THE FIRST YEARS
In his book "Something of Myself for My Friends Known and
Unknown," Rudyard Kipling uses as the keynote for the first
chapter, the following quotation: "Give me the first six years
of a child's life; you can have the rest."
How parents ought to meditate on those words!
Why did Rudyard Kipling speak in this vein?
Before these first six years there is of course the question of
heredity. Every man is an heir and every man is an ancestor.
Children do resemble their parents. We have considered this
There is a second kind of hereditary influence--the formation
that is given even before marriage by the father and the
mother. "When does the education of the child begin?"
Napoleon was asked. He replied, "Twenty years before its
birth in the education of its mother."
From its mother? From its father too. But the mother is
unquestionably a prime influence since until the child is at
least six the principal care of the child is in the hands of the
What a mistake to let a child give in to all its whims!
"But he doesn't understand," people say. "You can't reason
with a baby in the cradle."
No, of course not, but from the cradle on, the child can be
taught many things well. Not by reasoning but by habit-
Here are two mothers; both of them have a baby. Naturally
both babies cry when they want their desires known. In one
case, the mother who knows that all the needs and legitimate
wants of the baby have been satisfied, lets it cry; it should
like to advance if it could, the time for its bottle. No, it will be
served at the right time, not before. The little one soon
perceives that no one pays any attention to its demands and
ceases its tempestuous howling.
In the other case, the minute the baby begins to cry, the
mother dashes to soothe it. She cannot resist her baby's cry.
Instead of rearing it for itself, she rears it for herself, because
she suffers too much from hearing it call or because its tears
unnerve and disturb her. She gives in. She is lost. The little
one is going to become frightfully capricious. Later she will
not be able to control it. "Cry away my little man; you don't
need a thing," would be a more wholesome attitude than
yielding, provided of course, she knows that the baby is all
right and that her conduct is not motivated by laziness but
by a true desire to train the child.
That is only one detail. But in everything she should be
guided by the same principle--the true good of the child.
Then at six years it will know how to obey. And if the mother
follows through progressively with the development of the
child, helping it to use proper]y its young liberty, she has the
game in her own hands. All is not finished. It might be more
correct to say that all is beginning; nevertheless the mother
has successfully come through a vital stage. Up to this point
it is properly called training, a most necessary period indeed.
This training will develop into real education. If the early
training has been lacking, the succeeding education becomes
almost impossible; for how can one erect a stable structure
on a volcano; how build a firm will on a nature perpetually
wavering and swayed by caprice?
Kipling was right. In the light of the truth he expressed let me
correct, if necessary and if there is still time, my method of
LOVE FOR CHILDREN
IT IS essential to love children enough:
1. To be willing to have them
2. To be able to endure their demands
3. To be able to supernaturalize one's love for them.
1. To be willing to have them: I meditated on this point when I
considered the law of fecundity and charity in marriage.
2. To be able to endure their demands: Very little children
have no defense and no power. Someone must always come to
their assistance. Happy those who can guess these needs of
theirs. Mothers generally know the secret of that. But just the
same the baby will cry, become restless and set up a howl.
Every baby in the cradle is a revolutionary in the bud; the
best established customs ought to give way to its caprice, or
so it thinks, and if its desires are not obeyed, it storms and
puts the house in an uproar.
Furthermore the child is born cunning. It finds out very
quickly the best ways to get what it wants, not through
reasoning but by intuition. Such an action, such an attitude
produces the desired result; the opposite way of acting does
not work. There is no more limpid logic to be found
Nor any more transparent pride. It knows itself to be the
center of the household and is not ashamed to act the part. It
is a monarch. Papa and mamma, brothers, sisters, and all the
other members of the household make up its court, each one
dancing attendance to its thirty-six wills. Furthermore, it
distributes as rewards the favor of its broad smiles.
Later it will have to play, jump about and run; to break things
will be a delight; so too will it be fun just to sit still and listen
to a story. The little girl will be taken up with the care of her
doll and if her elders have bought her a doll that says papa,
mamma, they need expect to hear nothing else all day! The
little boy will play soldier or train or if he has received a
drum or whistle for Christmas, the household will be well
aware of it!
Parents should take serenely and as a matter of course the
baby's pranks and outbursts, working at the same time
toward a wise training, the prelude of a wise education. They
should expect their growing children to make noise, to be
curious, to want to touch everything; furthermore, they need
not feel obliged constantly, to put a damper on their romping
and their noise; whenever and wherever it is necessary they
ought to explain to the children what they may do and what
they ought to avoid.
3. To be able to supernaturalize one's love for them: Parents
should strive to love their children not only because of their
natural charm but for higher and truly divine reasons. "I love
my children so much," parents say as if they were vying with
one another; mothers especially are likely to talk like that. It
makes one want to warn them, "If only you could love them a
little less but love them a little better." Or rather, since we
never love too much but badly, "Love them as much as you
wish but for their sakes, not for your own."
For their sakes: Therefore do not give in to all their caprices;
do not try to spare them every effort; do not treat them as
little idols; do not teach them pride and vanity even from
their earliest years.
For their sakes: Therefore be alert to know what might harm
them not only in what concerns their body but also in what
might even remotely concern their soul.
For their sakes: Therefore, try to discover behind the human
silhouette of each of these baptized souls the Holy Trinity
dwelling within them and the likeness of Christ; do not rest
satisfied until all your training and education is directed to
make of them truly holy tabernacles of the Most High and
authentic continuations of Christ.
FROM THREE TO FIVE
AT THIS period of their life, children have not in general
arrived at an awakening, at least not a complete awakening,
of their moral sense. They are midway between the
unawareness of their first years and a completely rational
contact with life; their principal occupation is play--the little
boy will be busy building and tearing down; the little girl will
be busy scribbling away at indefinite designs or dressing and
undressing her sawdust doll, the first in a series of many
They will have just the beginning of a contact--depending
upon their family, their mother particularly--with the
invisible world. They will learn their prayers, know that there
is a God who is good and they will hear about little Jesus.
They will also know that there are things that are forbidden,
but they will not as yet see the wickedness of sin; they take
what belongs to mamma without knowing that they are
stealing; they do not always tell the truth without knowing
really that it is an evil thing to lie and when they do speak
untruly it is much more through an instinct of self-defense
than through innate perversion. They would go to the end of
the world for a kiss and much further still for a piece of
candy. But if they must give up the piece of candy to a little
brother or sister, they will do it with not too bad a grace but
they will see to it that they get a lick of it themselves before
parting with it; after all, aren't they being quite generous
already? And if for Christmas mother has suggested that they
sacrifice some of their sweets to little Jesus, they do it
eagerly but see nothing wrong with coming back quietly later
to eat up their sacrifices.
It is important to capitalize on this marvelous period of the
Since the child loves to imagine, it is necessary to suggest
images to its mind and since the child needs to be educated,
these images should be elevating. That can be done very
early by using the lives of the saints, the life of Mary and of
Jesus. Why not? How many details of Scripture are most
picturesque and quite within the grasp of the child's mind;
this is especially true if the Gospel episodes have first come
by way of the mother's heart; she will know how to awaken
without straining, instruct without fatiguing, and adapt it all
to the mentality of the child.
A prime guiding principle here is Never anything inexact!
Children at this age are extremely docile. "Papa said it or
Mamma said it," makes it sacred. Therefore, great attention to
the stories they are told, to the allusions made or the
conversations held in their presence.
At this age the child is inclined to refer everything to itself,
but very likely to be disinterested in goodness. By nature it is
selfish; it has a terrific sense of ownership; will share
nothing; wants everything. Since it has numerous needs and
knows itself to be little, it seeks to surround itself with the
greatest possible number of things to its own advantage. But
if little by little it is taught to look about to see that there are
others less privileged, that to give up things for love of
another is something fine, it will be found capable of
The child at this age has not since the time of its baptism
become incrusted with the shell of negligence and the faults
an adult might commit; simplicity is inherent in it; it is pure;
it has infused Faith and the Holy Spirit in its soul is at ease.
But it is essential to avoid scandalizing the least of these
little ones, giving them the example of evil, of impurity even
material impurity, of lying, of anger.
Further, the child is readily distracted, forgetful, has its head
in the clouds. You speak to it and it listens or does not listen
as fancy strikes; it follows its own thought and interior
emotion. Your commands fall on its ears like water on
marble. You must catch its attention, reiterate your
suggestions or commands without impatience on your part or
fatigue for the child.
Constant attention is necessary to train them in manners, in
proper sleeping habits, in conduct at table; to check the first
symptoms of greediness, laziness, lack of discipline,
sensuality. The child is still thoughtless but the educator
must not be. Long explanations are not needed; a word,
simple look go a long way and speak volumes at times.
Parents should never lose courage even if the results are
imperfect. Let them examine their methods and change them
if necessary. Let them see in these little ones only Christ--
"Whatsoever you do to these, the least of My brethren, you do
THE ART OF GIVING CHILDREN FAULTS
THERE are two great means of developing faults in children:
First by giving them a bad example; second, by spoiling
1. Giving them a bad example: All men are imitators; children
are more exposed than others to the appeal of imitation; they
love to imitate adults, and by preference those within their
immediate circle particularly their parents who appear to
them as exceptional beings in whom there is nothing
Is the mother vain? The daughter too will be vain; she will
speak, act, dress, not for an ideal of beauty in keeping with
her condition, her station, but for the favorable opinion of
others. She will strive to surpass all her companions, her
friends, by the cut of her clothes and the extremes of style;
she will attach a considerable, yes even an exaggerated,
importance to the tiniest details of her costume; she will
suffer a severe attack of jealousy when she believes someone
Is the father proud? Does he try to exaggerate his good points
and belittle those of others or refuse to recognize them? His
son will be a snob, disdainful of others, self-sufficient,
pretentious, arrogant, obstinate and will manifest no
understanding whatever as far as others are concerned.
Are the parents loquacious? Contentious? Sharp in their
speech? Their children will be intemperate in speech,
Are the parents deceitful? The children are in danger of
becoming liars. Are the parents generally indiscreet in
conversation, passing judgments thoughtlessly? The children
already too much inclined to judge everything from the
height of their grandeur will pass snap judgments, unjust and
Do the parents manifest their love of ease, of wealth, even a
thirst to acquire riches by any means? The children are likely
to be selfish, attached to their own comfort, cheaters on
2. Spoiling them: Some parents are too harsh and do not
encourage their children at all. Others, by far the greater
number, are too indulgent, flatter their children, satisfy all
Parents who spoil their children do not seek their good, love
them for their sakes. No, it is a form of self-love; the parents
seek themselves in the child. Such parents cannot put
firmness into the education they try to give; they cannot
punish when necessary; prevent escapades; secure
obedience; they cannot defend themselves against any
"But if I lack kindness," you say, "my child will withdraw from
me; in difficult times he will avoid speaking to me; I shall not
have his confidence. If on the contrary I have multiplied my
kindnesses to him, he will remain open, I shall keep a hold on
There is no question here of failing in kindness; it is a
question of forbidding oneself any weakness. Far from having
to fear the loss of the child's confidence, if one is judiciously
firm, the parents shall win the child's confidence because
they are wisely strong. When the children understand that in
the marks of affection their parents bestow on them they are
not seeking something personal but only the good of their
children, they will be quick to realize that in the severity
their parents inflict on them, there is likewise no trace of
caprice but only the desire for their good as before.
It is precisely that realization which has educative force--this
contact with strong and detached souls.
THE UNTIMELY LAUGH
A FAMOUS French critic relates this incident about one of his
colleagues. "He was only five years old and he had committed
some misdemeanor. His mother who was busy painting put
him outside her studio as a penance and closed the door to
him. Through the closed door the little fellow using his most
earnest and pleading tone begged for pardon promising not
to be naughty again. His mother did not answer. He made so
much ado that she opened the door and on his knees he
crawled toward her, pleading with her as he came, in a voice
so earnest and an attitude so pathetic that by the time he
arrived before her, she could not refrain from laughing.
Immediately he stood up and changed his tone, 'So,' he cried,
'since you are making fun of me, I will never ask pardon
again.' And he never did."
To appear amused at an act of generosity on the part of a
child is the best way to make it lose forever a taste for
generosity. Beyond a doubt, the mother was not laughing at
the sentiment that stirred the soul of her child, but only at
his heroics in expressing it. But the child could not
distinguish. She laughed; therefore she laughed at him; if she
laughed at him, he must have seemed ridiculous; never again
would be put himself in a ridiculous attitude. His little
conscience is geometrical. His reasoning is utterly simple but
it is in keeping with his age.
Can anyone ever measure how much a poor child who has
done wrong has to overcome himself in order to ask pardon?
He blunders and then what happens? Can't you see? He is
wounded by the pain he gave his parents, tortured perhaps by
remorse, frightened by the prospect of punishment. His
request for pardon is expressed in sobs and long drawn out
breaths. But he is truly sorry. Born actor that he is, it is
possible that he might deliberately exaggerate the outward
manifestation of his repentence, but is it true? Most often the
child is honest and except where there is direct proof to the
contrary, his action is sincere, expressing exactly what he
How disconcerted he is then when his repentence is met in a
way he so little expected and so misunderstood. Sometimes
the child merely wants to confide a secret or in his simplicity
he asks a question without realizing its import or he
expresses an enthusiasm he hopes to have shared or a desire
to be generous that he longs to have approved, but if he sees
that no one listens to him or that his elders appear to smile at
his beautiful dreams or his requests for explanations, he
learns to close up like a clam; no one will ever know anything
more of his little soul; he will keep his thoughts secret and
will try to find for himself the answers to the troubling
questions that torment him.
There is another kind of ill-timed laugh, the laugh of parents
or others at the morally bad actions of a child.
In considering the behavior of children, careful distinction
must be made between two kinds of acts: those which have
no moral import such as skinning their knees in a fall while
running, soiling their clothing through inattention, turning
over an inkbottle through clumsiness, and those which do
have moral significance such as stealing, lying, disobedience
and lack of respect.
It sometimes happens that people are extremely severe and
make much ado over the acts in which no moral
responsibility is involved, but they joke or laugh at words
and acts that are morally wrong. Nothing so deforms the
consciences of children. They learn to consider as serious
acts those over which their elders have made a scene but
which actually are not serious at all; to consider as
insignificant those acts which made others smile but which
are morally quite serious.
All this means that as a parent, as an educator, I must be
watchful over my smiles and my laughter. I cannot be
inopportune in their use.
LOVE VERSUS MATERNAL INSTINCT
A MOTHER of a family, herself a noble and spiritual educator
"We never succeed in making of our children all that we
should like to make of them; and sometimes we do not
accomplish anything of what we thought we could
accomplish. The role of educator in theory offers many
charms but in its fulfillment how many thorns! Not to become
discouraged is in itself quite an achievement."
The most important virtue to engender in the souls of
children is confidence.
Children always have faults; they develop with age; when one
fault is destroyed, another appears. What ought to be
developed first is confidence; a confidence which will make
them docile solely because of the conviction that there can
be nothing better for them than the arrangements of the
persons who are training them; but when they seem to
torment them or cross them, they truly have their good at
heart. The most agreeable training is not always the most
salutary. Far from it! Adversity and contradiction are useful
for all ages but particularly for the young, to correct their
violent tendencies and strengthen their undeveloped wills.
For those who consider everything from God's viewpoint,
adversity gives the final touch; it adorns as with gold one in
whom virtue is deeply rooted. But how can one call upon this
harsh instructor to teach one's very own children? Mothers
are too tender to be perfect educators or rather their
tenderness has about it too much sensitivity which, we might
say, aggravates the eternal conflict between the spiritual man
and the carnal man. Maternal love is often too much
hampered by maternal instinct which protests and prevents
the forceful action that ought to be taken.
This distinction between real maternal love in the full sense
of the word and maternal instinct should be maintained; the
author of the preceding lines is alert to the difference and
concerned about not confusing them; one of her daughters
had a particularly difficult temperament; the mother
encouraged herself to exercise the necessary firmness with
her just as with her other children:
I shall set myself the duty of not being weak, too easy, of not
giving in to all their desires. I shall try to give them the
reason for my decisions, but I shall believe that I do them a
service by putting some obstacles to their desires. Kindness
will dictate my conduct; I hope that kindness will render it
bearable for them.
If I fear the opposition of a strong character and the
tendencies of a spirit which promises to be frank and curious
in Laurence, I fear in her sister the faults arising from an
easier temperament which is avid for praise. Will she be able
to hold her own with the firmness I should like to see her
acquire? My God, I cannot foresee that; I place her interests
as I place my own into Your Hands.
That is the way to act: To try to adopt toward each child the
method most likely to succeed, and when that is done, to
trust the rest to Divine Providence.
TRAINING IN OBEDIENCE
THE father is the father; the mother is the mother. Each one's
role is different; together they must harmonize.
This is particularly essential when there is question of the
exercise of authority over the children.
The principal authority is centered in the father; the mother
who is associated with him, shares this authority. Both have
therefore according to their respective roles the mission to
command; the father in a way that is not more harsh but more
virile; the mother in a way that is not more easy-going--she
ought to demand the same things the father requires and with
the same firmness--but more gently expressed.
Parental action must be common, harmonious, coordinated,
directed to the same end. Extremely unpleasant conditions
are created if the mother for example tolerates an infraction
of an order given by the father.
The father on his part should avoid too great sternness, an
uncalled-for severity of tone or what is worse, cruelty. The
mother should guard against weakness and insufficient
resistance to the tears of the child or the cute little ways it
has discovered for avoiding punishment or side-tracking a
She ought to be particularly cautious not to undermine
paternal authority either by permitting the children to
disobey his injunctions or, under pretext of tempering the
father's severity, by countermanding his orders. It is from the
father himself that she should secure the necessary
relaxation of requirements if she feels he is being too rigid;
never should she on her own change a decision that the
father has given. Otherwise the children will soon play the
father and mother against each other; they will know that
they can have recourse to mamma when papa commands
something and they will be able to disregard the order. Father
and mother both lose their authority in this way to their own
great detriment. The wife discredits her husband in the eyes
of the children and herself as well. Never should the children
sense the least discord between their parents either in regard
to their principles or their methods of training. Quick to
exploit the rift, they will also be quick to get the upper hand.
It is the ruination of obedience. The mother can blame
herself for working forcefully for its destruction.
She is perfectly justified in trying to make the execution of
the father's orders more agreeable; that is quite another
thing. But in this case she must justify the conduct of the
father and not seem to blame him by softening the verdict.
Husband and wife are but one; he, the strength; she, the
gentleness. The result is not an opposition of forces but a
conjoining of forces; the formation of a single collective
being, the couple.
Another point in this matter of obedience: Never let the
children command the parents. How many parents, mothers
especially, betray their mission! Parents are not supposed to
give orders indiscriminately but wisely; when they have done
this, they should not go back on a command. To command
little is the mark of firm authority; but to demand the
execution of what one has commanded is the mark of a strong
There should be no fussiness, no irritation, only calm
firmness. The child, who becomes unnerved, and certainly
not without cause, before a multiplicity of disconnected
orders that fall upon him from all sides, submits before a
gentle and unbending authority. Calmness steadies him and
unyielding firmness unfailingly leads him to obey.
CHILDREN WHO COMMAND
IF THE training of the children from babyhood has been well
done, there is the happy possibility that the parents can
really be masters in their own home later on. Not that they
need to exercise a fierce militarism; they should rather
inspire a holy and joyous liberty; but when they give a
command, the children must know that there is nothing for
them to do but obey.
They will give few commands, avoiding such perpetual
admonitions as "Stand up straight! Don't slouch! Do this.
Don't do that," which irritate children to a supreme degree,
weaken authority, and in time nullify the effect of any effort
to command. In the whirlwind of commands and prohibitions
in which they are caught, children can no longer distinguish
between important issues and details. Not having the
strength to observe all the directions they receive, they
decide quite practically to observe none except when a
painful punishment impresses them with the need to obey.
Although the parents should give few commands, they must
abide by what they have commanded and see it through. If
children note that it is easy for them to wear out the patience
of those who issue commands or prohibitions, and that
sooner or later they will have the victory, they will
unconsciously or even through a perversity that will always
increase, set about to manoeuvre more and more triumphs for
"Leave that door handle alone!" Fine. The child hears the
command. A second later he is at the handle again. Again he
is told to leave it alone. The child resigns himself and for
some time does not go near the door. Will he make a third
attempt? Why not? After the second injunction mamma
generally says no more. As a matter of fact, he renews his
disobedience. Mamma lets it pass. She is conquered.
She will be conquered forever.
That is just one example of ten thousand where training falls
But when children know that what is said goes, the temptation
to defy a command does not so readily come to them; or if
should it come and they yield, they know their parents will
not let their disobedience pass and that they will pay the
penalty; they know too that the punishment will be in
proportion to the offense, neither too little or too much but
exactly proportionate; they take it for granted.
Away with all fussiness however! Let children exercise some
initiative. How many parents forget that they were once
young and as a consequence what it means to be young.
In his book "My Children and I," Jerome criticizes in a
humorous fashion the exaggerated notions of some parents
who do not want to recognize the power for frankness in boys
and girls of twelve, fourteen or sixteen years. Veronica, one
of the young daughters of the home, finding that the
discipline of the house was too rigid protested with the
comment, "If grown-ups would be willing to listen, there are
many things we could explain to them."
She decided to write a book in which she would give parents
some wise advice. "All children will buy it," she said, "as a
birthday gift for their father and mother."
Veronica was doubtless somewhat presumptuous but not
stupid. People can learn at any age.
Even from their children.
Even when their youthful lessons are developed from
It is better, of course, not to need their lessons.
TRAINING IN DOCILITY
MANY parents complain that they can no longer get their
children to obey.
Is it the fault of the children? Is it not rather the fault of the
parents? A failure in obedience because of a failure in
To command requires as much abnegation as to obey. If a
person commands to satisfy his need of imposing himself on
others, to satisfy his vanity, to prove his power to himself, he
has missed the purpose of authority. Authority does not exist
for itself but for the good of subordinates.
Parents can go to the other extreme and let their children to
their whims and fancies in order to escape imposing any
inconvenience upon themselves, allowing everything to pass
and even refusing to forbid what they should forbid. That too
is a failure in their mission. To have authority is to have the
obligation to exercise it--according to the circumstances and
without exaggeration certainly--but it must be exercised and
not held in abeyance; that would be a betrayal of a trust.
Authority is to be exercised; to be exercised within the limits
of its control; that is its function. If through laziness or poor
judgment authority is not exercised or is badly exercised,
how can we be astonished that obedience is lost?
Authority supposes a soul at peace, a courageous soul,
dominated by a sense of duty, devoted to the interests of the
subject, free of capricious impulses and that sentimental
concept of love which is often found in mothers who confuse
tenderness with idolatry.
Parents and educators must arm themselves with courage to
dare to take a stand against the caprices of their child. They
must have keen judgment to know in which instances they
should command or refrain from commanding, to be able to
adapt the order to the capacity of the subjects, to be able to
understand the subjects' desires and satisfy them, to oppose
their whims, their impetuous desires and disordered
In all this there must not be the shadow of oppression.
