and warped and
perverted to make only the perfection of the City of Man its end and
12. To make this truth real and vital to ourselves, study-clubs,
sodalities, etc., could follow the example of a group in Louisiana who
have made a study of how each man's work in fact aids his
fellow-members of the mystical Body; the men concerned with oil, for
instance, help everyone all over the country who uses the oil in
furnaces, cars, etc. Those concerned with natural gas help families
they will only meet in heaven to cook and heat their houses. So a man
cannot always have the obvious advantages of direct person-to-person
service in his work, but he can take such means as this to make its
quality of loving service of Christ in others a vivid reality both to
himself and to his children.
13. It is ultimately, of course, the task of professional associations
and of experts in each field to get together with moral theologians,
determine the Christian norms for each occupation and profession, and
decide on general lines of procedure best adapted to begin the
transformation of what is into what should and could be. And, as yet,
our Catholic professional schools and professional associations have
only here and there begun to go about this task. But unless everyone
who is aware of the necessity for restoring all kinds of work in
Christ, according to the directives of the Popes, begins to look at his
own work and kind of work in the light of Christian principles, to
discuss it with others, to judge what could and should be done and to
begin to do it, the experts will never go to work on the real problems
and no action would result from their conclusions if they did.
14. In this connection, priests and religious might consider the
effects of the "clergy discount" especially on the price of Catholic
books. Since they are the most numerous purchasers of such books, this
discount means in effect that the lay reader must pay extra. Is this
practice, then, calculated to increase the spread of Catholic books
among the laity? Or to help the Catholic bookstores who are trying to
make these books available?
15. Such a policy does not mean, of course, that we are ordinarily
under any obligation to patronize a workman on any level who, however
good his motives, simply does not or cannot produce good work. It is no
part of reestablishing all things in Christ to foster the already too
prevalent Catholic vice of technical and artistic carelessness, the
vice that follows on the idea that it doesn't matter what you do or how
you do it so long as you "mean well" and "offer it up. However
"apostolic" a work may be, the apostle is obviously under the
obligation is a Christian to strive for perfection in his daily work as
well as in his life.
16. Here, of course, is the value of games, both for children and
adults. Our responsibility here is to see that our children learn to
play, rather than to look on, learn to handle themselves adequately in
the legitimate games and sports common to their age and neighborhood,
and how to choose their games wisely to suit their own needs and
17. What follows is not meant to be a complete theological description
of each vocation, but a working or practical one in terms of
18. A very good form of morning offering for children, and for morning
prayers, is to be found in that excellent child's prayerbook, "Glory to
God," by Dorothy Coddington (W. H. Sadlier & Co.).
19. The "Manual of Prayers" prepared by the Precious Blood Sisters of
O'Fallon, Mo., is an inexpensive booklet containing a good variety of
psalms and other prayers arranged for seasonal use.
20. It is well worthwhile to ponder the implications of the fact that
Sunday is considered by some Fathers of the Church not to be merely the
first in a series of weekdays, but rather the eighth day, outside of
the seven days of ordinary time, partaking in the perfection and
time-less-ness of eternity.
21. For this purpose, see particularly Therese Mueller's booklets,
"Family Life in Christ" (Liturgical Press) and "Our Children's Year of
Grace" (Pio Decimo Press); Msgr. Hellriegel's article in "The Family in
Christ" (Proceedings of the 1946 Liturgical Week, Elsberry, Mo.); and
Mrs. Florence Berger's "Cooking For Christ" (National Catholic Rural
Life Conference. Des Moines, Ia.).
22. On this topic, and many others sketched in this book, see the
excellent and more detailed treatment in "Ourselves and Our Children"
by Mary Reed Newland (Kennedy).
23. These prayers are contained in "A Manual of Prayers" for the use of
the Catholic laity. Prepared by order of the Third Plenary Council of
Baltimore (Kenedy & Sons, N.Y.); it is a book which no family should be
without, since it contains the ceremonies for administering the
sacraments, the essentials of what Christians should believe and do,
and much more besides.
24. "O God, who by Thy mighty power hast made all things where before
there was nothing; who, having framed and put in order the first kinds
of all creatures, didst constitute woman as a helpmate for man made to
Thine image, a helpmate, therefore, who should never be separated from
him fashioning her in such a way that woman's body took its origin from
man's flesh, and teaching thereby that since it pleased Thee to
construct her body from his, it is never right that their union be
"O God, who hast consecrated the marriage union by a hidden and sacred
design so exceedingly great that in the marriage covenant Thou dost
foreshow the Mystery of Christ and the Church...
"O God, who dost join woman to man, and give to that primal society the
blessing which alone was not taken away in punishment for original sin
nor by the doom of the Flood..." (From the blessing given during the
25. For excellent suggestions as to specific ways of telling children
the facts of sex, see "Christopher's Talks to Catholic Parents," by
David Greenstock. (Templegate, Springfield. Ill.).