Parents should realize the children's need for distractions,
activity, learning, and loving. They ought to satisfy them in
everything that is legitimate. That will provide a generous
principle by which they can refuse them what is not
legitimate. In everything the parents should act with a
balanced mixture of gentleness and firmness.
Certainly they should not govern their children in a way that
suppresses their initiative. Their problem is not to develop
paragons of perfection, children who are exteriorly docile but
docile through passivity.
Parents should as often as possible insist that their children
make their own decisions, assume their little or great
responsibilities; but at the same time supervise and watch
over them unobtrusively; be ready to help them if need be
when they hesitate or arrive at imprudent decisions.
This implies that the parents strive less to develop a
satisfactory exterior behavior than to fashion in the child a
conscience that is exact and clear in the knowledge of its
duties; it is essential that when a child obeys he does so not
because of external constraint but through obedience to the
law of duty, to the inward law formulated in the depths of his
soul by God Himself.
The formation of the child's conscience is therefore
inseparable from his training in obedience. Let the child
know that he must obey only because he must above all obey
God; parents and educators are only the intermediaries of
God in his regard. Punishments which must follow
wrongdoing will never be for him the indication of his
parents' excitability or moods but always and only the
justification of a moral principle that has been violated.
INTELLIGENCE AND FIRMNESS IN A MOTHER
CAN the mothers who are real educators be counted by the
hundreds? Many see what ought to be done but do not have
the courage to require it or rather to impose it on themselves
to see it through. Others again have sufficient firmness of
character but lack keenness, insight, psychology.
Madame Marbeau whose son was to become bishop of Meaux
possessed the rare balance of intelligence and firmness.
One of the brothers of the future bishop had been naughty
and troublesome at school and was sent home by way of
punishment. At home he was obliged to recount his escapade.
The child was difficult and it was not his first offense.
Madame Marbeau marched him up to his room, closed the
door behind them, took a switch and ordered the boy to take
off his coat and a few more things. "My child," she said, "you
are dishonoring your name. I am going to whip you for it so
that you won't forget it. It grieves me to do so. I have a heart
ailment and could die of emotion . . . at least my death would
remind you not to offend God."
When her children were old enough to be able to take
responsibility, Madame Marbeau gave each of them a watch,
accompanying her gift with the wish "May all the hours of
your life to the very last, mark the good you do. May you
never have to blush for one of them."
She encouraged the older ones to offer sacrifices to bring
blessings on their future home, "Offer that up for the one
whom you will marry."
A mother ought to be willing to make her child shed tears if
that is the only way to instill a lesson which other means
have failed to inculcate.
Surely, the whole art of educating does not consist in the art
of being severe; some parents are too stern and they create a
depressing and disheartening atmosphere in the home; that is
the other extreme of indulgence. Exaggerated repression and
excessive weakness are both harmful. The one who must be
most watchful against excessive weakness is the mother, to
whom is attributed the quality of kindness as an almost
natural instinct and whose whole vocation is bound up in
kindness. In their early days the children will be tramping all
over her feet, but when they grow older they will trample on
The child should be encouraged to the complete
accomplishment of his duty; nor should the parents take over
to spare him the necessity of effort; they should rather
stimulate him to furnish his own effort. He should be given a
taste for fundamental honesty very early in life, the
understanding that time is money advanced to us by God to
enable us to purchase not only our eternity but the grandeur
and beauty of our present life.
Then at the opportune time the child should be directed to
consider his future. After making of his present home an
invaluable training center, let the mother use the thought of
the future home he will establish as an incentive to needful
renunciation and self-denial. Should a son or daughter give
indications of a special attraction to the virginal state in a
consecrated life, with what care should the mother watch
over them. What a grace for the family if their dreams should
be realized! But such graces are bought! By the sacrifices of
the children. By the sacrifices of the parents above all, but
primarily of the mother.
These are not the only characteristics of a solid training but
they are important characteristics. Let me examine myself on
them. What judgment must I pass on myself?
MOTHER has gathered her little world around the table. She
has chosen a supply of beautiful pictures; there are all sorts
"Now suppose everyone keeps still. Look well at these
pictures and make your choice without telling it . . . Then in a
few minutes you may each tell me in your turn which one you
prefer. If you explain well why you prefer it you may have it
to keep for yourself. All right, let's start. Is everyone here?
Take time to think carefully. When you have all made your
choice we shall begin to speak."
Soon little hands were busy fingering the pictures; indecision
was evident on the children's faces. Finally their choices
seemed to be settled.
"Very well, Peter, you begin."
Peter had been attracted by a troop of soldiers marching
behind the red, white and blue:
"Because it has the flag of my country," he said.
What a beautiful lesson to develop, the lesson of patriotism, a
lesson in humanity. Why should we love the world; why too
should we prefer our own country? We should prefer it to the
point of defending it if it is unjustly attacked. What is a just
war, an unjust war? Is it sometimes permissible to kill? What
is the duty of the leaders in war? Why should we salute the
And all listen to the simple lesson so marvelously and
expertly explained drawing great profit from it. A true course
it is in philosophy, civics, international ethics, and will-
Little Louise decided on a picture of a beautiful baby by
Reynolds, a pink, chubby baby with curly hair. She gives her
reason in a tone of voice that reveals her budding maternal
instinct, "I want it because it looks like my little brother."
And Mother seizes her opportunity to explain the mother's
role, her joys, her difficulties, her responsibilities.
Jeanne, a robust girl, not blessed with much imagination
shows great admiration for a very ordinary postcard
representing two children in the country, standing before a
rustic home at an outdoor fireplace roasting potatoes and
chestnuts . . . She chose it because "it shows what we do on
vacation when we have no more homework to do."
This brings forth a little homily on energy at work, coupled
with praise for the honesty of the child; the motive of choice
alone is blamed as indicative of no great zeal for study.
Paul, whose stuffed pockets seem to contain a whole
workshop--string, broken springs, rubber bands and other
odds and ends has been waiting a long time to explain his
choice: "I like this airplane which is going to take off; see the
pilot has put on his cap; he is going to take two passengers. I
want to be a pilot when I get big . . ."
How many correct ideas to develop, enlarge and enrich; how
many inferior sentiments to uplift; how many social
principles to instill according to the capacity of these little
minds and consciences so newly formed; how many futures
to map out and how many vistas to open up.
There is nothing austere or forbidding here. It is life
presented in beautiful simplicity. All the mother's
explanations are within the children's grasp, but how richly
instructive and informative! They had so much fun. And they
learned so much.
ONE great principle of education that is of prime importance
is that there must not be two systems of weights and two
systems of measures in the family; it is necessary to treat all
the children impartially.
The celebrated Carmelite, Mary of Agreda, whom Phillip IV of
Spain did not hesitate to take as his confidante and advisor in
matters of state and the government of men because of her
spiritual insight and virtue, wrote the following advice to him
on October 13, 1643 after she realized, either through
spiritual lights or human reports, that he was inclined to
yield to the ascendancy of a certain individual in his court:
"It would be better to put all (your counsellors) on the same
level by listening to all of them so that each one believes
himself to be your favorite without Your Majesty's according
more to one than to the other. Thus God has placed the heart
in the center of the body that it may vivify and stimulate all
the members equally; the same sun lights us all without any
This rule which Mary of Agreda gave Phillip IV for the
government of Spain is very valuable within the family.
One or other of the children must not get the idea he is
preferred; he will be tempted to abuse the situation. Above
all, the other children must have no cause to believe that one
of the members of the family is the object of special
All ought to believe that they are, each of them individually,
the privileged one; and that because actually and not as a
pretense the father and mother make no distinctions of
person but give to all their maximum love.
If any exception must be made let it be for that one who is
least gifted, the most sickly, who has the least defense. In
such a case only will the other children pardon partiality.
Generally, however, such advice need not be given to
mothers. As Bishop Dupanloup explains, maternal love is so
wide and deep that there is in it an innate and magnificent
If her child is beautiful, richly endowed, how the mother
cherishes it! If on the contrary, her child is puny, deformed
by nature, she has treasures of affection for it such as she
has for no other.
Here is the beautiful passage. It is taken from a volume which
has not gone out of date; how many married people and
parents could profit greatly by reading it and meditating on
it: The name of the book is "Letters of Direction on Christian
Life" and the particular sections referred to now are the
passages on Marriage, Motherhood and Conjugal Fidelity:
"Maternal love possesses two contrary impulses which are
characteristic of it. We could not measure either of them, nor
could we pass them by in silence.
The mother loves her fortunate child, the handsome child,
the prosperous child, for its happiness, its beauty, its
prosperity; there is in this a just pride which belongs to
maternal love and does not sully it. At the same time, the
mother loves her child who suffers, who is listless, who is
deformed because of its suffering, its languor, its deformity;
and her love goes to terrifying extremes.
One must see a mother looking at her infirm and deformed
child . . . It is as if she wants to fill up all the voids of that
being, that she wants to enclose it within herself so that
curious and unkind looks cannot reach it.
If she has a wayward child, it is this one she loves in spite of
herself; if she has a sick child, it is toward that one she
directs all her concern, and on the contrary should her child
be a hero . . . how happy she is!
DIFFICULTIES OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
IN ORDER to make a true Christian of a child, four difficulties
must be conquered:
1. The child himself.--He is light-minded, superficial,
completely exterior. The invisible world seems unreal to him.
Doubtless, the infused faith received at baptism gives him a
kind of aptitude for perceiving divine realities; and the
educator will not fail to utilize and develop this aptitude. It
still remains true that the child for whom the world of images
alone has value is in grave danger of progressively losing
interest in the Kingdom of God to give more and more
attention to what Our Lord calls all these other things.
Furthermore, he is on the threshold of life and that life is the
present life; he feels strong; death is far away. His very
existence appears to him as something almost eternal. He
dreams of marriage, thinks of a career and is immersed in
distractions. He thinks very little about his soul if he thinks
of it at all.
2. The family circle.--The family encircles the child with a
certain general atmosphere of ease, of comfort, of
forgetfulness of the essential. The practice of Christianity
within the family may be very weak; there may be a complete
absence of good example. An exaggerated liberty in regard to
reading may prevail; the newspapers and magazines brought
into the family are perhaps most unchristian, utterly pagan in
tone. And as for the religious observance of Sunday, it is
reduced to a minimum and that minimum is merely routine.
True piety is definitely lacking; so too is any semblance of
regularity in rising and retiring; a shameless preoccupation
with frivolities crowds out everything else. The development
of a spirit of sacrifice and the formation of a religious spirit
receives scarcely any attention.
3. Schools.--Let us consider only those schools in which
religion is recognized. To whom is the religious instruction
confided? How well is education to the supernatural
safeguarded? Even in institutions where exercises of piety are
held in esteem, is sufficient effort made to combat routine, to
avoid blind imitation and to vivify religious practices? Is
sufficient care taken to explain doctrine thoroughly? Is not a
great deal of precious time lost in problems of apologetics
while the children have very little acquaintance with the
substantial realities of the deposit of faith? Is the teaching of
Catechism carefully centered about the dogma of Grace and
of Incorporation in Christ? Are the truths of faith made to live
by being presented in relation to modern life, adapted to the
needs of the young people and the needs of the time?
4. The general easygoing attitude of society.--Father Gratry
used to say that young people had difficulty escaping the two
trials that their social environment imposes--the trial of fire
and the trial of light.
--The trial of fire. By that Father Gratry meant the test of
pleasure, the test of the senses. The great means of
information are sometimes transformed into means of
corruption. Reading, unbridled freedom, certain types of
amusement finish the destruction. The world ridicules the
chaste; materialism at times gross, at times refined, threatens
to penetrate all of life especially now that the constraints of
the war have been lifted.
--The test of light. This, Father Gratry explains, is contact
with pagan mentalities, with philosophies of scepticism and
agnosticism as noisy as they are baseless but none the less
alluring in an age of independence and awakening passions.
All these conditions point to the importance of a virile
training of the individual from childhood; the need of a
healthy and uplifting family life; the value of a solid
intellectual formation that is thoroughly Christian; the
necessity of a purification of the general atmosphere.
The children of today have been compared to "an invasion of
little barbarians." We must civilize these barbarians if we
want to prevent the arrival of barbarism or a return to
CHESTERTON expressed himself as well satisfied that
education is entirely confided to women until that time when
to educate becomes entirely useless--for, "a child is not sent
to school to be instructed until it is too late to teach him
In other words, education depends on the training given
during baby days and early childhood and such training is
the concern of women. That is a certain fact. It is also a
serious fact. Because at once there arises the problem: Are all
mothers charged with educating their children capable of it?
Some women excel in child-training. And often they are
equally successful in handling their children once they are
How solicitously these mothers watch over their children
even in their babyhood not only in concern for their bodily
good but for their soul as well, warding off from them
whatever could be a source of trouble later. With what love of
God they profit by their babies' first glimmerings of reason to
teach them how to fold their hands in prayer and lift their
hearts to God. How zealously they prepare them for their First
Holy Communion, speaking to them of the marvels of the
Eucharist, encouraging them to generosity and love of Jesus
Without any thought of self, but with joyful and supernatural
austerity, they teach their children to make sacrifices, to
think of others; with what divinely inspired skill they show
them the immense needs of the world, make them think of
little pagan children who have no Christian mother or father
or brothers or sisters who have been baptized.
"Children are serious-minded, and to keep a childlike soul
means precisely to continue to look at life with a serious
attitude," says Joergensen. Mothers with a supernatural spirit,
whether they have read Joergensen or not, seem to use this
idea as a guiding principle and by it help their children to
preserve while growing up, the juvenile depth of their serious
outlook on life.
Even when their children are grown, how they help them to
develop this serious attitude and protect them from losing it
or submerging it in an atmosphere of worldliness and
frivolity! How earnestly they try to give their children true
Christianity grounded much more in love than in fear; they
do not constantly terrify them with the idea of sin; they lead
them even more by example than by word, to look upon God
as a God of mercy and not as a sort of "super-parent who is
always dissatisfied, severe, angry, ready to forbid and to
Living a life of divine familiarity themselves, these mothers
have learned the great mystery of "God nearby," of God
residing in the depths of the soul in grace, a God whose
dearest wish is to draw us into closer intimacy with Himself.
It has been said that "there are two ways of giving the
consciences of children an intense sense of the privation of
God"; either by default, by never putting them in His
presence; or by excess, by putting them in His presence in
such a way that He becomes a nightmare to them from which
they flee as soon as they realize that the whirl of life helps
them not to think of Him."
Supernatural-minded mothers would never fail in the second
way. If their grown boys and girls remain in the state of
grace, it is through a holy pride, an interior joy, the result of
having been impregnated early in life with the conviction of
God's nearness, with the determination to remain forever
living tabernacles of the Trinity, other Christs.
Honor to these mothers, true educators!
EDUCATION TO THE SUPERNATURAL (1)
THIS does not mean education to piety. In Christian families
this is properly provided for: The children are taught their
prayers, how to go to Confession, how to prepare for Holy
Communion, how to assist at Holy Mass and other church
services, how to say the rosary. All this is fine, but perhaps it
is not the essential!
The important thing is to teach the child who he is, who God
is, and how God wants to mingle His life with his by coming
to dwell in him. consecrating him thereby as a living
tabernacle of the Most High. When the child knows all this
not merely as bookish knowledge but as knowledge lived out
and often recalled, exercised by his faith and his young good
will, then and then only, will there be a solid foundation on
which to build religious instruction, to justify and demand
exercises of piety. It is absolutely essential that before all
else the child be informed of the divine riches which his
baptism brought him. It must be explained to him that the
day he was carried as a little baby to be received into the
Church, God came to take possession of his soul.
He should be taught that when people come into the world
they do not possess this divine life. God gave it to Adam and
Eve in the beginning but they lost it. Right here is a splendid
opportunity to explain the greatness and goodness of God,
the marvel of our supernatural life, how God created man
greater than nature, how He wanted to make all of us His
children. The little one knows well what a father is. Explain to
him that God is our Father in order to give him what is
essential in all true piety, a filial spirit and an understanding
of how true it is to call God, Good.
The story of creation fascinates children; so too does the
story of Adam and Eve and the Fall. What a lesson for the
child is the example of the terrible punishment incurred by
disobedience! . . . The divine life is lost! But God still loves
His poor human creatures just as mamma and papa continue
to love their child after he has done wrong. And what is God
going to do to give back this lost supernatural life? When one
commits a fault, he must make up for it to obtain pardon.
Who can make up for such a fault? God asks His own Son to
do it. His Son will come down to earth. And then follows the
beautiful story of the Christmas Crib and the timely
application of these truths: How we should pity those who do
evil and if we can, help them get out of their misery, their
bodily and spiritual wretchedness!
Not only will Jesus live upon earth with us but He will die for
us after living more than thirty years over in a little country
where we can find many souvenirs of His stay--the little town
of His birth, the workshop of His foster-father, that noble
carpenter named Joseph, the villages that heard Him preach
to all, and especially to children, on how to get to heaven, the
place of His death upon the Cross, that place of suffering
where Mary His Mother stood beneath His instrument of
torture . . . All that, all that so that John, Paul, James, Henry,
Peter, Louise, Camille, Leonie, Germaine may be even while
they are still on earth, little--and yes very great--living
tabernacles of God who is Goodness itself; so that later in
heaven they may be with the God of their hearts forever.
Religious instruction is not sufficiently centered; it is not
centered about the central mystery of Catholicism. Even the
catechism with its divisions of Dogma, Morals and the
Sacraments--divisions that are perfectly logical and
understandable but more adapted to theological authors than
to the souls of children--can, if we are not careful, make one
forget the beautiful wholeness of Christianity which is
superbly majestic in its architectural lines, clear, and pulsing
EDUCATION TO THE SUPERNATURAL (2)
IT IS clear that everything centers about the dogma of grace
and our supernatural elevation. The best way to develop this
idea with the child is to use the technique of an object lesson
and explain the rites and ceremonies of baptism to him. That
will be a little drama in which he has been the hero, and
consequently, it will hold tremendous interest for him. It is
something about himself, it is his own story he hears; he will
Describe the ceremonies graphically for the little one. As
soon as feasible, take him to church. Before showing him the
tabernacle, the Eucharistic dwelling, take him to the
baptismal font: Here is where you became a living tabernacle
of God. At the words of the priest, "Go out of this child,
unclean spirit; give place to the Holy Spirit," the devil was
forced to leave you, because of the power Our Lord gave to
His priests. Then the Holy Spirit came to dwell in you. And
since the Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son, God
in His fulness came to dwell from then on in your heart--yes,
there are three Persons, but there is just the same but one
God; there are five fingers but they make only one hand--and
that one God in all three Persons dwells in you.
God does not have to use an airplane like the one you saw
landing from its flight the other day, but He does come down
from heaven to dwell in your soul; He came into each of us,
Papa, Mamma and in you, in Henry and James and Pauline, in
Genevieve and little Louise. He comes on His own without
anyone else sending Him and His coming is very real. Besides
all this, His dwelling in all of us does not keep Him from
continuing to dwell in heaven, too. He is all-powerful; it
causes Him no difficulty to be at several places at once. If He
who exercises His power everywhere, comes especially into
the souls of the baptized, it is to dwell there in a dwelling of
love. When your godmother or your grandfather come to
spend a few years at your house, how happy you are! It is to
give you pleasure that they come; and they bring with them
goodies and lovely presents.... God does the same thing when
He comes to stay in you--He brings presents with Him; we call
these gifts graces; that means favors, gifts He is not obliged
to give but which He gives just because He is so good. Good,
did we say? Extraordinarily good! Much kinder than
godmother or grandpa; kinder even than Papa or Mamma. He
is the One who made the kindness and goodness of fathers
and mothers and of all good people on the earth. Think how
much greater is God's goodness since He possesses all this
goodness put together and a great deal more besides!
But then if God is like that, how ought James and Joseph and
Henry and Isabelle and Louise and Madeline behave
themselves? Well, first of all, they should never do anything
that would chase God from their souls; to do that is what we
call mortal sin; mortal, because it forces God to leave just as
if it killed Him. God cannot die, but it is just as if the person
would say to Him, "I don't want anything more to do with You;
if I could do away with You, I would do so!" That is why
mortal sin is such a vile thing.
And it is not enough for you to keep from driving God out of
your soul; no, there in the depths of your heart, you should
try to keep Him company. Don't you think so? How sad that
would be if He would be there within your soul and you would
not pay any attention to Him, and seem to attach no
importance at all to His Presence. That would not be very
nice. You ought to visit Him there within your soul, in the
morning, in the evening and often during the day; speak to
Him; tell Him that you love Him very much. He who loves as a
real Christian, a truly baptized soul, keeps God company
since God is with him all the time.
EDUCATION TO THE SUPERNATURAL (3)
SINCE God is always present in the soul of the baptized
person--provided that person has not driven Him away
through mortal sin--with what respect should he treat not
only his soul but also his body!
Mothers always dress their little ones in a beautiful white
dress for their baptism. This is to show that later they ought
never cover their souls with stains of sin. If muddy spots on
lovely white material is ugly, how much uglier are sin stains
on the soul!
That is also why the priest after bringing God into the soul of
the tiny baby by saying as he pours the water, "I baptize thee
in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit," hastens to add the injunction, "Receive this white
garment and carry it undefiled to the Throne of God." The
whiteness of the garment symbolizes the purity of the soul.
When we have to appear before God at the end of our lives,
what will He ask us? "Have you been faithful? Have you
always respected the beautiful virtue of purity? Or is your
soul stained by sin? Have you committed sins? Mortal sins?
At the moment death struck you down, did you have God in
your heart or had you driven Him away as if you wanted
nothing more to do with Him?
"You drove Him away? Ah, well, since that is how it is, I want
no more to do with you: I too will drive you away, begone!"
It is just as a father might call before him his child who had
insulted him or tried to kill him; he would say, "I no longer
look upon you as my son. You are not worthy to remain in the
house. Get out! I will never speak to you again, I will never
love you again!"
How dreadful to be driven away by God because we tried to
kill Him with sin in our soul; because we tried to drive Him
away . . . to drive Him, God who is so good, from our heart!
We must indeed pray that such a thing never happens!
If we want to die without stain of sin upon our soul, we must
live without staining our soul by such ugly defilements. Now
since God dwells within our soul and since our soul is
enclosed within our body, then we must also keep our body
pure. We must never use it to commit sin. We should always
look upon it as a kind of church in which God dwells. What
would we say of naughty boys who would throw pebbles into
the window of the parish church or mud from the street on
the decorations or the altar inside? It would be an insult
hurled at Jesus who stays there in the tabernacle so that we
can go to Him to tell Him that we love Him and that we are
happy to be with Him.
A little baptized child is like a church, but a living church.
Jesus and the Child
How should we introduce Jesus into the life of the little one?
Marie Fargues, a one-time educator, suggests the following
psychological procedure: "You love Jesus very much, don't
you?" the mother asks the little one in a tone of voice that
calls forth a fervent "yes." Mamma must love Jesus to speak
as she does. Therefore, Baby loves Him, too, and he wants to
show it. He will clutch the picture of Jesus that the mother
holds out to him, and kiss it with much ado. A statuette, a
crucifix, a medal--these objects offer no direct interest to the
child other than their polish or their color; mamma's face is
certainly softer and more pleasing. But if one is to embrace,
there must be something to embrace; and how can one show
that one loves without embracing. That is the sole reason of
existence for the statuette, the picture, or the medal of Christ
as far as the baby is concerned. People don't embrace just
anything, like papa's paper or the sugar bowl; these things
have other uses. But the things that are connected with the
Name of Jesus, these things one kisses for love of Jesus.
But Who is Jesus?
Who is Jesus? A baby does not ask that question. Jesus is a
fact, like papa or mamma. And the little one is not in the least
disturbed about giving the same name to quite different
objects, a medal, a picture, or a crucifix. For, in the
beginning, the picture, the medal, or the crucifix, is Jesus. It
will take time for the little one to understand that these
things are merely representations of Jesus.
Little by little, the child will begin to distinguish the person
from the representation and will begin to build up a more
correct concept: Jesus is at one and the same time, the One
who is represented on the medal, the One who lives in the
tabernacle, the One who is on the crucifix, the One who is on
the picture, the One who lives in the church, and the One who
is in mamma's heart after she goes to Holy Communion.
From then on, the clarification can be continued by helpful
statements or questions: "Yes, Jesus is here," or "Jesus did
that" or, if we are in church, "Where is Jesus?" At Christmas
time when the little one pulls on mother's sleeve, insisting, "I
want to go over and see little Jesus in the pretty crib," a
splendid opportunity presents itself to explain the difference
between the figure of Jesus in the crib and Jesus present in
The transfer from the concept of Jesus to that of God is
evidently a delicate step. The mother has told the child that
God is everywhere, sees everything, but that He has no body.
Now Jesus has a body. All that is not very clear to the child.
Little by little, it will become so.
God is at one and the same time, the Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy
Ghost and they have existed from all eternity. It is the Son,
however, who became Jesus when the Blessed Virgin gave
Him a body, and He walked among men on earth.
Thus the little one through acquaintance with Jesus rises to
knowledge of God. That God should have become man, is not
at all astonishing to the child, and still less astonishing is it
to him that Jesus had a mother.
Thus, bit by bit, things are seen in their proper relation.
There cannot be complete clarity all at once. However, by
means of successive bits of information, and above all by
successive attempts at prayer, the little one enters into
contact with Jesus; this contact is more of the heart than of
Historical and doctrinal ideas will be added later to complete
the child's concept. Even at this early age he has become
acquainted with the Triune God and the Incarnation. The
cross, too, has been revealed to him. It is a delight for the
child to hear the story of Jesus' life, and, in the retelling how
many ideas can be given, how much curiosity satisfied, how
many lessons taught!
Since Jesus loves children so much--and we know that He
does from the gospel story of Jesus blessing the little ones--
since He has loved people so much and done so much for
them, should not little John, or Lucy, or Alice, love Jesus, too,
with all their heart; should they not learn from Him how to
make a generous sacrifice when the opportunity presents
THE FATHER WHO DOESN'T PRAY
LITTLE Paul who is only four-and-a-half years old, is kneeling
beside his bed saying his night prayers; they seem to be very
"Haven't you finished your prayers?" asks his nurse.
"Yes," answers the child slightly embarrassed.
"Well, then, what are you doing now?"
The child blushes and murmurs timidly, "I say two of them
every night--my own and papa's. I heard him refuse mamma
when she asked him to say his prayers; so now I am doing it
Precocious, would you say? Maybe so. But have children not
often startled us with their penetration?
How foolish are those parents who believe they can fail in
logic before their children! How little do they know of the
workings of those little minds and those little hearts! How
little do they know how these little ones can put to use what
Lady Baker, a convert, writes in her book "The House of Light"
that when she was a child of about eleven years, she
overheard a conversation between her father and her mother
on the subject of religion. The father was saying, "I heard a
good sermon today; it pointed out how the Reform was a great
mistake and that England would have been much better off
"Be still," interrupted his wife in a scandalized tone, "be
careful before the children."
"I was sent off to my studies," continues Lady Baker, "and I
heard no more of the conversation; but I took to dreaming
over these strange words."
That very evening while taking a walk with the maid, she
asked to visit a Catholic church. From that date, she says,
there was born in her the desire to study the beginnings of
the pretended Reform and to change her religion later should
this study prove that what her father had said was true.
It may be that I have not lost the habit of prayer, thanks to
God's grace, but it could easily be that I do not let my
children see me praying often enough. To pray, and to let
one's children see that one prays, are two different things. It
is not enough to pray as an individual only. My duty as head
of the family is to pray in the name of the family, in the sight
of the family, and with the family. My boys must know that
their father honors God; they must see that he conducts
himself respectfully before Him; they must learn from his
example the great duty of adoration and worship. Prayer, at
least evening prayer, should be said in common.
In many families where all gather together at the end of the
day to honor God, it is the mother who leads the prayer until
the time comes when each child will be able to take a turn. It
would be much better if the father would take the lead. It is
the function which belongs to him, a function which is almost
priestly in character.
Should it ever happen that I have occasion to pass
unfavorable judgment on a churchman, or on some religious
incident--although it could seldom happen that such an
action would be my right--I must take care as to who is
listening. Children don't miss anything . . . let me give that
A CELEBRATED economist, LePlay, wrote "Until I can say grace
at meals without astonishing any of my guests, I will not
believe that I have done enough for the return of good
habits." Grace at meals seems to be a simple detail. Are we
not perhaps attaching too much significance to it?
Consider it a detail, if you wish, but it is a detail which proves
much. Rene Bazin relates how edified he was while visiting in
the north of France as a preparatory study for one of his
novels, to observe how the family of an industrialist, in
Roubaix, had said grace faithfully before meals, assigning
each child a day to lead.
Another author relates the profound impression made on him
by his visit to the home of an outstanding businessman in
Antwerp. Before and after dinner, the eight children stood
with their parents around the table while the father devoutly
recited the meal prayers.
Where the practice of saying grace is found in a family, there
is also found true family life blessed with children and with
solid piety; there will be no selfishness; instead there will be
found a love for tradition, respect for authority, and an
undisputed reign of Christ over the home. The saying of
grace may be a small thing, but it is an indication of great
The Christian family will not be restored, nor will it be
maintained, without the restoration and the maintenance of
Christian practices--the noblest practices surely, and the
most obligatory, but likewise the most insignificant in
appearance. However, are there any which are truly
--But these things will embarrass our visitors.
--Nothing forces them to pay you a visit, and if they want to
do it, they undoubtedly respect the customs of the house, the
crucifix on the wall as well as the tint of the wall, the normal
acts of Christian life as well as the menus prepared for them.
No one is obliging them to adopt your conduct, but they can
at least accept it while they are with you.
The real motive, if you are truly honest, is not charity for
others, but human respect and a concern for yourself. You
are afraid; you do not dare.
Your visitors will be either Christian or non-Christian. Why
among Christians should one blush because of Christ? If the
guests are not Christians, will they be astonished at Christian
acts, knowing the atmosphere of the home and the character
of those who dwell in it?
In addition to grace at meals, another beautiful Christian
custom for the home is the evening blessing given by the
father to all the children: As each child comes to give him a
good-night kiss, the father lays his hand upon his head or
traces a little cross upon his forehead. What an advantage for
the children who see in their father a quasi-religious--as they
really should be able to do. What an advantage for the father
who will as a consequence be more conscious of his office.
Imagine what his thoughts must be as he blesses his children
in the evening if, during the day, he has done something for
which his conscience reproaches him!
"We shall make our brethren Christians again," sing the Young
Catholic Workers. "We shall make homes Christian again,"
should be the song of married Christians. To do that, they
must begin with their own.
CHILDREN AND CHRISTMAS
IT IS easy to understand how enraptured children can become
at the contemplation of a tiny Babe in a manger. To have God
reduce Himself to their own status, to become a child like
them, to need a mother, what more could they desire! They
feel on a footing with Him. The Almighty is of their stature!
We are told that on Christmas Eve, Saint John of the Cross
used to carry a statue of the Infant Jesus in procession about
the monastery. The procession would stop before each
monk's cell asking hospitality for the Divine Babe. The cells,
like the hearts of the monks, would open to faith and to love.
Only then would the statue be carried to the Crib and the
Divine Office begin.
Children share the simplicity of these holy monks. Nothing
attracts them more than the Crib.
This very attraction makes it imperative that they learn about
Care must be taken not to mix in with the gospel mystery any
details which the child will later come to recognize as false.
What good can come of representing Santa Claus almost as
God the Father who has given us His Son? Why let children
believe that it is the Infant Jesus Himself who comes down
the chimney to bring them presents . . . only to hear some
day, "You know, mamma, this is the last time I'm going to
believe in Little Jesus who comes down the chimney with
If we mix the false with the true, it is no wonder the child will
not be able to separate legend from doctrine later on. The
Gospel is sufficiently extraordinary in itself without our
adding any of our own creations to it. If we do, we may well
fear the child will become disgusted later at being deceived
and reject everything.
Any charming legend or pious little story we may want to tell
them when they are very little should be kept quite distinct
and handled very differently from the dogmatic truths and
authentic historical facts we teach them. Let us not introduce
fairies into the story of Jeanne of Arc's childhood, nor put the
legend of Saint Nicholas rescuing little children on a level
with the realities of the Redemption, with the facts of Our
Lord's saving us from hell.
If, therefore, we are to capitalize on the child's attraction for
the marvelous, let us avoid abusing his credulity; above all
when dealing with the lives of the saints, with the Blessed
Virgin and with Christ, let us not mix the false with the true.
Let us always keep on a plane apart those truths which are to
be forever the object of ineradicable belief.
There is, however, a positive suggestion to offer: Explain to
the child how Baptism has made him a living Crib; not a
wooden manger padded with straw, but a living Crib; not a
crib where only little Jesus lives but a Crib where the Three
Persons of the Holy Trinity dwell, the Three Divine Persons.
Here, too, is splendid opportunity to show the child the
difference between the two presences--the presence of God in
the soul through grace and the presence of Jesus in the stable
through the Incarnation.
EUCHARISTIC EDUCATION (1)
A FATHER wrote the following incident to a friend:
"You are acquainted with my little boy. The other day his
sister who is fifteen asked him, 'Bernard, what is the
difference between Holy Communion and blessed bread?'
That could have been a stickler for a little fellow only six-
and-a-half. 'Oh,' he answered quickly, 'they are not at all
alike. Blessed bread is just bread and Holy Communion is our
good Jesus.' The child has never had formal catechism
lessons, but he has observed about him the practice of
Christian life; he has heard his mother tell him upon
returning from church that she had received Holy
Communion; that is all."
However the child acquired his correct ideas, it is evident
that with a knowledge of this kind he is ready to make his
First Holy Communion.
The Church requires the child to know the difference between
the Blessed Eucharist and ordinary bread. Relative to this
point the bishops of Belgium state in their "Practical
Instructions" that "the child has sufficient knowledge and has
met requirements if he knows according to his capacity that
in the Eucharistic Bread there is the true living Body of Jesus
Christ with His soul and His divinity, glorious as He is in
By way of supplementary explanation the Instructions add:
"It suffices to have him know that Jesus Christ died for us
upon the Cross before ascending to heaven; that He wanted to
remain among us in the Host in the tabernacle; that He
deigned to make Himself the food of our souls; that it is the
priest who changes the bread and wine into the Body and
Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ when he pronounces the words
of Consecration during Mass and that from this moment on
the Host is no longer bread but it has become the living Body
of Jesus Christ; that Jesus is hidden in this Host; that when
one receives Holy Communion he receives God into his heart
and that, therefore, he must before receiving cleanse his soul
from all stain of sin."
Moreover, the Instructions further observe that in addition to
the knowledge of the Eucharist as already described, the
child ought to know and understand to the best of his ability:
That he has been created by God;
That this God, the Creator and Sovereign Master of all things
is One only God;
That there are Three Persons in God: the Father, the Son, the
That the second Person became Man for us, suffered and died
upon the Cross to save us;
That the person who with the grace of Jesus Christ does good
by observing the law of God will be rewarded by God in
While the person who does evil by disobeying the law of God
and who dies in the state of mortal sin will be deprived of the
vision of God in heaven and will be punished eternally in
It is important to note the stress laid upon the two phrases,
according to his capacity and to the best of his ability.
The Church does not demand a profound knowledge; she
requires only a knowledge proportionate to the age of the
child. It is not necessary for him to know bookish formulas
by heart; nor is it sufficient for him to learn by heart
explanations which he recites like a parrot. The child should
understand--according to his capacity, yes--but he should
EUCHARISTIC EDUCATION ( 2 )
BESIDES the knowledge of the truths of faith which the child
should have according to his age and intelligence, the Church
requires of him the desire to approach God in the Eucharist
before admitting him to his First Holy Communion. Diocesan
"It is essential that, knowing the infinite love which brings
our Divine Savior to him and the desire Our Lord has to give
Himself and to unite Himself with him in Holy Communion,
the child should on his part desire to approach Jesus and give
evidence of his veneration and his love for Him."
This sufficient devotion supposes:
"The pious recitation of the prayers essential for the
Christian: The Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostles' Creed,
the Acts of Faith, Hope, Charity and of Contrition and
dispositions of reverence toward the Holy Eucharist."
At what age can these conditions be realized?
Canon Law avoids setting a mathematical age. It states:
"All the faithful of either sex who have attained the age of
discretion, that is to say, the age of reason, ought to receive
the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at least once a year,
during the Easter season, unless on the advice of his own
confessor and for a reasonable cause he be justified in
differing for the time being from the accomplishment of this
precept." (Canon 859)
We can readily understand that because of differences in
intelligence, receptivity of soul, educational environment,
and the catechetical instruction obtainable the age required
for First Holy Communion can vary. It is up to those charged
with the spiritual care of the child to determine whether he
has attained the correct age. Children attain it sooner than we
might think in many cases.
If parents want to stimulate a desire for Holy Communion in
their child, is it not evident that they themselves must have
an ardent hunger for It? A mother who seldom receives Holy
Communion will hardly be able to instill in her little ones a
desire to receive Jesus. Should she none the less succeed in
imparting to them a burning desire for Holy Communion, how
will she then prevent their astonishment at her own lack of
eagerness to communicate? What is good for the children is
good for mamma, too, isn't it?
All things considered, is it not also true that what holds for
the mother holds equally for the father?
Certainly there may at times be sufficiently justifiable
reasons why papa and mamma cannot receive Holy
Communion so often as their children and the reasons can be
given to the children. However, it is well to remember that a
child uses admirable logic. He will not accept as a precious
treasure something which no one around him appears to
Further there is nothing that so convinces and draws him as
EUCHARISTIC EDUCATION ( 3 )
IT WOULD be a mistake to limit the Eucharistic knowledge of
the child to an understanding of the Real Presence and the
nature of Holy Communion.
As soon as possible and in proportion to the unfolding of his
understanding, the child should be initiated into the Mystery
of the Eucharistic-Sacrifice, or in other words, he should be
given an intelligent appreciation of the Mass. This naturally
supposes that those instructing him have complete and
correct information on this vital subject--unfortunately, this
is not often the case.
It is easy to explain even to relatively young children--as was
evidenced in the Children's Crusade--that Our Lord did not
want to limit the offering of His immolation on the Cross to a
single day, to Good Friday only.
Because sins were going to continue to swarm the earth, it
was fitting--although certainly in itself not necessary, but
assuredly fitting--for Our Lord to repeat His elevation
between earth and heaven, to put Himself as a screen--the
screen of His nail-pierced Hands and open Side--between the
justice of God perpetually outraged and the sins of humanity.
Consequently, before dying, Our Lord gave to His Apostles
and their successors the power to change bread and wine into
His Body and Blood, the power to offer Him anew, the power
in each Holy Mass to lift him up again between earth and
Since every day is marked by sin and the betrayal of Judas, by
the crimes of men, by forgetfulness and ingratitude without
name on the part of so many people, it is fitting, says Bossuet,
that every day be a Good Friday.
Our Lord in every Mass has again in the hands of the priest
the dispositions of complete sacrifice that were in His Heart
at the moment of the First Eucharistic Offering and which He
kept throughout His Passion and His agony on the Cross.
In this way will the Offering of His Sacrifice be perpetuated.
It is not a different immolation from the immolation of Holy
Thursday at the Last Supper; it is the same. Nor is it a
different immolation from the immolation on Calvary. There
it was a bloody sacrifice; at the altar, in the Mass, it is an
unbloody sacrifice. The form alone is different.
In order to stress the identity of the Mass and the Sacrifice of
the Cross--for it is a dogma that they are one and the same
sacrifice--the Church provides carefully that at every Holy
Mass a great number of details recall the immolation of Jesus
The priest may not celebrate Mass unless there is a crucifix
above the altar. The altar stone beneath the altar cloths is
marked by five crosses which recall the five Wounds of Our
Lord. All the objects the priest uses and the vestments he
wears have reminders of the cross.
There should then not be too much difficulty for the child if
he is alert to become well informed about the ineffable
mystery of Christ's renewed or rather continued immolation.
Then he will get the habit--and a very essential habit it is--of
receiving Holy Communion not only to receive but also to
give; not only to benefit by the Living Bread but to unite
himself with Jesus in the very act of His perpetuated
EUCHARISTIC EDUCATION (4)
SHOULD children be led further in their Eucharistic education
than the phases discussed so far? That is, should they at such
an early age be introduced to the subject of grace,
particularly the ineffable grace given to the world through
the Sacrament of the altar?
It may be advisable to wait a bit before introducing them to
the subject of grace but it should be kept constantly in mind.
We ought not take it upon ourselves to dispense to these little
Christians only a part of Christianity.
Before we can penetrate to the depths of the Eucharistic
mystery, we must understand the great doctrine of our
incorporation in Christ: Our Lord, in order to restore to us the
divine life which we lost by original sin, was not satisfied to
redeem us from without by paying our debts with the merits
of His life and sacrifice; He wanted to make us one with Him
which, as I have already understood in my meditations, is the
culminating point of Christianity. Our Lord in order to
redivinize us made us one with Himself.
Thanks to the bloody grafting Our Divine Lord was willing to
endure for love of us on Calvary, we were made capable of
being joined, set and established as branches of the Living
Trunk. Baptism made this sublime incorporation effective for
each of us.
Since Calvary, then, we are of the body of Christ--Christ's
mystical body: Jesus plus us. "I am the Vine, you are the
A beautiful and strictly logical consequence follows: Just as
the Divine Redeemer dying on the Cross offered Himself as
Head of the whole human race, so in this pure oblation He
offers not only Himself as Head of the Church to the
Heavenly Father, but in Himself, His mystical members as
Since Calvary, Jesus is not separated from His members. A
person passing through a door does not first put his head
through and then fifty feet later bring through the other
members of his body; he goes through as a unit at one time.
Is it so difficult to get our little Christians to understand that?
Naturally, we will attempt to explain it to them only after we
have made them conscious of what their baptism means to
them and the splendor of their status in Christ.
We tell ourselves too easily that it is difficult and under this
satisfying pretext we neglect to give the young the relish and
the knowledge for their splendor which they are actually
capable of enjoying.
I will teach my children as soon as possible to find in the
Eucharist Christ's great plan for proving His love. "He has
made us one with Him. In the act of sacrifice through the
hands of the priest, whose word alone has brought Him to be
present on the altar the Faithful themselves with one desire
and one prayer offer to the Eternal Father the most acceptable
victim of praise and propitiation for the Church's universal
EUCHARISTIC EDUCATION (5)
WE OUGHT to get the children into the habit of going to Holy
Communion not only to receive, although that in itself is a
tremendous privilege for "Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son
of Man you shall not have life in you" but most of all to give.
We have considered this point before, but it is worthy of
How can we expect to enter into a true union with One who is
both the Immolation and the Immolated if we do not strive to
nourish the spirit of sacrifice in the very depths of our being?
To join together two beings one of whom is in the state of
sacrifice and the other not, one who is imbued with the spirit
of generosity and immolation and one who is not would be
but a juxtaposition of two totally different beings. Is that
The spirit of sacrifice then is the prime disposition we should
foster in ourselves if we wish to profit the most from the
Eucharist. The priest at the Offertory puts a few drops of
water into the chalice. We must pour our whole selves into
the chalice to be offered.
The desire to give much more than the desire to receive
should move us. To offer our generosity; to understand the
call to sacrifice, to a united sacrifice, that is the Eucharistic
If only we could inspire all our religious practices and
activities with this disposition which means so much to us
when we are participating in the highest act of worship
possible, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
For how many is their whole life of prayer only their prayers
of petition! They are in difficulty, they need something and
they hold out their hand, "Lord, give me...." Such a prayer is
not forbidden, but that is not all there is to prayer.
"Prayer," says the Catechism, "is the raising up of our minds
and hearts to God...." Why? In order to adore Him, to thank
Him, to beg His pardon and to implore His graces.
The petition for graces comes last in the order of prayers.
First and foremost is the prayer of adoration, it is our homage
ascending to God. It is toward Him and not toward ourselves
that our souls are to be directed in prayer. "I praise You, O
God, for Your great glory." That is the fundamental sentiment
of the Gloria in Excelsis. "My soul doth magnify the Lord" is
Mary's exultant prayer, the Magnificat.
In the prayer of Thanksgiving, there is some thought of
ourselves but we are secondary. We pray because we have
received a gift from God. We thank Him for His beneficence.
This kind of prayer could be much more frequent! There are
so many who are in the habit of receiving without ever so
much as a "Thank You."
In the prayer for pardon, he who prays is surely present in his
prayer; he has sinned; it is of himself he speaks. The prayer
is excellent just the same, but it is only third in order of
How much prayer would there be left in the lives of most
Christians if their prayers of petition were omitted from their
worship of God?
How do I stand in this matter of prayer? Is it my principal
effort to interest God in my affairs rather than to interest
myself in Him?
I ought to broaden my concept of worship. I will teach my
children to petition, to implore, to thank, but above all I will
teach them to adore.
TRAINING TO PURITY (1)
THE child is naturally innocent. Moreover, if baptized, it
possesses with infused faith a special quality of innocence
which comes to it from the presence of the Holy Spirit in its
We must avoid any diminishing of this innocence. It is a great
mistake to think that because the child is innocent, "it doesn't
understand," and consequently to take no precautions; to be
lacking in vigilance over the child's bathing and dressing, to
let it run about without clothes, unsupervised before its
brothers and sisters.
The adults of the family, too, should avoid any immodesty
either in posture or dress before the little one; they should
keep out of its way pictures of questionable decency. True, at
the time, the harm may be slight or even negative, but the
child has eyes and a memory; it registers everything, stores it
Only when the child is still a baby should it be allowed to
stay in bed after it is awake. Great care should be exercised
for bodily cleanliness to prevent the formation of bad habits
that might result from discomfort. It is best to separate the
sexes for sleep and to give the children a bed that is not too
As the children grow older, we must be vigilant over their
choice of playmates. We should protect them from any
pictures, statues, advertisements or entertainment that can
disturb them. We are wise if we keep the children busy even
to the point of fatigue, but a fatigue in keeping with their age
and strength. Never should we praise children for their
beauty, especially little girls. We ought also to inspire them
to absolute confidence. In addition we must seize every
opportunity to show them positively the grandeur of purity.
People sometimes attempt to rear children as if they were
without sex. Children are either little boys or little girls. Long
before the awakening of their sex instincts, in fact from their
babyhood, their personality is distinctly individual and gives
foreshadowings of fatherhood or of motherhood. Sex,
although its characteristic functions do not become active
until the onset of puberty, impregnates the whole physical
and moral being from the beginning. Consequently, it is
important to foresee long in advance the unfolding of that
providential power which is still dormant yet capable of
being influenced beneficially or detrimentally at this early
stage according to the wisdom of the folly of its training.
It would be well, then, to heed the strong injunctions of a
one-time educator: "We must never forget that certain organs
of the child which still serve him only in the processes of
elimination will become for him during adolescence the seat
of the powerful passion of the flesh and that then certain
acts, looks, attitudes which now may be only vulgar or
immodest can easily be after the awakening of sexual urges
impure and perverse. Further, such acts and attitudes can
arouse unhealthy and troublesome sexual excitation
prematurely and during the crisis of adolescence turn
spontaneously into the development of a vice which seems to
be rooted in the soul from its budding forth so truly is habit
second nature; and habit is difficult to break even in early
We should not, however, be satisfied with a purely negative
training to holy purity, a training made up for the most part
of wise precautions. There is need, too, for positive training
in this beautiful virtue. This positive training will in part
consist of education in true facts, a discreet and chaste
explanation of the functions of the generative organs
according to God's plan; an explanation as complete as the
age of the child permits or requires. The duty of giving this
instruction falls largely upon the mother who only too often
finds herself inadequately prepared.
TRAINING TO PURITY (2)
IT IS a fact that even very young children become curious
about the difference of the sexes as well as the mystery of
generation and they express their curiosity with embarrassing
candor and directness in blunt questions: "Where do babies
In general, no one is better qualified than the mother to give
the initial instructions and information delicately, without
wounding innocence or troubling and shocking the child's
keenly susceptible soul by confronting it too brusquely with
disturbing new concepts. It is better for the father to instruct
the boys. Parents have the grace of state; furthermore, they
know or they ought to know how to speak to their children
and exactly what to say according to what the child already
knows or does not know, according to its impressionability,
its probable emotional reaction, its intelligence, its
The initial instruction must always be strictly individual,
never group instruction.
Such instruction should be given early enough, in time, but
never prematurely. Rarely should a mass of information be
given at once, but nearly always imparted progressively. One
must never give any false information, but neither is one
obliged to tell all there is to be told at one blow. Only such
knowledge should be given as is necessary to clarify the
present difficulty, to satisfy the child's curiosity at the time.
Later when occasion offers to complete the information, it
can be completed.
The introduction of the child to the facts of life must be
made with simplicity, without excessive preambles and
beating about the bush, objectively without clumsiness; they
must be presented as something quite natural but explained
in an atmosphere of earnestness, dignity and respect. There
must be nothing affected or borrowed in one's manner or
tone, only calmness and a natural everyday voice uncolored
by emotionalism. The child, however, must be made to
realize that he has been given no new subject for chatter with
his playmates and friends; if there is something he wishes to
speak of later regarding his new information or if there is
something he does not understand, he will always be able to
ask mother or father about it; he should speak to them about
A very sensible mother concluded the instructions she gave
her little one with these few words: "What I have just told you
is a secret, our secret. Now that you know it, give me your
hand and promise me that you will not question other people
about it or ever speak to anyone else about it, but only to
A little child will be flattered by such a mark of confidence
and being naturally pure will sense the reason for this
recommendation as clearly as if it had been expressed.
In addition, if the child is used to living in an atmosphere of
filial trust and abandonment, of respect for itself, of training
in sacrifice, supernatural generosity, daily contact with the
invisible world through prayer and love of God, its
instruction will prove singularly easy.
We cannot overemphasize the fact that "training to purity
must be set in the framework of a solid all-round training of
the will, the conscience, the emotions, the imagination and
the whole body." To enlighten the child regarding sex will
serve for nothing and can even be harmful if it has not first
been established in fidelity in the light of spirituality, and in
energy of will.
In other words, formal training to purity must be preceded by
training pure and simple. It will be possible to speak clearly
to a child who lives in an environment that is deeply
impregnated with Christianity. In his tranquil soul, innocent
and disciplined as it is, useful initiations can take place with
profit and without causing any trouble; his delicate
conscience will understand; his refined and mortified
emotions will yield readily to the requirements of modesty,
and he will not be stimulated to an unhealthy curiosity.
TRAINING TO PURITY (3)
SATISFYING the child s legitimate curiosity is not of itself a
sufficient antidote against evil; the nascent passions aiding a
precocious corruption in which the mind could effect a
premature awakening of troubling instincts could very easily
be the starting point of impure habits. It is essential that with
or preferably before we enlighten the child's mind on sex, we
inspire him with a love for moral beauty and develop in him a
When we have done this, how should we proceed in teaching
the child the mystery of life?
There are two aspects to the lesson: to explain the role of the
mother in generation which is relatively easy; to explain the
role of the father which is more delicate and which should
consequently be given much later.
For the explanation of the first phase of this lesson there is
no better starting point than the Hail Mary, "Blessed is the
fruit of thy womb, Jesus."
"How beautiful it is," said little Guy de Fontgalland to his
father one day, "how beautiful it is that little Jesus, wishing to
come to earth like us, hid Himself for nine months within His
mother, in His mother's womb! How beautiful it is! I learned
that today when I said the Hail Mary; I understood it. How
little Jesus must love us to do that for us!"
In "Formation de la chastete" by Ernst, we read an example of
how easily and simply a mother went about the instruction of
her child. "Where do babies come from?" queried her seven-
year-old son. She answered with a story:
"Your father and mother love each other very much.
Therefore, they wanted a child with all their hearts. You know
that little children come from God: He created the first man
and gave all people life. But when He wanted to make another
man, He made use of parents and He put love into their heart.
He makes the little baby grow from a tiny little seed which he
leaves hidden for almost a year in a dark little hiding place.
You know flowers, plants and even big trees come also from
little seeds. (It is good to call children's attention to that fact
very early as it makes a good background.) Now each grain
must first of all remain some time in the dark earth. The seed
of the child has been placed by God's plan in the womb of the
mother; that is its hiding place. That is where you, too,
remained quite near my heart and God made your body and
soul. How? No one really knows but God Himself. You grew
until you were big enough to be taken in my arms.
"Even though the mother suffers great pain and may be in
danger of losing her life when the baby comes into the world,
she is glad to bear it all for love of her little one. Besides her
joy is greater than her pain. Parents thank God for His gift
and promise Him to take good care of the child and rear it
There will be no difficulty if these instructions are given
before puberty when the opportunity arises.
The need to give the facts about the father's part in the
marital act is much less pressing. Such details can be given
when adolescent boys or girls ask specific questions on this
point revealing that the problem is uppermost in their mind
or when lack of knowledge if delayed would cause them
troubles of mind or soul; even when the subject is not on
their mind or causing them any difficulty, it may still seem
advisable to instruct them by way of preparation for life, as
for example, before they go away to school or enlist for
military service, or take a vacation job or any similar
occasion. How much better a revelation made with delicacy
and love than a brutal shock to conscience through
conversations, reading or impure pictures!
After giving the necessary details about the physiological
aspect of marriage, parents should never fail to lead their
child's mind as quickly as possible to a consideration of the
glorious purpose of generation--a participation in the creative
power of God.
TRAINING TO PURITY (4)
EVEN though there may be cases where it seems advisable to
give all the necessary explanations in a single sitting, in
general it is better to spread the lessons over a well-spaced
period of time and to grade them according to the
development of the child, its suspected temptations, and its
needs of soul.
Wise are parents and educators who show concern for the
child, foresee its needs, guess its worries, answer prudently
and discreetly its silent or expressed questioning. They need
much self-sacrifice and intelligence; but it is their role in life-
-the most beautiful part of their role.
After impressing the child with the fact that everything in the
mystery of the origin of life is sacred, divine--the union of
the parents, the generation of the child, which gives another
elect soul to God and another member to the Mystical Body--
is there any need to call attention to the gravity of the
desecrations that the perversity of men perpetrate against it?
Certainly such an idea should not be a starting point in our
explanations; the child's first ideas about the origin of life
must not be mingled with the concept of sin. The idea of,
magnificent grandeur should dominate. Later on, at an
opportune time and as the need arises, we can explain how
contrary to God's plan it is to interfere in any way with the
generation of life whether through selfishness or fear of
suffering; we can point out how God has surrounded the use
of the reproductive organs with special protections; we ought
to emphasize the safeguarding character of modesty and call
attention to the tremendous thought of God's divine presence
within us, making respect for our bodies imperative since
they are living temples of the Holy Spirit. We will tell them,
too, that God punishes severely the wicked use of the creative
power He has entrusted to His creatures, spiritually by loss of
grace and by hell and often corporally by disease.
What we must avoid above all is to give the children a sort of
obsession in regard to these matters. It is much better to
divert their attention from this subject than to concentrate it
there. One writer aptly says, "The best sex education is the
kind in which sex holds the least place possible." Another,
"The sacred work of nature must be enveloped by the triple
veil of modesty, silence, and obscurity."
We must say enough to enlighten the child, to silence his
curiosity, but refrain from saying more than necessary which
would excite further curiosity and trouble. We should
approach the instruction from its noblest side so that the
thought of the mystery of life will always be linked with the
thought of divine splendor. We need to pray much so that the
child by means of our efforts and despite dangers from
within and without will remain faithful in purity always,
faithful to the grace of his baptism; constant in living by the
light of faith. That means we cannot limit ourselves to purely
natural explanations but must steep our teaching in dogma--
the divine life of the Christian, his incorporation in Christ.
From these religious principles we can show that it is not
enough to have a beautiful ideal; we must live out this ideal,
an ideal that is both human and Christian. The necessity of
Confession, direction, and frequent Holy Communion, in
achieving the ideal ought to be stressed.
It is primarily in this endeavor that the words of Our Lord
have special significance: "Without Me you can do nothing."
And again, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." It is
folly to expose oneself to temptation and wise to moderate
one's love of comfort and pleasure, to learn how to conquer
oneself. Better still is it to learn how to spend oneself in the
service of others. Nothing is a better protection against
failings in self than the gift of self to others. The first
beneficiary of the apostolate is the apostle himself. We ought
to encourage youth to join in one or other of the special
Catholic Action groups of the Apostolate such as a C. Y. O.
group, a Sodality, or Catholic scout work. It will help
discipline the body while training the soul.
LAMARTINE'S mother wrote in her diary on June 19, 1801:
"I was thinking again today about the danger of light reading.
I believe that I would do well to refrain altogether from it; it
would be a sacrifice at first, a sacrifice that would certainly
please God since such reading is one of the most dangerous
pleasures in the world. Besides, when I am taken up with this
distracting kind of reading, serious and useful reading
wearies and bores me; yet, I certainly need it to become
capable of instructing my children. For their sakes I have
finally decided to deprive myself of the pleasures of
Parents should exercise care in their own reading. They, too,
must avoid all that could sully their souls and rob them of
virtue. They can go even further and like Lamartine's mother
give up reading that consumes the precious time which could
be spent in useful reading. One needs to know so many
things to rear children! Making due allowance for needful and
useful distractions, one ought always to choose reading
matter that will enrich the mind and foster the qualities
needed for the delicate ministry of parenthood.
What good fortune to be helped in advance by one's children:
"For their sakes, I am finally decided to deprive myself of the
pleasure of frivolous reading."
But the parents' reading is not the only problem. There is
another, the children's reading. What great imprudence is
evident in many families where all sorts of reviews,
magazines, newspapers, and books definitely unfit for
children are left lying about in their way; where unwise
freedom of the library is granted and children can ferret out
books that are often harmful to their morals and Christian
Jean Jacques Rousseau's story is well known. Born a Calvinist
of parents who could scarcely be called commendable, he
met with nothing but disturbing examples in his early
childhood; however, he manifested a singular purity in
resisting all interior and exterior temptations to corruption.
He became a Catholic later and felt himself drawn to the
priesthood. But his superiors decided at the end of a few
weeks that he definitely did not have the makings of a good
priest in him.
Some time after he left the seminary he was perverted
morally by his benefactor, Madame de Warrens, who by most
culpable relations shamefully debased the youth she called
"Little one" despite her claim of wanting to act as "Mother" to
Awakening to a realization of his condition, Rousseau wrote
in 1738: "O my God, pardon the sins I have committed up to
this day, all the evils into which I have fallen.... Accept my
repentance, O God, ...I will remember that You are the witness
of all my actions.... I will be indulgent toward others, severe
toward myself; I will resist temptations; I will live purely.... O
my sovereign Master, I will spend my life in serving You."
But unfortunately a library was opened to him and he
"perused books with a sort of frenzy," with no direction, no
discernment. He fell under the influence of Diderot, and
became a recruit for the Encyclopedists.
We know the rest. His story should incite us to serious
thought. On what does the orientation of a life depend? An
unlocked door, momentary forgetfulness, negligence--and a
soul is perverted forever!
The conclusion is evident: Never to have bad books in the
house. What good comes of them?
If for purposes of study or other reasons, books which might
prove dangerous for the rest of the family are absolutely
essential, they must always be kept in a locked place.
Children are curious, so too are the help. Harm is quickly
TRAINING OF THE EMOTIONS
MANY parents are too soft in the training of their children. In
order not to pain their offspring, they give in to their every
whim. If the little one wants to be kissed, it is kissed; more
often than not its desire for the kiss is anticipated by the
parents to satisfy a desire of their own and to shower upon
the little one proofs of an exaggerated tenderness. Should the
child want a piece of candy, an object to examine, the parents
rush to give it; they give him everything he wants or they
think he wants.
What is the result? A child incapable of self denial; a child
who seeks only one thing, the satisfaction of his little
cravings. What a great danger for later life!
Father Viollet, director of the Association of Catholic Mothers,
speaking at its convention in 1929 said:
"Consider a mother who has obeyed all the corporal whims of
her child; she has in so doing prepared for all the child's
future falls. The little one lives as it were only by the senses
of taste and touch. If a mother satisfies every sensual desire
of the child in the delight of the palate and bodily comforts,
she unconsciously makes it a slave of its desires; are we not
correct then in saying that she herself has paved the way for
the child's powerlessness later to control its sexual life?
"When sex urges appear, it is only a matter of a change of
place for the sense cravings: The desires that in the child
were but the hankerings of its palate will spread at the age of
puberty to the other parts of the body. If the child has not
been accustomed from little on to control his sense of taste
and touch, how do we suppose he can escape becoming the
slave of sexual sensuality? This is a point that cannot be
Some parents are too demonstrative toward their children. Of
course, there is no question of forbidding all marks of
affection so natural on the part of the parents for their
children and the children for their parents; that too would be
an extreme. It is simply a matter of moderating tender
caresses, of keeping them in their proper measure, well-
Just as it is essential for children to be reared in an
atmosphere of joyous confidence, loving simplicity,
harmonious companionship penetrated through and through
with mutual love, so too it is essential to avoid excess in
demonstrations of affection, endearing expressions, caresses
and fondling. Excess in this just as excess in any other
respect is a defect. It is easy to fall into such excess. Canon
Dermine, a very understanding man, made this comment:
"Parents, older brothers and sisters, maids, governesses,
friends of the family are inclined by the attraction of their
own feelings to shower babies with hugs and kisses. These
immoderate manifestations, although they have nothing
indecent about them, are not without danger, for they nourish
in the child a need for tenderness and a sort of sensuality
which can easily become a predisposition for the awakening
of the passions. Here moderation should be the rule."
The training of the children begins in the training of the
parents. They ought to moderate their own feelings if they do
not want their children to give evidence later of some
dangerously exacting needs. There is one kind of glutton who
stuffs himself with food and sweets; there is another who is
consumed by a need for caresses.
Let us be moderate ourselves on these points so that we can
teach the children to be moderate. Training is built on wise
and intelligent moderation.
THE CHILD AND LAZINESS
IT HAS been said that a great difficulty in child-training is to
know when to caress and when to whip.
While it is true that many of the child's faults arise from his
physical condition, we should not exaggerate that fact;
however, until we have proved that the fault is not the result
of a physical state, an embrace is of more value than a
But here is a child whose faults are moral not physical, nor is
there a psychological difficulty involved; he is sensual, he
lies and he steals. There is nothing for it but to use restraints
and punishments, without, however, neglecting wholesome
encouragement at any manifestation of good will.
This is all very simple in theory, but the practical application
of it is not always easy especially when the fault in question
happens to be laziness. When a normally intelligent child
dawdles at his work; when in spite of all efforts to stimulate
him with high motives of courage, hope of reward and similar
attractions, he persists in his inertia, chances are that he has
something physically wrong with him or he is suffering from
poor hygienic conditions. There was, for example, the little
boy who appeared to be disgustingly lazy. One day, however,
an attack of appendicitis made an operation imperative for
him. Six months later, the child was at the head of his class.
Another child was in a classroom that was overcrowded and
the atmosphere was so vitiated that he had difficulty
breathing. He was sent to the country and immediately his
work habits improved.
Whipping in either of these two cases would have been no
help in curing the laziness of the children; all that was
necessary was to make conditions favorable for work.
But there are truly lazy children; theirs is a moral laziness:
They won't work at all because they don't have the least bit of
energy. The Catechism defines laziness as "an excessive love
of rest which makes one avoid every painful duty." That is
exactly what it is.
Now people who work do so either through a taste for it,
through self-respect or because of duty. The problem, then,
with the really lazy child is to try to stimulate in him a liking
for work or awaken in him a legitimate self-respect or develop
in him a sense of duty.
Stimulate a liking for work: Sometimes children dislike school
work especially because their beginning lessons in a subject
were poorly taught. The child was repulsed by initial
difficulties. That is often the case in mathematics.
"My son is getting along all right," a mother explained, "but he
is a little weak in Greek." The fact was that the elements of
that language had been badly explained to him. A clever
professor took him in hand, showed him that Greek was
easier than Latin once the first difficulties of the alphabet,
the declensions, and the conjugations had been conquered.
The boy won a first in Greek.
Awaken a legitimate self-respect: Some children prefer rest
and comfort to all else. The last place bothers them very
little. They seem to have no ambition; they are utterly
indifferent to success. We need not fear to humiliate them
but we must be vigilant not to discourage them. The dunce
cap worn too often frequently produces a real dunce. We
must be ingenious to find a way to make that pupil succeed
in something at least once. This could be a good starting
point; then, if nothing comes of it, punishment should follow.
We are, it must be remembered, considering the case of a
child who does not succeed, not because he lacks the means,
but because he does not work.
Develop a sense of duty: "You ought to work because papa and
mamma wish it and God asks it." Bring into play a filial spirit
and love of God.
Parents must know correct child psychology. They are the
ones who have given him his physiological being. It is up to
them to examine whether anything in his physical condition
explains his inertia at work; they are in a better position than
anyone else to determine this. If the deficiency is
psychological, they have the responsibility for seeking into
its cause and supplying the appropriate remedy. It is up to
them, without substituting their own activity for the child's to
teach him how to will by stimulating his will.
CHILDREN who do not work or who work badly are of several
There are sickly children: Here the remedy is up to the
There are poorly endowed children: They are not exactly ill;
people can be in splendid health without being very
intelligent. Some children have little talent. Rare are the
parents who have the courage to recognize it; they are
ashamed, and wrongly so, of the weak instrument their
offspring has received. They ought to pity the child whose
mind is less keen as they pity the child who is crippled or in
weak health. Besides with patience they can sometimes
achieve excellent results.
Then there are children who are badly trained by their
parents or poorly taught by their teachers. They have been
allowed to acquire habits of disorder and caprice or they have
been roughly treated, overwhelmed with tasks beyond their
ability to the point of being crushed by their work; they have
been taught neither discipline nor a good method of work. In
their case poor pedagogy is to blame. Finally, there are the
actually lazy children: They are sufficiently endowed,
sufficiently healthy to do normal work, but they refuse to
apply themselves, go at their work grudgingly and seek to do
the least possible amount of work.
Such evil is frequently traceable to an early childhood
marked by too soft a training, an inadequate training in effort
and endurance. The child did not start early enough to use
profitably the opportunities to exercise liberty, to assume
responsibility and to attack work. The parents acted for him
instead of trying to form him. They lacked skill in
transforming play into work and work into play. They gave
him toys which offered him no chance to use his intelligence,
his constructive bent, his imagination and creative powers.
And whenever they held out the prospect of school life to him
they led him to regard it as a task or punishment: "If you are
not good at home we will send you to school soon," instead of
"If you are good, we shall be able to send you to school and
you will have the joy of beginning to work."
The child who is poorly trained will get accustomed to
cutting his life up into two parts: the principal part belongs to
pleasure with the other part thrown in from time to time--
those boring moments assigned to work. He should have been
impressed with the idea that work is the law of our whole life;
it is the unfolding and the extension of our powers and if it
brings with it a certain amount of labor, it also brings with it
a greater amount of joy which results from overcoming
difficulties, acquiring new knowledge and opening up
additional possibilities for advancing farther into the field of
truth. Recreations, games are but opportunities to relax and
to stretch out into the open as it were to grasp new strength
for further work.
Work should be presented not as a drudgery but as a
conquest. Very early in life the child should be led to
envision his future career or mission: "If you want to become
an engineer, a sailor, then...." Or "You will be a mother maybe
and you will have to keep house." They should see that papa
and mamma find pleasure in work and better still that work
pleases God. We must all of us sanctify ourselves in the duty
of our state at each moment whether we like it or not. If we
like it, so much the better. If we do not like it, then we ought
to put greater generosity into it and offer our suffering for a
worthy cause, such as the missions, the sanctification of
priests and religious, one's family and many similar good
Care should be taken not to overdo the reward idea,
especially rewards promised as a prize for work requested;
that develops calculating hearts. Ask for work for the reasons
previously indicated and wait for an opportunity to give an
appropriate recompense on some other occasion; it will be so
much more a prize since it will be unexpected.
TRAINING IN SINCERITY (1)
THE CHILD is exposed to two sorts of lies: the lie of which he
himself is the victim; the lie of which he makes others the
The child has an imagination that never ceases its activity.
His first contacts with the world have been with dream
powers; he knows nothing yet of reality being much too little
to grasp it; he makes a world for himself, a world in which he
is king and lord. Even later when he does begin to get in
touch with reality, he will use it only as a springboard to
project himself into the stars. Dream and reality overlap in
his little head without harming each other; they merely
embellish each other and he will not be able to recognize the
line of separation. That accounts for so much fantasy in his
conversation and the astonishing liberty he takes with what
we adults hold as true.
Weighed by our standards, it is clearly evident that the
child's stories sound to us like downright inventions. He
himself will be taken in by his own game. He will distort with
delight, improvise the strangest scenes without shame. Will
he always be able to distinguish whether he is the dupe of his
imagination or not? Whether he is sincere or not? He is a
wonderful builder of castles in the air and he will often
endeavor to persuade those about him with the solidity of his
edifices. Shall we call him a liar?
--Certainly not, rather an actor, an artist, a poet.
Parents and educators know well how advantageously they
can utilize this power of recall and creation that children
have. Consequently, they know no better way to amuse them
and keep them quiet than to tell them stories--stories that are
entirely fictitious, tales of magic, picturesque legends in
which ghosts, fairies or devils play enchanting roles.
Let us not carry water too generously to the fountain. Yes,
certainly, we can tell the little ones charming stories but with
moderation. Make the children want them; however, avoid
killing their effect by telling too many in close sequence.
Children must be able to think over the stories, mediate on
them, and through them discover life as it is. If the stories
resemble each other or follow in too close succession, the
child's imagination will jumble everything; the profit is
One precaution is vital: The stories, which will surely always
be very appealing and not without some suggestion of
complication and mystery, must definitely present virtue in a
beautiful light; otherwise, the child will be occupied,
entertained and kept interested but he will not be educated or
inspired. Since he is possessed of uncompromising logic he
will be quick to draw dangerous conclusions if he sees vice
rewarded; and the unpleasant results may not be slight. From
this standpoint some puppet shows are not so innocent as
they appear. We must not be pharisaical but we must know
how to foresee danger. With children everything is important.
Even one or the other of La Fontaine's fables have
questionable merit for children. Fortunately, with these
fables, the children are much more interested in the activities
of the characters than in the moral demonstrated. As one
child put it: "Fables are entertaining; it is a pity though that
there must always be a tiresome closing at the end." He was
referring to the final two or three lines, the author's moral
tag, which pointed out the lesson to be taught.
Let us not forget that the most beautiful stories are not made-
up stories, but stories that really happened. "Did that really
happen, mamma?" What a joy to be able to answer yes to that
question. Why not take the bulk of our stories, if not
exclusively at least mostly, from the lives of the saints, from
the Gospel stories? Where can anything more wonderful,
more truly wonderful, and at the same time more authentic,
TRAINING IN SINCERITY (2)
THERE is another kind of lie possible for the child, one that
has moral significance, and that is the lie told with the actual
intention of deceiving.
He may categorically deny his guilt when accused of a fault
he has actually committed, or he may invent falsehoods
through vanity. In the first instance he is seeking to
exonerate himself; in the second, to make himself more
Often the reason the child tells the first kind of lie is that the
punishment he gets for his little pranks and misdemeanors is
out of all proportion to his offense. So many parents punish
under the influence of anger that cruel words, exaggerated
expressions and sometimes mean acts escape them. The child
unable to resist by strength seeks to escape by deceit.
Sometimes the child lies for the sole satisfaction of excusing
himself; not to mention the case, which is not at all fantastic,
where the child lies for the sake of lying through an
unhealthy tendency which is fortunately rare. In cases of this
kind, the little offender must be shown how ugly such a fault
is, how unworthy of him and how saddening for his parents.
Wise indeed was the mother who used the following
technique on her four-year-old daughter the first time she
tried to deceive her.
"My little girl has lied to me. This is the first time that anyone
has lied in this house; therefore my little one may not have
any dessert today because she deserves to be punished and
mamma will not eat either because she will not be able to; she
feels too sad."
Even when children are older such a method is good. A
certain colonel had entrusted his sixteen-year-old son with
the honor of keeping the flag of his regiment in his room; he
took the privilege away from him as a punishment for a small
The following counsel ought to be adopted as principles of
conduct by those who want to inculcate an appreciation of
sincerity in their children:
1. To create and to maintain an atmosphere of loyalty, of
uprightness and of utter truth in the home. To instill a horror
of sham, of pretense, of playing-up through policy. To
encourage simplicity in everything; to take it for granted that
no one will seek to pass for what he is not; that if one has
done wrong he will admit it. To refrain from upbraiding and
to tolerate no tattling. To praise another for his truthfulness
particularly if it cost him something.
2. Never to set an example of lying or give any
encouragement to lying. No bluff: "When the teacher asks you
if you did your homework all alone say yes." None of that!
3. Never to give a child the impression that we believe him to
be a liar, but rather to manifest confidence in him. That will
encourage him to be truthful and develop his self-respect.
4. Never to demand any immediate avowal of faults in the
presence of others.
5. Never to laugh at any clever little lie told by the child to
get out of facing up to a mistake or fault.
6. Never to lose an opportunity of praising for honesty and
reproving for duplicity.
The last and most important of all advice is to inculcate in
the child the sense of the Divine Presence. Help him to
realize that God is everywhere, as the proverb puts it, "God
sees a black ant on the blackest marble in the blackest night."
Above all help him to understand that God dwells in the
depths of his baptized soul. "You are a living ciborium. You
can deceive your parents, your playmates, your friends. God
accompanies you everywhere: Be firm out of respect for the
divine Guest who does not leave you."
TRAINING IN SINCERITY (3)
THE best way to encourage a child to be truthful at all times
is to use strong positive appeals.
1. Appeal to personal dignity and pride: General de
Lamoriciere used to say, "I shall die without ever having told
a lie." And little Guy de Fontgalland, "I have never lied; I have
too great a horror of untruth."
Beneath the doorway of the Church of Santa Maria in
Cosmedin, at Rome there is an immense slab of antique
marble on which is drawn a face with a wide open mouth--The
Mouth of Truth, La bocca della verita. Legend has it that it
closes mercilessly on the fingers of liars. The biographer of
the Empress Zita relates that when she was a little girl she
used to plunge her fingers into the bocca positive of
withdrawing them intact because as she explained, "I have
never lied." Is not the reproach, "you are a liar" one of the
2. Appeal to Courage: The story of George Washington and
the cherry tree is a classic. We all know it. The father
appreciated his son's courage and praised him with the
words: "Your honesty is worth more than the most beautiful
According to Corneille, to be honest is to be a gentleman:
He who calls himself a gentleman and lies as you do
Lies when he says it, and will never be one.
Is there vice more vile, is there stain more black
More unworthy of a man . . .
3. Appeal to Love for Peace: Corneille wrote his play "The Liar"
to show that he who deceives others is not happy. Once he
has entangled himself in the web of deceit and dissimulation,
he needs a good memory for all the tales he has invented.
What if he were to give himself away, reveal his deceit? That
must be a constant worry.
How truly psychological was the answer of the individual who
responded to the question, "Are you really telling the truth"
with the statement, "I never lie; I am too busy; lying would
befuddle me too much, get me too involved."
Truthfulness is further a guarantee of success. Sincerity is
the best policy; we mistrust one who is known as a sly fellow,
a dissembler, without integrity. We are not wary of an upright
person. To be honest is the best way to be clever.
In general, a frank admission of guilt disarms. Madame
Acarie, an outstanding Christian of the seventeenth century
often said to her children, "Even if you would turn the whole
house topsy-turvy and destroy it, but admit it when
questioned, I should pardon you; however, I will never pardon
you the smallest lie. Even if you were as tall as the ceiling I
would get some women to help me hold you rather than allow
a lie to slip by without punishment; nor would the whole
world together succeed in getting me to pardon you."
The conclusion is evident. I will strive to give my children the
Gospel principle, "Let your words be yea, yea; nay, nay."
The example of that upright soldier General de Maudhuy
could well be an inspiration for me; he composed the
following soldier-prayer for his boys, "My lord, Saint Louis,
Sir Bertrand du Guselin et Sir Bayard obtain for me the grace
to be brave like you and never to lie either to myself or to
HONESTY AND TACT
To TEACH children to be honest and at the same time to
develop in them a feeling for the requirements of tact so that
they learn to keep to themselves opinions which might wound
or embarrass others is a delicate undertaking.
While a child may occasionally be given to lying, he is, unless
perverted, much more inclined to speak the truth. He will
blurt it out regardless of place or circumstances. Has he not
often won for himself the epithet terrible for no other reason
than his disconcerting honesty?
--"Godfather, are you going to stay a long time this evening?"
--"Oh, just about the usual time. Why?"
--"Because, Mamma says there's just no way of getting you to
It is necessary but not easy to make the child appreciate
where sincerity ends and indiscretion begins; to teach him,
without dulling the lustre of his honesty, that it is not always
good to say everything just because it is true and that
politeness and even charity require us to practice self-
restraint and not give free rein to the expression of all
In his play "The Misanthrope," Moliere gave us the character
of Alceste who on the plea of honesty flung the unpleasant
truth about others into their very face. He succeeded not in
converting them but in bringing shame upon himself and
wounding seriously the self-respect of those he insulted with
his intemperate frankness.
Always to mean what one says is not the same as saying all
one thinks or all one knows.
Human beings are called to live together in society and there
can be cases where social life requires that words, those
external symbols of thought and feeling, be used outside of
strict material meaning or even contrary to it. We should not
call such statements lies or we will create a disturbing
confusion in the mind of the child who must be thoroughly
convinced that a lie is never justifiable.
Much of the difficulty will be cleared away if we make the
child understand that the purpose of speech is not only to
express the truth but also to foster life in common. We must
insist that lying is absolutely forbidden but likewise explain
that to defend one's secrets against the curious, one's purse
against thieves is a legitimate act which need not involve a
Catholic morality is the morality of truth and honesty; but
being human and social, it is also the morality of prudence,
of justice and of charity.
IS SELF-ACCUSATION OBLIGATORY?
WE HAVE seen the difficulty and the necessity of giving the
child a correct notion of the consideration due to politeness
and charity in the true spirit of sincerity.
There is yet another difficulty: Many do not sufficiently
distinguish the exact limits of sincerity or rather the degree
of obligation to speak the entire truth.
"There is no obligation to speak the entire truth to one who
has no right to know it. We can use words in their usually
accepted meanings: we can allow circumstances to modify
the meanings of words: we can allow the hearer to deceive
St. Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, had to flee
from the anger of Henry II, the King of England. He was
pursued by the king's emissaries. As he rode along on a horse
with neither bridle nor saddle he was stopped by armed men.
"Are you possibly the Archbishop of Canterbury?"
--"Well, my friends," he answered, "look and judge for
yourselves whether or not this is the equipage of an
"Deceit and sharp practice!" some will protest. Not at all.
Simply a clear knowledge of the exact extent of the duty of
Take a case more directly concerned with education. Here let
us presume that those who question have a right to the truth,
the parents for example. There is even in this case a principle
intervening which does not allow them to push their right to
know the truth by demanding an avowal of guilt.
And this principle which all moral theologians recognize and
which is founded on great wisdom is that no one is obliged to
accuse himself. It is up to the accusers to prove the guilt and
to punish accordingly if the guilt is proved. If the culprit
does admit guilt it should be a reason for lessening the
punishment. But to make self-denunciation a necessity is
Consider the case of a little child suspected of a fault. "Did
you do that?" he is asked. According to correct morality, he
cannot be forced to accuse himself. If the child says the
whole truth, perfect! He is not obliged to. When he does, he is
generous, doing more than he must; he has a right then to
marked leniency. "A fault confessed is half pardonned." But
one oversteps his power by commanding him to hide nothing,
by telling him that he sins if he does not accuse himself. He
does the better thing in accusing himself but commits no
fault in not accusing himself; he is guilty of an imperfection
but no sin.
Certainly it is better to accustom the child to admit the truth
at all times, but to make it a formal duty in every case is to
urge the law beyond reason and to confound a generous
attitude with an obligatory attitude. One of the most essential
points in the formation of the child's conscience is to teach
him to discern what is commanded from what is simply
though earnestly counseled.
TRAINING TO CONFIDENCE
CONFIDENCE is necessary. Nothing is so sad as those chasms
which divide parents and children, causing them to lead lives
practically isolated from each other, with no contact of soul,
no intimacy between them.
Difficult moments will come, temptations will arise, decisions
will have to be made and action determined. If children have
no confidence in their parents, to what dangers they will be
But this confidence is difficult to get.
One important reason for the difficulty arises from the
physical or moral temperament of the parents and of the
children. The parents must know how to vanquish their little
ones' fears, consent to their advances and not be afraid to
Sometimes this confidence is blocked by other reasons which
parents only too often overlook. There are for example
parents, who because they are not sufficiently supernatural,
openly show more affection for one child than another or
give fewer marks of affection to one child. The child who
believes himself slighted may turn inward and become sullen
Again there are parents who are unbalanced in their
punishments or fail to be just. There are others who are
woefully ignorant of psychology and as a consequence
seriously wound the self-respect of a child. He retaliates by
closing up his heart.
A mother once laughed at a candid confidence her little boy
revealed to her. He was hurt.
--"Papa," he said, "I don't love mamma anymore."
--"What's that! Is it possible? Why not?"
--"Why? . . . Well, that's just how it is. I don't want to tell her
anything anymore . . . never anymore."
The father tried in vain to reason with him but he remained
--"No, that's the end. I don't love mamma anymore!"
It may have been mere caprice and doubtless it was; time
would probably clear it up. Yet, who knows?
Like all fragile things, the child's heart is easily scarred. And
as with all things that have been marred it is not easy to
restore the lustre, to efface all the blemishes.
Parents who want their children's confidence must know how
to listen, to listen untiringly. They must be able to show
interest in their triumphant little stories as well as in their
grievances. They may never ridicule them, never rebuff them
through irritation or nervousness and never deceive them.
They must know how to read their children without trying in
any way to force an entry into their hearts or consciences;
rather, they must be clever at inviting a confidence,
dispelling a cloud, evoking a smile, creating a diversion in
case of a mishap or tempest. They must show understanding
always and make the children feel that they can tell them
everything. Not that they approve of everything, but they
take everything into consideration; if then adjustments are
called for they make them; if rewards are merited, they
bestow them. And when they must punish they do so with
only the good of the child in mind so that, if the age of the
child warrants it, they will explain the reason for their
If in spite of all this, a child still persists in being withdrawn
and uncommunicative, reserved as a hermit, there is nothing
else to do but pray. Parents should not grow discouraged. Of
course they should try to discover whether this reticence is
the result of temperament or conscience worries. It might
even be necessary for them to turn to someone else for help,
someone who will be more successful because more
competent. In many cases this could be a priest. It is a great
mistake for parents to want to be the only recipients of their
children's confidence. The child, the adolescent must be able
to confide in someone. If we are not the one, and someone
else is, let us accept the fact humbly. Such renunciation is
very meritorious especially for the mother.
"ALL MY TRUST"
"I GET all my trust from my mother," Joan of Arc used to say.
Pauline Jaricot, the foundress of the Society for the
Propagation of the Faith, could say the same. Every evening
her mother used to gaze into her eyes to read the story of the
day's fidelities to God's law which she had explained to the
little girl with much unction.
Something similar took place in the training of the boy
Augustine in Malegue's "The Master is Here:" Never did his
mother reprimand him for his failings without reminding him
that he had grieved Little Jesus. "It makes Little Jesus sad
when you stamp your foot because you want to go home;
when you refuse to leave the table so that it can be set just
because you are busy doing a water color in your Christmas
Each day he was expected to learn two Catechism questions:
"Every morning after breakfast in Big Catherine's kitchen,
mamma heard the recitation of the two Catechism questions
she had explained the evening before. Tiny sister Christine
balancing herself on her yet unsteady legs used to pull at
mamma's dress. That would be just the time when the baby
would set up a howl in his cradle.
"Mingled with this morning hubbub were the words of
Theology. They were difficult and impressive words. They
were like the words grown-ups use when they don't want little
children to understand what they are saying. It is true that
mamma put other words in their place to explain them."
Happy the man to whom God gives a saintly mother!
This verse of Lamartine will always be profoundly true!
Who can tell the mother's great power to make the Faith take
root in the mind of the child and to plant seeds of the most
beautiful virtues in his heart. And will we not have to give
primary credit to these first lessons of childhood for
whatever remains of trust in the mind that has reached
maturity and for whatever generosity exists in the souls that
have been buffeted by life? The forces of mature age owe
much to the lights and inspirations of early age.
Monsignor d'Hulst in one of his famous conferences at Notre
Dame in Paris referred to this idea: He said that when a man
wants to justify his moral principles he will search his past to
find their origin; he will discover that they seem to trace back
farther than the beginnings of his conscious thought; they
will seem to him as submerged in that distant past when his
life was still bound closely to that of his mother and he was
as yet unable to sustain himself without the tenderness of her
Should it happen that a child loses his mother at an early age,
her memory will remain and protect him. But if she lives what
a help she is above all if she has a great soul, a soul that
knows how to watch and to pray; to watch without being too
obvious about it; for she will not want to awaken haughty
resistance; to pray more silently still without however
neglecting her duty of good example in prayerfulness.
Ozanam writing to a friend stated that he seemed to benefit
almost every moment by the nearly constant presence of his
Let me as a mother examine my conscience. By bringing
children into the world I have accepted a sublime mission. To
give birth to children is in itself something wonderful. But to
rear children, how much more difficult! How close to God I
must be to lead all my little ones or my big ones as the case
may be to the heights of the divine and to help them live on
this high plane.
I must grow. I must educate myself. I must acquire what I
FORMATION OF CHARACTER (1)
CHILDREN are naturally upright. They are weak and easily
become afraid like the rest of us but they are upright.
They know what they ought to do and what they must not do.
They discover that very quickly since they are not only aided
by the restraints and prohibitions of their family but also
enlightened by the interior verdict of their conscience.
They have no difficulty surmising that if they do not do what
is good they will grieve Mamma and Papa and likewise God;
furthermore they realize that they will incur a punishment in
proportion to their wrong--the principle of the proportion
between the sin and the punishment familiar to the Doctors is
already implicitly in the heads of these little theologians.
To be sure, it is in no abstract fashion that they acquire such
knowledge; they achieve it in situations that are part of their
everyday life, to the accompaniment of emotional
experiences which are often quite impressive. They feel an
inward approval, peace and joy when they have been good
and, on the contrary, disquiet, unease, and interior reproach
if they have not fulfilled a command. They do not have
precise ideas on the subject but an intense feeling; they
would not be able to explain the words responsibility, law or
liberty; however, a real and profound experience discovers
moral reality to them. They were supposed to behave well and
they have acted badly, they are in the wrong and deserve to
be punished. They feel it, they know it, and they suffer from
it. Their childish language, their very silence and
embarrassment bear witness to it. The day they learn the
correct vocabulary for all of this they will be capable of
putting these realities under their proper classification.
Before they have ever learned the words for these realities
they have lived the realities.
What a precious advantage for the child to be brought in this
way into the region of the invisible!
The great philosopher Olle-Laprune stresses this point:
The child "who it seems is entirely controlled by sense
impressions, he whom visible nature seems to dominate by
its charms and the thousand causes for fright it spreads
about him, stops respectful and troubled before an invisible
law. Invisible also is the Master, invisible too the Judge whose
presence this law makes the child feel. God--the august and
Sacred Name that he used to pronounce with docility but
without comprehension--now becomes for him a mysterious
reality whose invisible smile or secret threats are for him the
most precious cause for hope or the greatest reason for fear.
God--whom he does not see but who sees him, God--whom he
knows so little yet by whom he is perfectly known. God--of
whom he thinks only at intervals but who is constantly
mindful of him. God--all powerful, wise, good completely
good, better than a father, better than a mother, perfectly
good and just and holy; what care he must take not to
displease such a God! what misfortune to offend Him. How
good he ought to be himself, how he ought to be truthful, to
be just to all, to do good to others because those are the
things God loves; those are the things He commands; those
are the things God Himself does in His own sublime fashion,
and he must resemble God.
"Invisible grandeurs, invisible beauties: the child who enters
into life with all his senses open and avid for stimulation of
every sort can nevertheless fall in love with these realities
that are inaccessible to the senses; he can aspire to know
them better some day, somewhere and finally to look forward
to the joy of possessing them then as the best reward for
good will and the pain of being deprived of them as the worst
punishment for an evil will. This is the way the moral and
religious life of the child gets its start."
FORMATION OF CONSCIENCE (2)
THERE is a story that at a certain Honor's Day a prize was
offered to a lazy little fellow by way of consolation; since he
did not come in for any victories in achievement, he was
given a prize for the best health. He must have had a flair for
rhyme for according to the legend this was his response:
I don't care for the prize I did not really earn;
Why, to get my good health, I did not make a turn.
To be rewarded for something which had caused him no
effort, which represented no attainment on his part seemed
odious to him. Lazy though he was, he did not lack
intelligence or a sense of disinterestedness.
Most children are quicker to understand the notion of
punishment as a just consequence for a wrong done.
They are well aware that to be able materially to accomplish
an act is not one and the same thing as being permitted to do
it. Children very quickly grasp the idea that Monsignor
d'Hulst explained in one of his masterful talks at Notre Dame
"We can compare physical necessity to a rigid iron or wooden
barrier: As long as it holds out it is impossible to break
through; if one does succeed in breaking through it is only
because the barrier was knocked down or broken. Duty, moral
obligation, is also a barrier, but a spiritual barrier; we can cut
through it as we would through a ray of sunshine. Its bright
line marks out very clearly the limits beyond which we must
not pass; if we happen to violate it, it lets us pass but closes
behind us to continue forming a frontier of light between
good and evil."
Whoever does break through this bar of light merits
How easy it is to profit by the awakenings of morality in the
child to help him see clearly into his conscience. We teach
him his prayers, the Act of Contrition for example: "O my
God, I am very sorry..."; he has no trouble understanding; he
knows he has acted badly, that he should not have pulled his
sister's hair, disobeyed papa, wanted his own way. He has
broken through the bar of light. Even if mother did not see
him, someone did and that was God; a kind of inward voice
tells him very quietly that he is guilty, that he must make up
for it by being sorry, by asking forgiveness, by accepting the
little pain that will come to compensate for the pleasure that
he had no right to take.
Perhaps it will be necessary to reverse the order of the words,
proceeding from the natural to the supernatural. Nothing is
simpler: "Regret, sorrow, penance, offense against God, a God
infinitely good.... How many difficult words; yet their meaning
will unfold bit by bit.
Then when the time for confession comes, when he must say
"I confess to Almighty God" only the word confess will seem
strange, but only the word not the act; the child will have no
difficulty making his accusation. Get him into the habit of
making his little examination of conscience; he will tell you
his "sins" out loud. I "confess" that is I "admit"; he will
understand that he ought to admit and admit to God who is so
good all the wrong that he has done.
"Through my fault," I should not have done it. But when I
have confessed it, it will disappear, it will be wiped out. And
then, of course, I must not do it over again; I must not break
through the bar of light again. "Therefore I beseech You. . . "
Another difficult word he must learn, but a reality which he
does not yet see . . . to be good he must have God's help. By
himself everything would be too difficult! How children do
stumble over that "by means of Your holy grace" in their Act
of Contrition and sometimes we don't blame them! Yet
beyond the vocabulary so poorly adapted to them lies a
reality which is quite within their power to grasp!
FORMATION OF CHARACTER (3)
SOME children, perhaps the majority of them, readily admit
There are others though who are very proud, very jealous of
that little interior kingdom where an intimate voice, God's
voice, is heard, where they can judge their conduct in the
light of what that voice demands; into this domain they want
no other person to penetrate.
We must respect a child's interior life and not seek to enter
there without being invited, not try to learn what he does not
wish us to know of that interior life, nor try to find out what
he hides with a sort of naive but respectable modesty.
Neither should we remind him of painful scenes, now past
and forgiven, in which he was clearly off his good behavior;
there is danger of humiliating him, of causing him to close
up. Discretion always!
This virtue will be an absolute necessity later; it will be no
easy virtue to practice either. How painful for the father and
the mother not to know what happens in the intimate life of
their child! True there are indications that everything is all
right or that something is wrong: Eyes that can no longer
meet one's gaze, the tilt of the head, the sudden blush of
shame, the general appearance that has become less vibrant
and more embarrassed may tell much. But there are some
young people, boys and girls, who excel in putting on an act
and who never reveal their true depths; they remain closed
It is ideal if parents do know everything about their child.
They must however be willing to know only a little and in
some cases nothing at all.
One very important lesson we must teach a child is not only
to observe the number of his peccadillos but the kind. He
should learn to distinguish between important matter, a
slight infraction, and simple imperfections. It is a sin when
one resists a command of God, an imperfection only when
one resists a simple desire of God. When there is question of
a command of God, he must know too if the command is
concerned with something serious, for then the infraction of
that command is a mortal sin provided of course that there
was full knowledge and real consent.
Most scruples are caused by inadequate and ill-adapted
Catechism instruction at the age when the first conscience
It is vitally important that we take great care not to cause the
child to live in a perpetual fear of sin. Let him learn to be
motivated by love. It is easier by far; the child quickly
advances beyond attrition or imperfect contrition and finds
love and perfect contrition much more understandable.
Souls that have been warped in childhood by exaggerated
fears are in danger of living for the rest of their lives with
nervous consciences, without freedom of spirit or joy.
We are to form children of God and not future prisoners of an
iron-collar religion. The Gospel is not for a convict squad; we
are at ease in our Father's house.
Many defections of later life are due to inadequacies of
education. A false conscience is easily made; a soul is easily
EDUCATION IN REVERSE
IT HAS been said that education is the art of developing in a
child all the faults he has received from nature and adding all
those nature failed to give him.
In this same vein a rather facetious author dared the
comment, "Providence gave us parents to show us how we
ought not act toward our children."
Someone else even more caustic drew up an infallible recipe
for rearing children badly. All he had to do to determine the
ingredients was to observe the behavior of certain parents.
Could we not put definite names behind a few of the points
ourselves. All we must do is observe; examples unfortunately
abound: Here is the infallible recipe:
1. Begin from babyhood to give the child everything he asks
2. Discuss his wonderful qualities in his presence.
3. Observe in his presence that it is impossible to correct
4. Be sure to have father and mother wrangling in his
presence and in disagreement about him.
5. Let him get the idea that his father is only a tyrant and
good for nothing but to chastise him.
6. Let the father show little respect for the mother in his
7. Pay no attention to his choice of playmates.
8. Let him read anything he wants.
9. Try to earn much money for him without giving him good
principles to live by and let him have money freely.
10. Let him have no supervision during recreation.
11. Punish him for a mere awkwardness and laugh at his real
12. Take his part against teachers at school or in college
when they try to make him come to task.
As far as punishment goes for wrongdoing, how many parents
prove cowardly and unwise. Consider the mother's statement,
"The only way I can keep my authority is by not exercising it."
What a confession of failure!
Some parents let their children do anything and everything.
Others intervene but in what a clumsy fashion:
--Perhaps they are profuse in threats. "If you do that, this will
happen." The child does the wrong and "this" does not
happen; the punishment threatened remains hanging in the
air. The child knowing what to expect is no longer impressed.
We must never make a threat we do not intend to carry out
when the infraction has been committed!
--Then again they may take to bargaining: "If you do that, I
will give you this present." Or they may stoop to argument to
"Louis, take your coat."
"But, Mamma it's not worth while."
"Yes it is; take it because it looks threatening. I looked at the
barometer and it's low."
"But, Mamma, I tell you it won't rain. . ."
"Thursday, you didn't have your coat and you were soaked to
"Yes, but Sunday you made me wear it and it didn't rain . . ."
And so it goes on and on. . .
Then parents sometimes permit coaxing to lead them into
multiple concessions: A child may be convalescing and wants
something to eat which would harm him.
"No, you many not have it."
"Oh, yes Mamma, give it to me."
"You know very well the doctor said you should not have it."
"Only this once, I won't ask again."
"Well, just this once since you want it and because you are
sick but it will be your own fault if you get worse."
Who is to be pitied in all these instances? The child whose
every whim is satisfied? Or the parents whose inexperience or
weakness lead the child to the greatest dangers?
Lack of character in children is often the outgrowth of lack of
character in the parents. One can give only what one has.
Never make a promise you don't intend to keep. It brings
discredit on you and teaches your child to lie.
Never shout. To rear a child you must control him. Now we
are controlled only by qualities we do not have ourselves, a
talent beyond our reach. If there is one quality a child does
not possesses, it is calm, which is the direct opposite of the
extreme mobility of his nature, his impulsive
impressionability. Calmness controls him, not shouting.
Never deceive: "Give me your whistle; you will see what fine
music I can make." The child with no defence gives you his
whistle and you put it in your pocket: "Now with the whistle
there, you can't annoy us anymore."
Or if you want the child to take some disagreeable medicine,
you may say "Oh but this is good! Drink it, you will see." The
child sips it and pushes away the deceiving cup. You have
failed him in your words. A few scenes of this kind and the
child will lose all confidence in those who speak to him. If we
wish to be believed, we must not abuse belief.
Never do yourself what the child with a little time and
ingenuity can do himself otherwise he will never learn to take
the initiative. On the contrary, confront him as soon as
possible and as often as possible with tasks that are beyond
him but which are capable of challenging him a bit so that he
learns to gauge his strength, to remain humble because of
non-success and eager for struggle because he wants to
conquer the obstacle.
Never tolerate backtalk to a command, or grumbling, or any
argument about it. Never take back a prohibition especially if
the child tries to work its recall by tears and coy
Never present a task to the child as beyond his capabilities as
"Could you do that? Don't you think you would be afraid to do
that?"--so that he gets the idea of a possible sidetracking of
the issue or a sliding out of it altogether. No, tell him
squarely what to do as if it were just an ordinary simple
matter. "Do this. Go there please." In this way the child will
not question his ability to do what is asked. If he says he
can't do it or shows that he can't do it, there will be time
enough to chide him for his cowardice or lack of nerve.
Never seem to attach importance to little scratches, bumps,
and bruises he gets (naturally proper attention should be paid
to real needs). The child often cries when he hurts himself
just to get attention, being pitied makes him a more
interesting individual. If you do not appear excited, he will
understand that it is useless to make a tragedy of the affair.
Care for the hurts that need care, and far from magnifying
the case, explain that it isn't anything much: "You will have
many others! Try to have more nerve about it!" The child
Never inflict a humiliating punishment in the presence of
others, except in the rare case that might need it to punish an
ineradicable pride. Aside from such a case, however, you
would be degrading a child beyond reason: "Look how ugly he
is!" "How clumsy you are! etc....Or what is worse--"Look at
your brother, see how good he is!" Such comparisons are
odious and only excite jealousy.
Never flatter either: "Isn't he darling!" The child knows it only
too well. Encourage him but don't praise him. To praise him is
to admire him for an advantage he has without merit on his
part; to encourage him is to congratulate him on meritorious
effort. Never tolerate the adulations of people who visit you
TRAINING THE ADOLESCENT
To TRAIN little ones is difficult enough. When these little
ones grow up the difficulty of educating them grows with
There is a particular age--between thirteen and seventeen--
when the rise of new energies generally produces a crisis.
The child is no longer a child; neither is he a grown-up. He is
in a period of transition which we must not fear but which we
must consider sympathetically; it is a time when we should
be ever ready to come to his help at opportune moments.
It is also a time when restraints weigh upon him. Until now
the child did not distinguish his individual identity much
from those about him. What they thought and felt he was
satisfied to feel and think in perfect harmony. But now his
personality is emerging. Before this it was indistinct. Oh yes,
at times traits of it would shine out and predict the future
character but it was only a faint sketch. Now the design takes
form and definite lines.
It is thrilling to see the dawn of manhood and womanhood in
the young as they rise up to meet life. It is depressing to
think of possible deformations! A design can so easily change
into a caricature!
There is no question now of a dead image on inert paper! We
are concerned with an animated potentiality, with an intense
dynamism--a soul seeking itself. It is like a person lost in the
night groping about here and there to find the right road. We
can speak to the adolescent, guide him, but nothing takes the
place of personal experience and it means much to allow the
young the liberty to try their luck.
Even as a baby, as soon as he takes his first steps, the child
uses all its baby strength to pull away from its mother. The
mother had until then held him in her arms. But one day she
put him down so that he could learn to stand and to put one
foot before the other. As soon as he learnt this new game the
little one is ready for his first expedition. And what mother,
even though she rejoices at the prowess of the young
explorer, does not suffer when she realizes that her arms and
her heart can no longer hold back this little conqueror
already setting out to meet life?
As the adolescent boy or girl grows older the span of their
investigation widens. There is the immense field of their own
individuality. How many realities, how many mysteries they
encounter at every step! Fortunate that youth who, avid until
now to ask questions, remains willing to ask some still! He
wants to learn certainly, even more than ever before, only he
wants to learn by himself so he withdraws into himself to
solve his problems. Who could ever know as he does his little
domain; he is jealous of it; he closes his arms about his
riches; he yields to no one the right to violate his treasure.
We should not be astonished at this but stimulate their
research unobtrusively, provide them, without appearing to
do so, with the means to solve their problems; we should not
pry into their confidence but rather cleverly inspire and
provoke it. Let them realize that mother and father
themselves formerly discovered this whole world that
challenges their discovery; that mother and father can
therefore serve as prudent but well-informed advisers to the
young novices of life.
Then there is the whole world outside of themselves--the
frame of their life, their surroundings, and other people; that
is quite a universe. What is the significance of such a smile,
such a silence, such an action? They thought everyone was
good--that was a mistake! They thought that life was
conquered without difficulty--they have to struggle hard: How
much work to learn the least thing!
And then the whole domain of religion. It was all so simple
formerly. Now there are problems on every side. And love?
This whole transformation that they sense within themselves?
Those impulses of feeling? Those sensations never before
experienced, organic phenomena whose nature and reason
they do not know?
We need great sympathy before their laborious and often
worried seeking and also much vigilance mingled with a
gentle firmness, high moral principles, and exceptional
psychological insight almost bordering on prophecy. Above
all we need much prayer.
Girls versus Boys (1)
THE training of adolescence ought to make much allowance
for the difference between the sexes and for the difference of
individual temperaments within each sex.
The boy as he grows older becomes more and more
individualistic. Everything exists for him. His little person
makes itself conspicuous without fear. He loves to make
noise not only because of his love for activity but also to
assert his presence. In games he likes to direct and if he
envisions the future he always sees himself in the role of a
He must be taught that other people exist and what is more,
that he has the duty not only to refrain from harming them
but to help them. Every opportunity for him to render service
should be used to advantage--to take care of his little sisters
gallantly and willingly, to run on errands for father or mother
or someone else in the household. The boy and later the man
is a great egoist. It is wise to counteract very early this
tendency of his to make himself the center of interest, to turn
his attention to careers of devoted self-sacrifice, to impress
him with the repercussions his actions have upon others and
to enlighten him on his duty to give much since he has
received much and to penetrate him with the realization that
he has a responsibility toward his own.
The little girl as she advances toward womanhood--and this
begins quite early--very quickly becomes conscious of
herself as part of a relationship. She feels herself physically
weaker than her brothers and her powers of feeling orientate
her even at that early age whether she is aware of it or not,
toward love--in the beginning toward the couple "mamma and
baby" but later toward the couple "husband and wife."
Much less individualistic than the boy--although she can be
so in her own way and sometimes fiercely so--she is above all
family-minded. She loves to rock the baby, to help her
mother. If she prefers one study more than another, history,
literature or mathematics, it is more often because of the
teacher who teaches it than the subject itself. Early in the
little girl's life are verified the words of George Sand
concerning woman, "Behind the things that she loves there is
Because of the complexities of feeling, the education of the
adolescent girl is more delicate and more difficult than the
education of the adolescent boy. The boy is more heavy,
more blunt, more matter of fact, less given to fine
distinctions; the phenomena of puberty are more tardy in him
and are generally not at all or scarcely ever accompanied by
any fits of feeling but rather a mere hunger for sensations: he
is still the individualist.
Because of her periods, a phenomenon which often troubles
the adolescent girl even after its mysterious significance has
been chastely and adequately explained to her, she becomes
more curious and uneasy about all that bears on the problem
of life and is much more susceptible to emotional unbalance
and the fascination of abandoning herself to daydreams than
a boy of her age. If the adolescent boy is healthy, he doesn't
indulge in dreaming; he makes noise or pulls all kinds of
pranks. The girl, even when she loves study, loves still other
things and she is much attracted by the perspective of an
eventual giving of herself.
Beautiful is the task of giving her a clear idea of her essential
vocation; to guard her from false notions; to get her to be
diligent in the tasks of the moment, her house duties and
school assignments; to direct her need for unreserved giving
so that what is but a vague instinct within her becomes
translated into terms of clear duty; to impress her with the
immense responsibility of having been chosen to give life
unless God chooses her to renounce this power, for love of
Him, in virginity.
GIRLS VERSUS BOYS (2)
EVERYDAY experiences give many examples of the distinctive
differences between the two sexes especially during their
adolescence: the egocentric interests of the boy, the self-
radiating tendencies of the girl. The boy thinks about his
future exploits; the girl dreams of possible children. In the
one, love of glory; in the other love of love itself.
The following bit of conversation between two sisters is in
itself an amusing commentary on feminine adolescent
--"What are you thinking of," the twelve year old asked her
fifteen year old sister, "of your future husband?"
--"A husband," protested the elder, "I am too young. I have a
lot of time before I begin thinking of a husband!"
--"Well then what are you thinking about?"
--"I was planning what kind of trimmings I would have on my
Even when we take into account the differences created by
nature between boys and girls, we still must make allowances
for different temperaments within the sexes. Each child lives
in a world of his own, in a world that is strangely different
from the world of those about him. With one individual
maternal influence will have greater force; with another,
paternal influence. One child may have vigorous health,
whereas another is delicate. In the one a melancholy
temperament may predominate; in another, the exact
opposite, the sanguinic with extrovert tendencies
conspicuous. One child may be calm and poised; another, a
little bundle of nerves...Consequently, if the educator has but
one method of dealing with all, a single and only method, he
can expect to meet with disappointments.
However in providing for these individual differences a real
problem must be faced: It is not sufficient to correct the one
child and refrain from correcting the other; to congratulate
the one and ignore the success of the other and so on through
all the possible variations that might be in order. All this
must be done while preserving the impression of treating all
alike. If children perceive, as they sometimes do with reason,
that there is partiality shown to one or other of the family,
authority is broken down, jealousy enters and soon constant
The ideal is to maintain poise, serenity, evenness of temper,
and a steadiness of behavior that nothing can upset.
Superiors of religious orders are advised to make use of a
practice which is beneficial for all--an honest examination
periodically of their faithful fulfilment of the trust confided
to them. Have I given evidence of any partiality or any
unjustifiable toleration of wrong? Have I seen to it that the
rules have been observed, the ways of customs of the order
and its holy traditions held in honor?
In what way are things not going as they should? One can
pass quickly over what is as it should be, thanking God
humbly for it but direct attention by choice to what is
defective and faulty to determine to make the necessary
corrections either in one's person or one's work. Mussolini's
comment has a point here: "It is useless to tell me about what
is going along well. Speak to me immediately of what is going
If only parents would make it a habit to practice this counsel
suggested to monks: Stop a moment to observe the train pass;
look to see if the lighting functions, if the wheels are well
oiled, if there is any need to fear for the connections. People
do that from time to time in regard to their personal life and
we call it a Retreat. It is strongly advisable to make a retreat
to examine oneself on the conduct and management of the
home, of one's profession; such a retreat should be
sufficiently frequent to prevent painful surprises.
Our Lord said that when one wishes to build a tower, he sits
down to calculate the cost and requirements for a solid
structure. What a tower is the Christian home! That is
something to construct! How necessary are foundations that
will not crumble, materials that will hold solidly! How
essential an able contractor, attention to every detail, care to
check every stone, exactitude in the measurements for every
story . . . !
Perhaps I have forgotten to sit down . . . to calculate . . . to get
on my knees. There is still time!
A FATHER'S LETTER
RACINE the great classic dramatist wrote a letter to his son
urging him to complete fidelity in his religious duties and to
love for the interior life.
"You beg me to pray for you. If my prayers were good for
anything you would soon be a perfect Christian, who hoped
for nothing with more ardor than for his eternal salvation. But
remember, my Son, that the father and mother pray in vain
for their children if the children do not remember the
training their parents gave them. Remember, my Son, that
you are a Christian, and think of all that character makes of
obligation for you, all the passions it requires you to
renounce. For what would it benefit you to acquire the esteem
of men if you would jeopardize your soul? It will be the
height of my joy to see you working out your salvation. I hope
for it by the grace of Our Lord."
When Racine was thirty-eight and at the height of his power,
his religious directors through the misguided zeal of their
Jansenistic spirit commanded him to give up writing for the
theatre which he did with untold pain. Consequently, when he
spoke to his son of the practice of renunciation, he could
speak with authority.
Especially sensitive to physical suffering, he accepted
sickness humbly and generously: "I have never had the
strength to do penance; what an advantage then for me that
God has had the mercy to send me this."
It is a great grace for children to have a father who teaches
the divine law with firmness, and who moreover lives this
divine life, joining personal example to precept.
Am I sufficiently attentive to give my children the
supernatural equipment they need? Am I sufficiently careful
about that still more important duty of giving them a good
example always and in everything.
If there was too much severity in Racine's manner it was due
to his own training at Port-Royal, the Jansenist center. When
his brother Lionval was only five years old he insisted that he
would never go to the theatre for fear of being damned.
Madelon, at ten years had to observe Lent to the very end
even though she felt ill because of it. The mother kept them
in step. Did she not command young Louis Racine who had
indulged in writing about twelve stanzas of poetry on the
death of a dog to betake himself to Boileau for a good
There must be no exaggeration in the exercise of authority; it
would no longer be Christian in character but an erroneous
way of understanding the morality and perfection of the
Gospel. It is essential to retain a zealous will on the part of
the children and a courageous practice of generosity. We
must however always remember that they are children and
not impose upon them too heavy a yoke thereby running the
danger of giving them an incorrect idea of religion or of
disgusting them even with its most balanced practice.
We must be mindful too that some day they will be
confronted with fearful difficulties. They will need a training
that is not harsh but strong otherwise we can fear shipwreck
or at least ineffective returns.
If my profession or my health prevent me from fasting, am I
careful to get a dispensation, to substitute another
mortification for it, to manifest an exemplary moderation on
all occasions, in general, a real detachment from food and
body comforts; to deny myself amusements that might prove
ANDRE BERGE in his book on "Bewildered Youth" gives us the
story of a young man who had been left completely to
himself by his parents. Taken up with their own affairs,
business and pleasure, these parents let their son grow up
with no concern at all for his soul, his ambitions, his
difficulties, his temptations, his failings.
At first, the youth relished this liberty which he interpreted
as reserve on the part of his parents. But soon he came to
realize that it was nothing more than cowardice,
abandonment of duty and flagrant desertion of obligation on
their part; he was living in the home but was not of the home-
-a mere boarder in a hotel. As soon as he was out of his
childhood, they showed no more care for him; he found
himself confronting life alone, confused, cut off. He should
have been able to expect counsel, affection, protection, light.
Nothing of the sort did he receive. Instead he met with
selfishness; faced by loneliness, life began to pall upon him;
he had no one to untangle his problems, no one to point out
definite steps to follow on the bewildering way.
Unable to bear living any longer in this way with no vital ties
binding him to those who should have been nearest to him,
he decided to break all connections, to go away. Material
separation from his own would but serve to accentuate the
separation of their souls.
He left this note as an explanation of his conduct and a
reproach for theirs:
"To my parents,
"Why do you desert me? You do not understand that I am
stifled between these walls and that my heart is bursting. Do
you not understand that I am growing up and that life is
calling me, that I am alone all day with its voice? You who
could have so lovingly directed me in life, why do you
"Well, so much the worse, I will meet life alone. I am so far
from you already through your fault."
How heavy the obligations of parents! Let us not consider
now the case of grossly selfish parents as described in the
preceding story. We shall consider parents who are concerned
about accomplishing their mission.
Are they not in danger of two extremes in the fulfilment of
their duty: either to exaggerate their control or to exaggerate
If they try to exercise too much control over the young
adventurers in freedom who are making ready for their first
flights will they not incur the blame of tyranny, excessive
watchfulness and supervision?
If, on the other hand, they try to avoid this reproach, are they
not going to lack firmness? By trying to win confidence
through a gentleness that gives free rein are they not going to
see all the restraints which they deem good broken down and
the advice they judge opportune utterly ignored?
How have I succeeded in this problem of training? Do I steer
my bark with proper mastery? The reefs are many; a solid
craft is needed, a steady hand at the helm. Am I acquainted
with the route, the true merits of my crew?
My God grant me the grace to know how to rear my little
world as you want me to; to know how to form each of my
children according to Your plans; to know how to attain
balance in sharpness, firmness and restraint. Grant that the
youth formed in my home may never be confused, lost before
life but rather know always where to find counsel, support,
the warmth of love and guidance, an understanding and
patient heart that can give help with enlightened insight.
A DEFAULTING FATHER
A RELIGIOUS was trying to extricate a young man of twenty-
two from a distressing and almost insurmountable difficulty;
the young man wrote him the following explanation for
falling so low:
". . . I was endowed as any normal person and would have
been able to succeed in my studies as any one else but for
some wretched habits--and I say these words, trembling with
a powerless rage--wretched habits which came to poison the
work of God. A cousin and a friend bear with me the
responsibility for the first steps toward those devastating
sensations that enkindled the odious flame which in turn
upset my mental and physical health. No more willpower or
rather no more strength despite good will; no more memory;
all these results followed in succession. I blame my parents
especially my father who had given up all religious practices.
He never spoke to me with a view to understanding me; never
did we have the least conversation which could indicate any
common bond of ideas or feeling; he fed my body, that is
What a terrible indictment are these words! How they prove
the necessity of watching the associations of the children,
their work, the reasons for their laziness; the importance of
keeping their confidence, of knowing how to win that
confidence; of showing them understanding and a willingness
to help; of giving them an assurance of victory.
"I was endowed as any normal person and would have been
able to succeed." Nothing more readily weakens the resilience
of the powers of the mind and the heart than lust. What the
young man said is exactly true; he had abandoned himself to
impurity, he lost the keenness of his intelligence, the
retentiveness of his memory and a relish for effort. Even
grave physical injuries sometimes result. "Devastating
sensations" and "the odious flame" quickly depleted and
consumed vital energies.
"A cousin and a friend." How absolutely necessary is vigilance
over the friendships that circumstances and relationships
often provide, and sometimes alas that certain corrupted
individuals seek to establish to give vent to their secret taste
If the child had confided in someone at the onset of the first
serious difficulties! But nothing in the attitude of the parents
invited confidence, a request for enlightenment, a humble
avowal of imprudence or faults already committed. How
many children, how many youths yearn to speak! Someone,
their father or mother or a director must take the first step.
Nothing happens. Nobody imagines that they want help;
nobody deigns to interest themselves in them. The mother is
absorbed in her worldliness or completely oblivious of their
needs; the father is wrapped up in his business; the spiritual
director if they have one at all does not find the time or the
means to help . . .
And the child, the young boy or the young girl carries the
weight of inward suffering and is stifled by it.
"I blame my parents . . . never did my father speak to me with
a view to understanding me; never did we have the least
conversation which could indicate any common bond of ideas
or feeling; he fed my body, that is all."
Did this father realize that even while he was nourishing the
body of his son, he was contributing to the death of his soul
by a double sin of omission! He did not help his son in his
moral life when he needed it; he gave him a very bad example
by openly abandoning the Christian law.
Such sins are paid for and paid for painfully. How prevent
lack of training and mistakes of training from producing their
To develop the body is fine, commendable, and a duty. Even
more important is it to develop the soul, to protect it, to
strengthen it, to uplift it.
A MOTHER TO HER SON
WHEN Leon Bloy was about twenty years old, he fell into one
of those crises not uncommon in youth, particularly in youth
whose environment brings contact with unbelievers and
persons of loose morals, and he drifted from his religion. He
was wretchedly unhappy besides, unhappy because of the
very direction he was taking; but an involuntary confusion
and probably a certain amount of wilful pride prevented him
from breaking with doubt to return to the path of light.
The mother read her son's soul clearly. She did not reproach
him, nor did she speak to him exclusively nor immediately of
his religious problem; she attributed his interior troubles to
different causes of an inferior order which more than likely
played a part in his wretchedness. She wrote to him:
"How is it my dear child that you do not write to us. I feel
heavy hearted because of it for I am sure that you do not
realize what is taking place in your poor soul; all kinds of
things are conflicting within it--it is ardent and lacks the
nourishment proper to it; you turn from one side to the other
and you cannot tell what really bothers you. Ah! poor child,
be calm, reflect. It is not that you feel your future lost or
compromised; at your age one cannot have established his
future or despaired of it; it is not for most persons your age
still uncertain. No, it is not that, Your work, your studies do
not show sufficient progress? Why? Perhaps because you
want to do too many things at once; you are too impatient.
No, not that either? Your mind is willing enough but your
heart and your soul are suffering; they have so many
yearnings that you are scarcely aware of, and their unease
and their suffering react upon your mind sapping from it
necessary strength and attention.
"You are suffering, you are unhappy. I feel all that you
experience and yet I am powerless to console you, to
encourage you much as I should love to do so. Ah! that we
might have the same convictions! Why have you rejected the
faith of your childhood without a profound examination of
your reason for and against it? The statements of those whom
faith irritates or who have no religion for lack of instruction
have made an impression on your young imagination; but
just the same your heart needs a center that it will never find
on earth. It is God, it is the infinite you need and all your
yearnings are driving you there. You belong to that select
number of elect to whom God communicates Himself and in
whose regard He is prodigal of his love when once they have
consented to humble themselves by submitting to the
obscurities of faith."
What a frightening duty mothers have! To bring forth the
bodies of their children is a beautiful ministry; to rear their
souls is an even greater ministry.
What anguish for a mother when a grown child, a son in early
manhood or a daughter in early womanhood cuts loose from
faith, and considers God lightly! If ever she feels that she has
lost her hold over her son or daughter, that they are escaping
her, it is when she sees them follow the paths of doubt or fall
under the spell of the intoxicating enchantments of flirtation.
A mother must continue to bring forth her children all her
life. In this sense they are always her little ones. Not that she
makes them feel their bonds of dependence any longer but
that she watches over them. And she prays! Except for a brief
reminder from time to time, the clear statement of her hopes
joined to the definite but loving message of the father, an
occasional letter in which true principles are recalled, the
chief role of a mother whose adult child has strayed is prayer,
patient waiting and sacrifice--the persevering effort to
become a saint.
What if she were to die before she sees the return of the
Prodigal? What if the Child were to die before she has seen
She should not be discouraged. Can we know the mystery of
souls? Can we know what takes place in the last moments?
Can we know what goes on within when the exterior reveals
nothing? Can we know the value of a mother's tears? Monica
will continue to the end of time to convert Augustine; but
Monica must be a saint.
THE mother of Cardinal Vaughan had fourteen children--eight
boys and six girls. Remarkable educator that she was, she
believed that she owed the best part of her time to her little
The children's special room looked like the nave of a Church
for each little boy and girl had his statue to care for and they
never failed to put flowers before it on special occasions.
With what art this mother settled a quarrelsome boy or a vain
or untruthful little girl! With the littlest ones she was not
afraid to become a little one and like them to sit on the
ground. Thus, placed on their level, as the biography of her
Jesuit son expresses it, she used to put her watch to their ears
and explain to them that some day God would stop the tick
tock of their lives and that He would call to Himself in heaven
His children whom He had lent to earth.
In the course of the day, Mrs. Vaughan loved to pick our one
or other of her band, preferably two, chosen on the basis of
their earnest efforts or some particular need for
improvement, and make a visit to Church. Yes, they should
pray at home too; they had God in their hearts; but in each
village or in each section of town, there is a special house
generally of stone where Our Lord lives as He once lived at
Nazareth except that now He remains hidden under the
appearances of a little Host. She explained to them that
prayer consists not in reciting set words but in conversing
with Jesus. And if they had been very very good she would let
them kiss the altar cloth and sometimes the altar itself, a
favor the children regarded as most precious. When they had
beautiful flowers in their green house they brought them to
Church; happy and proud were the ones who were entrusted
with delivering the bouquets or the vases of flowers!
Besides the visits made to "Jesus, the Head" there were also
visits to the "members of Jesus," "What you do to the least of
My brethren you do to me." And Mrs. Vaughan explained to
each child according to its capacity to understand the great
duty of charity and the reason for this duty. She did not
hesitate to take them into sordid homes. Sometimes people
were horrified to see her take the children to see the sick who
suffered from a contagious disease. Wasn't she afraid her
children would contract it? But kind, firm Mrs. Vaughan did
not allow herself to be the least disturbed by such comments.
"Sickness? Well if one of them contracted a sickness while
visiting the poor, that would still not be too high a price to
pay for Christian charity. Besides God will protect my
children much better than mother-love can."
Here was true formation in piety, true formation in charity.
Here too was encouragement to follow a high ideal.
Herbert, the eldest of the boys, was once quite concerned
over a hunting trip that the weather threatened to spoil. "Pray
mamma," he said, "that we have good weather!"
And Mrs. Vaughan more concerned to lift her son's soul than
to secure him a pleasurable time answered smilingly, "I shall
pray that you will be a priest!" How the boy took such an
answer at the moment is not recorded. We do know this:
Herbert was . . . the future Cardinal!
Mrs. Vaughan also gave her children an appreciation of the
fine arts. She herself played the harp delightfully. From time
to time she gathered her household about her for a gala time
playing, singing, and a bit of mimicry; she always used the
occasion to remind the children that there are other melodies
and other joys more beautiful than those of earth.
TRAINING IN GENEROSITY
THE child is instinctively selfish, but he easily learns
His training should be directed toward it.
Little Rose of Lima's childhood was marked by a series of
accidents, maladies, and sufferings which the crude
treatment of that time often aggravated rather than relieved.
When only three months old she crushed her thumb under a
trunk lid and the nail had to be removed. She also had to
undergo an ear operation which was followed by a skin
disease that began on her head; her mother treated it with a
salve which burnt her so severely that the surgeon had to
treat her for weeks, removing proud flesh so that the healthy
skin could heal.
Thanks to her mother's exhortations, this little girl of four
years bore the cruel pain with an astonishing calmness and in
perfect silence. Are not the staggering mortifications we see
her imposing on herself later due to her early training?
Like all little girls, she was vain and took considerable care of
her hair which was very beautiful. Her brother used to throw
mud at it and get it all dirty just to tease her. Rose became
very angry, but the brother, recalling perhaps some sermon
he had heard, assumed a preaching tone on one of these
occasions and said to her solemnly, "Take care, vanity will be
your ruin; the curled hair of girls are cords from hell which
bind the hearts of men and drag them into the eternal
Rose did not answer, but bit by bit began to understand . . .
and she detached herself. That detachment prepared her for
greater sacrifices and soon we see her offering her virginity
Jacqueline was another little girl, a little girl of our own day,
who learned the lesson of sacrifice. She was sick and
suffering much. "Oh, I believe nobody has ever had pain like
--"Where does it hurt?" she was asked.
--"In my stomach, in my head, everywhere!"
--"Think of St. Francis who had a red hot iron applied to his
eyes as a treatment. . ."
This time her attention was caught. She forgot her own
misery to sympathize with her dear saint whom people had
--"Did they cure him after all that?"
Guy de Fontgalland had to have many strychnine injections
in his leg.
--"Offer it to Jesus, my darling," suggested his mother. "He
was crowned with thorns for love of you."
--"Oh yes, that is true and He kept the thorns in His head
while they quickly removed the needle from my leg."
A mother had three children; the oldest was four, the second,
three, and the baby, twenty months. It was Good Friday. Why
not encourage them to offer Jesus on the Cross some little
sacrifice which would cost them a little?
--"My children, I will not deprive you of your chocolate candy
at lunch today; but little girls who love Jesus will know
themselves how to sacrifice their chocolate."
She made no further reference to it. None of the children
answered. That evening the mother was very much moved to
see the three chocolate bars at the foot of the Crucifix. Our
Lord must have smiled at the childish offering; one of the
candy bars bore the teeth marks of the baby who had
hesitated before the offering and begun to nibble on her
These stories of successful lessons in generosity are
encouraging. What others have achieved, can I not achieve
MOTHERS AND VOCATIONS
WHEN Motta was elected to the Swiss Federal Council his first
act was to send this telegram to his mother: "To my venerated
mother, who remaining a widow while I was still a child,
engraved in my heart the concept of duty by teaching me that
duty dominates all interests, all selfishness, all other
To be sure God remains the Master of vocations. Motta was
not entering upon Holy Orders. His providential position was
to be quite different and very fruitful besides.
What is certain is that never--or shall we say rarely, very
rarely--is a vocation born into a family unless the mother has
inculcated in her children a sense of duty and a habit of
sacrifice. Of course, all children who receive a strong
supernatural training do not enter the priesthood or religious
life, but no child enters upon any career calling for great self-
sacrifice, prescinding some unusual influence which is rare,
if he does not acquire early in life a solid spirit of
renunciation and generosity in the accomplishment of duty.
On the other hand, where mothers know how to go about
teaching and above all practicing complete fidelity to duty
and total renunciation, where they always put the
supernatural love of God before material love for their
children, Our Lord finds it easy to choose His privileged
Monsignor d'Hulst said many a time to Abbe Leprince, "It
takes a truly Christian mother to make a good priest. The
seminary polishes him off but does not give him the
substance, the sacerdotal spirit."
All things considered, that holds true for novitiates and
religious life. Nothing replaces family training, above all the
influence of the mother. But that training and that influence
must be wholly supernatural.
Madame Acarie, foundress of a French Carmelite Convent
where she was known as Sister Marie of the Incarnation,
strove earnestly to rear her six children for God. She
explained to them: "I would not hesitate to love a strange
child more than you if his love for God were greater than
However, individual free will always remains and God is
Always Master of His gifts. That thought ought to calm the
fear--unjustifiable as it is but humanly understandable--of
certain mothers who think, "If I conduct my home along lines
too thoroughly Christian, if I instill into my children too
strong a habit of the virtues which lead to total renunciation,
to an all embracing zeal, I shall see my sons and daughters
renouncing marriage one by one and setting off for the
priesthood or the convent."
If that were to happen, where would be the harm? But that
rarely happens in practice. Furthermore, is marriage a state of
life that does not require a sense of duty or abnegation?
Let there be no anxiety on this score but perfect peace. The
important thing now is not that God might choose so-and-so
but that the home give Our Lord maximum glory; that each
child whatever its destiny serve an apprenticeship in
generosity and the true spirit of the Gospel. Everything else
as far as the future is concerned should be left to God.
PRIESTS IN THE FAMILY
THE supreme honor for Christian families is to give priests to
God. The father can do much to inspire a priestly vocation
but the mother who is often closer to the children can do
more. For this she needs a priestly soul, a gift that is not so
rare in mothers as one might believe. "There are," said Rene
Bazin, "mothers who have a priestly soul and they give it to
The lack of priests is a terrible sickness of the world today, a
sickness that is growing worse. The war has depleted their
number and the absence of priestly influence in many
parishes before and during the war has damaged more than
It is necessary that Christian families desire to give priests to
the Church; that they beg God for the grace to prepare to the
best of their ability for the eventual flowering of the
Christian families should desire to give priests: Such a desire
presupposes a profound esteem for the priesthood on the
part of the parents. What a pity it is when a child who
broaches the subject of becoming a priest meets with his
father's unreasonable anger, "If you mention vocation to me
again, I'm going to strangle your confessor for it!" Can there
be any greater blessing than a priest in a family?
Christian families should pray: A priestly vocation is a
supernatural favor; prayer is essential to obtain it. God's gifts
are free, that is true, but we know that He makes some of His
choice graces depend upon the prayers of His friends.
Christian families should prepare for vocations: Parents
should know how to detect the germs of a vocation. "I hear
the grain growing," said an old peasant as he walked about in
his field. No one can better read the soul of a child than the
mother. "I know him through and through as if I had made
him." This rather common but profound statement expresses
very well the sort of intuition mothers have for all that
concerns their child. Although the boy himself may not have
discovered the divine germ, the mother, if she is keen and
close to God, has been able to discern it.
How then help this germ to bud?
Help it gently, for there must be no pressure brought to bear
upon the child. Suggest, yes; force, no.
Inspire great esteem for the priesthood. Consider a priest's
visit to the home as a privilege and a festive occasion. "From
the age of seven," declared Father Olier, the founder of the
Sulpicians, "I had such an esteem for a priest that in my
simple childish mind I believed them no longer human."
When asked the source of his great esteem, he said, "From my
father and my mother."
"Dear child, since you love to go to church so much and since
you are so good in public speaking, you ought to become a
priest," suggested the father to his son, the future martyr,
Often the mother has quicker insight and longer-ranged
vision. The father sometimes resists the vocation of his child.
Such was the case with Saint Francis de Sales and Saint
Alphonsus Ligouri. The father of Saint Alphonsus refused to
speak to him for a whole year.
Sometimes though the father is the one who inspires the love
for the priesthood. At the time of the confiscation of Church
property in 1905 in France, a father perched his son on his
shoulders to watch the pillage of the churches to incite in
him a desire to become a defender of the Church later and if
possible a priest.
Madame de Quelen did not hesitate to bring her son to the
prison of the Carmelite priests to visit the priests interned
there. The bishop later chose the Church of this Carmelite
prison for his See.
If a child seems drawn to the priesthood show him the high
motives that can lead him to embrace such a calling--the
desire to imitate Our Lord and the desire to save souls.
What a reward the parents reap at their son's ordination or on
the day of their death. That repays them for all the sacrifices
they willingly made; repays them with interest.
THE MOTHER OF A SAINT
MADAME DE BOISY, the mother of Saint Francis de Sales,
brought many precious virtues with her to the chateau of
Thorens in Savoy where her husband lived. Unassuming and
kind, she considered the village households around her estate
almost as part of her family; she showed concern for their
poverty and sufferings, settled their differences and
exercised a control over them that was highly successful for
the simple reason that she was careful not to make a show of
it. Watchful to see that her servants were truly a part of the
family, she encouraged them, without constraining them, to
practice their faith and offered to read spiritual books to
them herself after the evening meal; she invited all of them
to attend the family prayer.
Unfortunately her marriage promised to be sterile. At Annecy
in a church dedicated to Our Lady of Liesse, she begged God
to give her a son, promising to "exercise all her care to make
him worthy of heaven." On August 1567, Francis de Sales was
born. He was so frail a child that all feared for his life.
As he grew older, the child had no greater delight than to
show kindness to the unfortunate and to distribute among the
poor the delicacies his mother gave him for this purpose. It is
said of him that by way of thanking his mother he promised
her, "When I am my own master, I will give you a beautiful red
silk dress every year."
At the same time she was training her little boy to almsgiving,
Madame de Sales was also educating him to love of God and
Soon the hour of separation struck. The child had to leave for
the school of La Roche and later for the College at Annecy. He
was beloved by all, excused the faults of his comrades and
one day even took a whipping in place of his cousin Gaspard
de Sales. Shortly after his First Holy Communion he told his
mother that he wanted to receive the tonsure some day and
that therefore she ought to have his beautiful blond curls cut
Francis had two brothers. To characterize them and himself,
he developed a comparison between the trio and the
seasoning of a salad: "Jean-Francis with his violent temper
furnishes the vinegar; Louis with his wisdom the salt; and I,
the good-natured chubby Francis, put in the oil because I love
Francis possessed a secret of which his mother was the
confidant: He wanted to be a priest at any cost. Madame de
Sales shared his dream and upheld her son in it. After six
years at Jesuit schools and colleges accompanied by
outstanding success he entered the University of Padua. Here
he astonished his professors with the brilliant way he
defended his thesis although he was scarcely twenty-four at
The father already envisioned his son as a great lawyer, then
a senator, and the founder of a fine family, but Francis,
enlightened by a providential experience he had one day
while riding through a forest, decided not to delay his
consecration to God any longer.
His father objected. The mother intervened: "Can we dispute
with God over a soul He wants for His service?" Secretly she
had clerical clothes made for Francis. The post of provost of
the Cathedral Chapter became vacant. The father finally gave
in and on June 8, 1593, Francis was ordained to the
diaconate. In the opinion of his father, who missed the joy of
seeing him a bishop, Francis preached too much and didn't
put in enough Greek and Latin when he did preach. But
Francis knew how to talk to souls as his famous missions at
Chablais strikingly demonstrated. Rich and poor besieged his
On December 8, 1602, Francis, who was then thirty-five gave
his first episcopal blessing to his mother, who soon put
herself under his spiritual direction. One of the last joys of
this noble mother was to read her son's "Introduction to
Devout Life," a book which met with spectacular success.
A stroke brought the saint's mother to the point of death. The
holy bishop of Annecy came hurriedly to her bedside. She
recognized him, took his hand and kissed it, then putting up
her arms to draw his head closer to her to kiss him, she said,
"You are my father and my son!"
Francis closed her eyes at death. Broken by sorrow, he wrote
to Madame de Chantel, "It has pleased God to take from this
world our very good and very dear mother in order to have
her, as I strongly hope, at His right hand, since she was one of
the sweetest and most innocent souls that could be found."
Sons are worth what their mothers are worth.
PARENTS OF SAINTS
SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES was the first child of Madame de
Boisy. Saint Paul of the Cross was the first of sixteen children.
The saint in the family is not always the oldest. Saint Bernard
was the third of seven. Saint Thomas Aquinas was the sixth
child in the family. Saint Therese of the Child Jesus was the
last of nine children. Saint Ignatius of Loyola the last of
What glory would have been lost to the Church if the parents
of these children had consulted their selfishness rather than
their duty of parenthood and had left buried in the realms of
nothingness these little beings destined to become saints! It
brings to mind the conversation between two women, the one
voluntarily sterile, the other surrounded by fine children. The
first woman explained to the second that she just couldn't be
tied down. The second responded with the classic argument:
"And suppose that your father and mother had reasoned like
that, where would you be?"
The saints are rarely only children for two reasons: The first,
that there cannot be any sanctity without a habit of
renunciation and this habit is much more readily acquired in
a large family where each one must forget self to think of
others; where the rubbing of character against character
whittles down selfishness; where the parents do not have
time to overwhelm their offspring with a foolish indulgence
that spoils them. The second, that God gives the grace of a
holy call, by preference, where there is an integral practice of
virtue, where virtue is held in honor, where the parents do not
fear difficulty but trust in Divine Providence.
Saint Vincent de Paul was one of five children and Saint
Vincent Ferrer, one of eight, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Blessed
Perboyre, Saint Bernadette were each, one of eight children.
In the family of the Cure of Ars there were six children; in
that of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, seven; in that of Saint
Benedict Joseph Labre, fifteen. In the family of Saint
Catherine of Siena, there were twenty-two children of the
same marriage. And how many more examples we could still
There is a charming Breton legend that carries an equally
charming lesson. One day Amel, the fisherman, and his wife
Penhov, who used to bring fresh fish to the monks, had left
with their child to bring in the nets. They were overtaken by
the tide. The water rose higher and higher and higher. "Wife,
this is our last hour; put your two feet on my shoulders; in
this way you will hold out longer....and love my memory."
Penhov obeyed. Amel sunk into the sand like a post driven in
with a hammer. Penhov seized the child and lifting it above
her said, "Put your two feet on my shoulders; in this way you
will hold out longer. And love deeply the memory of your
father and mother." The mother too sank beneath the water
and soon only the golden hair of the child floated on the
water. An angel of God passed by. He seized the child's hair
and pulled. "My, how heavy you are!" Another blond head
appeared, that of Penhov who had not let go of her boy's feet.
"How heavy you both are!" Then Amel appeared for he had
not let go of his wife's feet.... By the child the father and
mother had been saved!
Who knows whether or not some parents will enter Paradise
because an angel has seized their child by the hair! What a
beautiful letter of introduction for Heaven is a child and
above all a canonized child!
TRAINING IN CHARITY
JEANNE-ANCELOT-HUSTACHE gives us a picture of her little
daughter Jacqueline in the book entitled "The Book of
She is a well-endowed child; she is made much of, in fact, too
much petted by her grandmother, by her father, by her sister
who is extremely proud of her and by all the guests of the
home. She is in danger of becoming a charming little self-
centered individual as so many children are.
Happily, attentive care watches over her and strives to give
the child the spirit of charity, love for the poor, for children,
for the weak and the suffering. Little by little, Jacqueline
opens her heart to this love, toward the suffering of the
She finds exquisite words, unexpected delicacy in greeting
people, in thanking them, and in easing every wound that she
guesses with a subtle and tender intuition. She is
embarrassed rather than triumphant because of the special
advantages she has over companions who are less gifted,
poorer and less endowed. She pities the poor beggar on the
boulevard; she brightens the lives of the aged sick in the
hospice of Ligny with her refreshing graciousness. At seven
years this is how she prays to the Blessed Virgin for an
"O my Mother, my Mother, please deliver Yvonne. The poor
little one. Nobody wants her. Her father doesn't want her, her
mother is now far from her. She stole, she is in prison, she is
sad and never will any one take her from it, never until her
death; I alone on earth love her, I love her because she seems
to say to me, 'If they would let me alone with you, I would
never do anything bad.'"
"I alone on earth, I love her." That is the answer of Jacqueline
to the secret appeal of the merciful Christ: She will give
herself entirely to those who have no one to love them; she
will be their Sister of Charity, their Little Sister of the Poor,
their Sister of Mercy.
The hour of God for this privileged child was to come in an
unexpected way. She was to die while still very young and she
was to go to the Christ of the extended Arms, the Christ who
loves little children who are charitable and pure.
What an advantage for the child's later life, if the parents
have succeeded in making it alert to the refinements of
charity, to a concern for the needs of the world.
They do not lack opportunities. Perhaps mother and child are
taking a walk. Here comes a poor grandmother, gathering
dead branches, leading along an emaciated, sickly child.
"Suppose we go to their aid?" suggests the mother to her little
Christmas comes. In many families some good little children
will have nothing, not the smallest present. Their papa is too
poor; he earns just enough to provide bread to his household.
Playthings? By no means; playthings cost too much. "Suppose
we bring them that doll you don't play with anymore. Mother
will dress it again so that it will look fine." Or, "Suppose you
look for that mechanical horse you relegated to the attic.
Papa will repair it so that it will seem like new."
Then there are the Missions. A terrible flood in some land has
been reported. How many people are suffering! Let us fix up a
bank into which each one can put his little alms! When we
have a nice sum, we can send it over there. Or perhaps there
is an occasion to ransom a little pagan baby so that it can be
reared as a Christian. The opportunity to explain that
spiritual alms are superior to material alms should not be
Once a child's eyes have been opened, how well it will know
how to be good!
TRAINING IN SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (1)
To AWAKEN the child to solicitude for the poor and the
wretched is a splendid thing. However parents do not fulfil
their whole duty, if they fail to give it a sense of
responsibility for the common good and a true concept of
Instinctively the child refers everything to its own small
personal interest. If it is not taught very early to concern
itself for others, it will be in danger of becoming narrow and
selfish, of being forever oblivious to the general welfare, in
other words, of never achieving a social sense.
While the child is very young this training will not consist in
formal instructions but rather in a constant directing of
attention on a thousand different occasions to the fact of
having to be concerned about others. It will be taught to go
upstairs without making a noise because mamma is resting;
not to slam the doors because little brother or little sister is
asleep; not to play noisily near papa's study. The child will
learn very early in this way the social consequences of its
The child may be with the whole family to meet someone at
the station; the parents will have a fine opportunity to show it
how selfish it is to stand directly in door ways and passages
as it loves to do, since that obstructs the entrances and exits
for people coming in from trains or those who merely wish to
leave that way.
If a little girl accompanies her mother on a shopping trip, she
can be taught not to ask the clerk to display more goods than
necessary because it will all have to be refolded and replaced
after she leaves.
At basketball or football, it is not so important to be a star
player oneself as to bring the team to victory. It is true
sportsmanship and true nobility to renounce a personal
triumph by passing the ball to a fellow player who will assure
the victory because he is in a better position or better
"Point out to us the lessons of the football game," a young
sportsman asked his older friend. And he gave the one that
extols the virtue of renunciation: "I will pass my chance to
him"--the sacrifice of selfish or vain calculating with a view
to the result for the whole.
The child can be shown that when there is question of
committing an infraction of discipline in school, he ought to
avoid it not so much because of the effect on the teacher--"He
who budges will have to deal with me"--but rather the
disturbance it causes for his comrades whose attention is
distracted and progress retarded. Discipline was not invented
for the comfort of the teacher but for the good of the pupils.
In this way, theoretical teaching is preceded by the practical
background of the child in an atmosphere of cooperation, of
social interchange of help. Every occasion for practice of this
type should be accompanied by an explanation that later they
must always act with like consideration in the office, the
factory, the army or in whatever community they may be.
Once the children are old enough to understand more theory,
every opportunity to instill doctrine should be seized: An
international problem arises: Selfishness or mutual help?
What does the Church say on this point? What does the
Gospel say? Or perhaps it is a problem of relations between
employer and workers, a strike in the father's factory or in
the city. Here too, what does the Church say? What does the
Gospel command. Selfishness or reciprocal understanding?
Trained in this fashion the young will be ready and quick to
understand the social or international doctrine of the Church
when they are old enough to be taught it academically. They
will not oppose correct principles, as they only too often do
with a wall of prejudices or pseudo-traditions, when their
religion or philosophy teachers explain them.
Training in Social Responsibility (2)
WE HAVE accomplished a good deal if we have accustomed
the child to put itself as much as possible "in the place of
others." "If I were in such and such a situation, what would I
do, what would I think?" We are all wrapped up in ourselves
as in a cocoon, the child more than anyone else; particularly
if it has been coddled, if it has been born into a family that is
comfortably fixed, if it gets accustomed or others make it
accustomed to being waited on.
The child must be encouraged to wait on itself and to give
service. If for any reason the mother needs to hire help, that
is no reason for the child to monopolize such help to its own
comfort; it should never be permitted to give direct orders to
As much as possible, especially in the case of little girls, the
child should be given the opportunity to do many little tasks
that make family life run more smoothly: to set the table, to
dust up a room, to arrange a bouquet, to take care of the
baby. Such assignments should not be presented to them as
burdensome tasks but as an aid toward the common good, a
lightening of mamma's work so that they are joyful about it
even if it demands an effort, upsets their well-laid plans or
requires a sacrifice. Often the child will be delighted, proud
of its importance. However care must be taken to appeal not
to vanity but to responsibility.
A delicate point to consider is the question of friendships.
Should the child be permitted to associate with children who
are not as we say of their class? They will meet in school. If
these possible friends are morally good and well-mannered,
why not? It will offer a fine opportunity to show that money is
not everything, that the only true worth is virtue and human
dignity. The child may be too much inclined to pair off only
with those who belong to the same social circle or
environment; that flatters its vanity. The parents should react
to this tendency by teaching the little one that it ought to
share with a comrade who is less privileged and while
avoiding indiscriminate associations with anybody and
everybody, seek out as friends not the best dressed but those
who are the best students, the most truly pious, the strongest
personalities for good, in a word, those that deserve most
Should the family circumstances require sacrifices, show the
child that there are people who are poorer; silence all
jealousy. When the time comes for a choice of profession
direct the boy or girl to choose judiciously not according to
possible profit or financial returns but according to the
possibilities for best serving society, the common good.
Generous parents will not hesitate, if the child's
qualifications are adequate and the opportune moment
presents itself, to speak of vocations of complete
consecration, the priesthood, religious life. There are so
many needs in the world. "The harvest indeed is great, but the
laborers are few." They enlist their children's interest. A
priest? Why not he? A religious? Why not she?
That supposes a spirit of detachment in the parents, an
informed appreciation for the needs of the Church, love of
the general good of Christianity, the sacrifice of little hopes
for building up a new family. Yes, it means that.
Such parents will often call attention to the distress of the
world; to the struggle of nations among themselves. They will
explain to their children that union alone is fruitful;
furthermore that union alone is truly Christian.
What an inspiring example do those children have whose
father has always been a man of broad sympathies and a
generous heart, highly social-minded; if in his profession he
has always tried to serve rather than merely to earn money; if
a lawyer, he has always been concerned for justice; if an
industrialist, he has applied himself to bettering the human
aspects of production; if a merchant, he has been attentive to
injure no one; if a doctor, he has sacrificed himself to do the
most possible good; if an employee, he has given his time
loyally and honestly to his work--a worker eager for work well
done and the social defense of his profession.
The boy and girl learn from this to consider their chosen
professions or careers as future social service. They get out of
their narrow selfish views which formerly warped their
characters--they emerge with souls truly formed.
TRAINING IN SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (3)
IF WE are alert to seize the occasions, everything can serve to
teach children to guess or at least to understand the needs
and requirements of others.
A little girl who could no longer be called a baby had not as
yet any brother or sister. One day she noticed her mother
busy with the details of a layette: "Is all that for Liette,
mamma?" She was Liette. "No dear, not for Liette, but for a
little brother or sister who is going to come."
Liette was utterly stupefied. What was this? Mother was not
working only for her then!
The first school for social consciousness is the family. What a
handicap if mother has never worked for anyone but Liette, if
Liette remained an only child! We can readily guess what
selfishness she would have been capable of displaying.
The family is together: "It's so stuffy here, I'm going to open
"No, grandmother has a cold."
The child understands it is not alone; others count.
The family lives in an apartment. The children are making an
uproar. "Gently, children; we must not disturb the people
downstairs. Not so much noise." Others count.
The little girl is learning how to keep house. She shakes her
dustcloth out of the window. "Did you look to see if someone
was passing by?"
To know that other people exist and to understand that we
must restrain ourselves for them is the root of social
consciousness. A person would think that we all would have it
and to spare.
Unfortunately experience proves otherwise.
Mother and child go to a neighboring park for play. How
tempting to make little sand piles all along the bench beside
mamma! "You will see, I will not get you dirty mamma."
"No, my little one, but you are not thinking of the people who
may come in a little while to sit on this bench."
The street as well as a public garden can offer opportunities
for such lessons. "Step aside dear. Don't you see that mother
who is pushing her baby buggy; let her pass."
On the streetcar: "Give your place to the lady."
In a train. "Take turns sitting by the window." "Let's not speak
so loud; it will disturb other people's conversation or their
On a visit. "The steps have just been scrubbed; clean your
shoes on the mat and walk along the edge so as not to track
them up for the lady."
All this is rounded out in Catechism lessons. "Then in heaven
I will be with some poor little child, won't I?"
Children of poor families should be taught the dignity of
poverty and labor, the duty of contributing one's best efforts
to lift the living conditions and social status of their group.
Children of wealthy families should be taught their
responsibility toward the working classes; they should be
taught how far material, moral, and spiritual destitution can
go and what they ought to do to learn how to remedy it.
TRAINING IN SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (4)
WE HAVE not done everything when we have given children
the idea and the desire of going to the aid of the poor. There
is something better to be done. That is to teach them
gradually to try to prevent misery from invading the poor
world. We shall never succeed completely in checking it, but
what a beautiful work it is to try to spread more happiness
As children grow and reach an age of keener perception and
of deeper reflection show them that the problem involves:
--The relations of social classes with one another;
--The relations of nations toward one another.
Within a single country, there are those who have what they
need, those who have more than they need, those who have
not even the essentials.
Is it not fundamental to establish a condition in the world in
which the fewest people possible lack the necessities of life
or better in which the most people possible can attain a
sufficient possession of the goods of the earth, the culture of
the mind and the knowledge of supernatural riches?
To the degree in which we are impregnated with the spirit of
the Gospel, we will desire that our brothers about us are not
only cured of their wounds but preserved as far as they can
be from possible wounds and established in a state of
adequate human development, and of adequate divine
To dress a wound that has been infected is a good deed; to
prevent a wound from being inflicted is a better deed. To
prearrange indemnity for those who fall into unemployment
is good; to strive for a status of work in which unemployment
is prevented is better.
Now the conditions of modern living, the economic
equipment of society, have thrown a whole section of society
into a situation in which life has become very hard, in which
"earning one's living" has become a terrible problem.
Young boys and girls must be taught to realize these facts as
they grow up. They must open their minds to an
understanding of the social problems in their most agonizing
aspects; they must prepare themselves to work to the best of
their ability to counteract these evils.
When the social questions are concerned with relations
between peoples of different nations, then how many
problems crop up! Wars, even after treaties have been signed,
leave hearts embittered. New difficulties arise. A very correct
idea of patriotism is of capital importance!
Is periodic war between nations justifiable? Ought we not do
everything in our power to constitute a state of peace in the
world by an honest agreement between nations?
What procedures should we follow that these desirable
understandings be effective?
What virtues must be developed in order to reconcile at one
and the same time concern for national dignity, love of
peace, brotherhood according to God.
How can we get different peoples to live together side by side
without the grave interests of any group suffering even
though each nationality remains deeply concerned for its own
A whole education on these points must be given.
THE FAMILY AND THE SCHOOL
To CHOOSE a school and then to help the school are two great
duties of the family.
1. To choose a school. It is quite clear that a Catholic family
ought to choose a Catholic school. On every level of
education when there is a choice between a Catholic school
and a public school, Christian parents have the serious duty
to prefer the one which speaks of God and Christ rather than
the one which sins by omission.
It is a duty and a serious duty for many reasons:
First of all when Catholics practically bleed themselves to
death financially to maintain their schools, not to profit by
their sacrifice is to do them grave injustice.
Then, and this is serious, even when there need be no fear of
the danger of immorality, the very fact of the mixed religions
necessarily involved is a danger for the child's faith since
because of this variety, the education offered is severed from
all allusion to things eternal. It is by a regrettable amputation
that educators pretend to isolate in the human being, the
merely human vocation and the supernatural vocation. We
have not been created to be human beings pure and simple
but divinized human beings. Educators can work in vain,
secularization will accomplish nothing in changing this truth.
It is just that way. The same holds for the education the
parents give to supplement that of the school; it is
immeasurably harmful for the moral life of young minds and
young hearts never to hear mentioned that which alone
counts for life. That is, however, how so many generations
have become accustomed to put life on one side and religion
on the other as if they were separate water-tight
To count on the school alone, especially when it is neutral, to
equip children adequately for life is a grave delusion.
Spencer, that English realist, once wrote:
"The one who would want to teach geometry by giving Latin
lessons or who believed he could teach pupils to play the
piano by drawing would be considered crazy. He would be
just as reasonable as those who pretend to improve the moral
sense by teaching grammar, chemistry or physics."
An education, even a solid education that is purely secular is
insufficient for the full development of the moral sense and
the adequate formation of character.
2. To help the school. After the school has been carefully
chosen, the family still has the duty to help the teachers in
their task. Therefore, parents, older brothers and sisters
--show new interest in the children's studies not as they often
do through vanity but through real interest in the children.
--should never contradict the disciplinary measures that
teachers thought necessary; if a punishment has been
inflicted at school or a schedule decided upon, the pupil's
family ought to support it and express themselves as being in
accord with it.
--should, if necessity has obligated them to put a child in a
secular school, supplement the regrettable deficiencies of the
school by competent religious instructions; they must also
exercise vigilance over the friendships and associations the
They should exercise vigilance in this regard even when the
school is of the highest moral standard; particularly careful
must they be of the influences of doubtful companions the
children might become acquainted with on their way to and
from school. Along with the school and the home we must
take account of the influence of the streets.
THE SECULARISM OF CHRISTIANS
WE ARE not concerned here with refuting the doctrines of
secularism. Every Christian ought to know the mind of the
Church on this subject; we need not go back to ancient
documents either to discover it. It is enough to recall the
Encyclical "Summi Pontificatus" issued by Pius XII in 1939 at
the beginning of the Second World War.
Denouncing the aggressive encroachment into the field of
religion by some present-day particular doctrines, he traced
even farther back the source of the evil which has poisoned
the whole life of Europe; he pointed to the doctrines which
tried to build up the present and the future of humanity by
getting rid of God and getting rid of Christ.
The problem now is to determine which of the unfortunate
species of secularism has invaded me, my home, my habits,
and which now may dominate me.
Of course there is no question of a denial of God or of Christ.
But what place do they hold in my family life? In my daily
life, in my profession, in my participation in civic affairs?
Has it not often happened that in choosing schools or
colleges for their children so-called Christian parents often
evidence a utilitarian materialistic spirit; they give lame
reasons for choosing the secular colleges instead of a
Catholic college--the teachers are better, the chances for
success after graduation are more certain. Are they so sure?
And if by chance it were true? Do the souls of their children
mean less than a diploma?
Has it not often happened that the influence of such
Christian parents in their social and civic life was practically
nothing as far as bringing the doctrines of the Gospel and the
teaching of the Church to bear on those domains?
And even though they neglected nothing of the essential
practices of their religion, was it not primarily mere formality
rather than solid convictions; conformity or fashion rather
than true worship? There was a great disparity between their
external actions, their attitudes and real prayer, the living
knowledge of the gift of God?
Is not following the doctrines and the morality of Christ
nothing more than letting them be evident in my life and my
The world must be made over. In the light of an Apocalypse,
terrible ruins have been effected. The edifice that was the
European world appeared solid; the foundation stone was
deficient. Are we going to build the new world on an equally
fragile base? If we are, then, the causes remaining the same,
the results must inevitably be the same. And we shall
continue indefinitely to see renewed destructions. If God has
no place in the foundations of the City with all that His
inclusion implies, then how can the City remain standing?
That is a thought expressed in an ancient psalm; there is no
exception--the truth of this fact remains. The stability of
nations and of society is bound up with eternal principles.
Am I sufficiently convinced of this? Do I not have much more
confidence in human formulas than in the rule of complete
truth? Do I not unconsciously try to establish human life only
upon the human? Am I not still and always, in spite of the
lesson in world events, the victim of a deficient ideal, of
I must Christianize my Christianity. I must make it evident in
every department of my life--in my relations with my family
and with society; in the opinions I hold regarding national
and international issues. In all that depends on me there shall
be one hundred percent Christianity.
THE family spirit, that traditional ensemble of convictions,
ideals, and domestic practices which constitute the sacred
patrimony of people united by the same blood, can exist
without a very strong affection among the members. The
family spirit is in itself something precious; but when it is
merely a sort of collective egotism, it has been blemished; it
is a beautiful fruit injured by a worm.
What an inspiring and noble reality family affection is! One
author refers to it poetically:
". . . Beautiful families that travel as a group and as a choir on
the road to heaven after the pattern of stars that are united in
constellations in the firmament . . ."
How we ought to pity those husbands or wives and often
young boys and girls who find the hours spent at home long;
those husbands and wives who are bored with each other;
those brothers and sisters who find one another's company
monotonous and whose glance is ever on the door, the gate or
Mutual Love of Parents and Children: Joseph and Mary did not
grow bored with Jesus; Jesus did not tire of the company of
Mary and Joseph. It is said that love does not go backward.
We do not find too many examples of parents who do not love
their offspring but how many children neglect their father
and mother with painful disregard! They explain it by saying
that young people like to be together. But there is a time for
everything. There are some who do not make enough of the
part of the home in their lives. How strange it is that children
can be so loving when they are little, so demonstrative, and
when they grow up so adept at saddening their parents?
Brotherly and Sisterly Love: Where will we find love if not
between brothers and sisters? "Who then will love you,"
Bishop Baunard asks, "if you do not love your brother. It is
like loving yourself. I believe the etymology of the word
frater, brother, is made up of these two words fere alter, that
is nearly another self."
The Count de Mun wrote in his "Memoirs," "It is sweet to me to
have to speak in the plural when recalling the first years of
my existence. I have a twin brother who has never been so
much as a step away from me in my career. My life is his life,
my joys have been his, and his successes mine. It is not
Anatole and Armand, he and I, it is we."
Marshal Lyautey had a brother who was a colonel during the
war of 1914; this brother manifested to all who spoke to him
not only his admiration for Lyautey, the Governor of Morocco,
but his deep affection.
One only had to hear Father Foch, a fine type of Jesuit,
mention his brother Marshal Foch to sense his love; though
he showed a complete reserve it was more eloquent than any
discourse; his was a warmth of heart which a few restrained
but touching words sufficed to express.
There should be place in the home for the affection that
grandparents, uncles and aunts deserve.
On the children's birthdays, why not invite the godparents;
they would enter better into their office. "Men and women
who have held children at the baptismal font, I remind you
that you will have to render an account of them before God."
For their part, the children will get a better realization of this
beautiful institution of Christian sponsorship.
If all the members of the family are to understand one
another and love one another, each one must have a great
virtue. The same training and the same blood are not
sufficient; self-conquest is necessary. Bossuet expressed it
well: "Natures are always sufficiently opposite in character to
create frequent friction in a habitual society. Each one has
his particular disposition, his prejudices, his habits. One sees
himself at such close range and one sees oneself from so
many angles, with so many faults in the most trifling
occurrences! One grows weary, imperfection repels, human
weakness makes itself felt more and more, so that it is
necessary to conquer oneself at every hour."
THE HIERARCHY OF DUTIES
APOSTOLIC work if carried on inopportunely or immoderately
can take a woman away from her home too much.
Beyond a doubt, there are immense needs: help for the sick,
catechetical instructions, guild meetings for the Sisters,
spiritual conferences, and in all of these, great charity can be
exercised. It is much better for a woman to spend her time in
such things than in lounging, or in numerous and useless
visits, in exploring for the hundredth time some enticing
department store. Nevertheless, the duties of the home
remain her principal work: To plan, to arrange, to mend, to
clean, to sew, to beautify, to care for the children.
Insignificant duties? But what would that matter if they
represented the Will of God? Are we not too often tempted to
want a change? Impetuous zeal, poorly directed service,
caprice under the guise of generosity seek to substitute for
daily duty which perhaps has not much glamor about it but
which is just the same wanted by God.
Would not the greatest charity in such a case be not to engage
in works of charity but to remain faithfully at home and
devote oneself to works which no one will speak of and which
will win no one's congratulations? Later when the children
have grown up and settled, there may be leisure; then a large
share in the apostolate will be open according to one's
strength and time. Until then, my nearest neighbor, without
being the least bit exclusive about it but merely judging with
a well instructed understanding, will be this little world that
has established itself in my home....
Another danger besides excessive apostolic works that might
ensnare some wives and mothers of families would be to give
exaggerated place to exercises of piety. Did not one of the
characters in a novel by George Duhamel lament this
tendency: "I have heard priests say that some women have
spoiled their married life by excessive attendance at religious
ceremonies and they sighed, 'Why did they get married if
they had a religious vocation.'"
There are unfortunately some husbands so superficially
Christian that they see exaggeration in the most elementary
and normal practice of piety on the part of the wife and
mother. That is only too sadly true! Their judgment is worth
We are referring only to an actual excess which would really
be considered such by a competent judge.
There is no doubt that a married woman, if she is a good
manager and is not encumbered by some job outside the
home, can find time for normal religious exercises and can
even provide for meditation, spiritual reading and a relatively
frequent assistance at Mass and reception of Holy
Communion; time, after all, is something that varies in its
possibility for adaptations and compressibility and woman
excels in the heart of putting many things into a small
If she suspects that her husband finds certain exterior acts of
piety exaggerated, attendance at weekday Mass for instance,
let her increase her private devotions somewhat, a little more
meditation or spiritual reading when he is not around;
whether he is right or not, it is better not to irritate him if
grave consequences might result. That is how Elizabeth
Leseur managed; never did she betray the least annoyance
when disturbed in her devotions; she always answered her
husband's call or his outbursts of irritation with a pleasant
Never neglect a duty but observe the order of their