Teaching Catholic Morality to Children

Author: Carol Egan


by Carol Egan

Recently, the woman from whom I purchase my morning coffee commented on the perils of raising her teenage daughter. In a voice filled with weariness and irony, she told me that she had to place her sixteen year old daughter on birth control pills since she and her boyfriend were now into a "meaningful relationship." Her absolute powerlessness in the face of her daughter's insistence on being sexually active seemed so typical of how parents are portrayed in the media, on television and in the movies that I had to wonder if the influence of these powerful means of communication may be at the roots of the confusion of so many parents today.

There is a commonly held belief in the modern self-serving religion of "feel goodism," that the two most dreaded events in a teenager's life are pregnancy and the AIDS virus. The biggest "sin" one can commit in this "religion" is the practice of unsafe sex. It is into this confused society that we must eventually release our children. We, therefore, must--no option here--we must be conduits of the truth as the revealed word of God long before the illusions of society make themselves known to the child.

Morality certainly has a wide range of interpretations. We have the certainty of truth which the Catholic Church has provided. Deo gratias! The rules of morality have been detailed, most recently in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church.

What is education in sexuality? It is neither a series of "thou shalt nots" nor a laissez faire policy in which the fingers are crossed in hopes that the child will pick it up on his or her own. No, it is nothing else than a gentle, ongoing, reality-based introduction into adult living. Why "reality-based?" Because modern thought in this area is fraught with deception and omission.

Many people today are living an illusion. Anything which does not have the interests of the Creator as its end and is therefore opposed to the truth, as revealed to the Church, must be called an illusion. Commonplace are lifestyles and behaviors which, even thirty years ago would have been condemned by most people. The modern divorce and remarriage rate is at least fifty percent; homosexuality is not only tolerated, but promoted as a healthy lifestyle; abortion on demand is normative; fornication is so "normal" that chastity is considered not only out-moded, but unhealthy. It is therefore essential to instruct children, from the earliest age, in the Church's teachings. By itself, sex education is intrusive, inadequate and even scandalous to a youngster in his formative years. Without the necessary moral underpinning, modern sex education can be excessively stimulating to a young mind at best and pornographic at its worst. Children must be taught the morality which should underlie not only their sexual conduct, but all their actions.

What is morality? Morality is defined as the relation between a human act and the final destiny of a human being. It is the norm of behavior that flows from each person's ultimate end, which is the possession of God in the Beatific Vision (Modern Catholic Dictionary, pg. 360). Our decisions, therefore, can have eternal consequences. So detailed is the Church's provision for direction in one of the most sensitive areas of human life, that the new Catechism enumerates three sources of morality: " The morality of human acts depends on: the object chosen; the end in view or the intention; and the circumstances of the action" (n. 1750). And so, in weighing any human action against the laws of God, we must place them before the tribunal of the teaching Church. No human authority can reinterpret or change the deposit of truth.

To be noted is that morality should be solidly Catholic, not merely Christian. Parents should, whenever possible, consult sound Catholic sources. Many so-called Christian churches allow the practice of contraception. Divorce and remarriage are permitted as well, in many mainline Protestant Churches.

Who should give children their introduction into human sexuality? No one is more qualified than the child's parents because they are the bridge whom God has provided between the child and the world. They are in place to give a gentle, ongoing introduction to family life. The home is still the womb of the family. The peaceful cushion of the home insulates the child from what must be called the lies of the world. Outside of the walls of the home is a world hell- bent on stealing the innocence of children. Examples are all too well-known: pornography, rock music, the drug culture, gangs, the "new morality" and most important and pervasive, the intrusion of school- based sex education programs. To be especially noted is the intrusion of television into the home from which children are daily indoctrinated in the morality of the producers. In one study, well over 90% of producers and directors admitted they did not believe in God! No surprise when one considers the moral degradation and violence broadcast 24 hours every day on television, but especially during prime time hours on the major networks.

When should we begin to teach our children about their sexuality? Like prayer, it should begin before birth. A child who is deeply loved from conception will be secure and assured of his own unique place in life. As he grows, he will ask questions about life and living; about himself and about God. Each stage is marked by its own capacities and abilities to learn. The parents, understanding and loving their children as no one else could, will be available to answer all their questions. The should be answered honestly and appropriately to their age level while all the time respecting their uniqueness. They are temples of the Holy Spirit. As adolescence approaches, a providential time and place for girls and boys to be introduced to their reproductive gifts and functions will become apparent. Family and individual prayer and the frequent reception of the sacraments is not only encouraged, but absolutely necessary to insure chastity not only for the children, but for the parents as well.

How to teach it? Because each child is so unique, the parents' approach should be tailored to him or her. The subject is so delicate not because we Catholics are " prudish or old-fashioned" but because it is natural. God has implanted in every human person a holy shame. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said it best when he described the natural shyness of even small boys and girls when in each other's company. Because of the potential for life within little girls, little boys are aware of this a young age. This, therefore, is why girls and boys usually play separately and make them shy around each other. The girl's future ability to become a mother makes little boys deeply aware of their differences even though it is mainly subconscious. (Modern educators pass this off as guilt which our parents impose!)

Much of what they teach their children will be unspoken. A new baby is expected; the child notices his mother's abdomen swell. The baby is nursed at his mother's breast as the child plays beside her. The parents embrace; the child smiles contentedly. All of these loving, nurturing family experiences are as surely assimilated by the child as is any learning experience.

Parents should answer questions about human sexuality with matter-of-fact, but honest answers. Anatomical names should be used for body parts, no matter what the age. If a child hears sensitive information from his parents first, he will be better equipped to deal with the inevitable street vocabulary. He will also be less likely to use denigrating language with his peers.

"Where did I come from?" could mean when and where did my life begin, or it could also mean "in which state was I born?" A sensitive parent will not answer delicate questions before the child is ready. Each child's uniqueness is a serious factor. Each stage of development in a child's life signals a new readiness to receive more detailed information That is why the classroom is the poorest place for a child to hear about reproduction and sexuality. It removes a child's right to private, individual, one on one instruction in the most highly sensitive area of human behavior. The imposition of information before the child is ready to hear it could do irreparable damage. Gender differences, femaleness and maleness, are not interchangeable, as though men and women are blended into some kind of androgynous conglomerate. Men and women; boys and girls are different because God made them to complement each other.

Three modes of living are especially important in the nineties. During the Vietnam war, one prisoner of war noted that they carried him successfully through seven years of horrible torture, starvation and deprivation. All his life he had practiced moderation, kept order and exercised discipline. This is no easy task in this modern age where feeling good and creature comforts are of prime importance. If a child observes his parents denying themselves occasionally, being orderly not only in the home but in their activities and using firm but loving discipline in raising them, the groundwork will be laid for their own future struggles, especially in the use of self-restraint when adolescence arrives with its powerful urges.

The ultimate end of each thought, word and deed of every creature should be to give glory to Almighty God. We give glory to God when we not only respond--with the graces He has given us--to His holy will, but we actually embrace His holy will, no matter what it is, painful or pleasant. The new Catechism explains how parents must regard their children: "Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, [parents] educate their children to fulfill God's law" (n. 2222). We can be certain that if the Church teaches it, it is indeed His holy will to give strong example and to teach them about God's loving plan for the human race that we might all enjoy a happy eternity. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church is an excellent source for parents to consult as they "raise up their children in the way they should go."

Taken from the "The Catholic Family's Magnificat!", P.O. Box 43-1015, Pontiac, MI 48343-1015, 810-412-1959, e-mail addresses: on CRNET: Marianna C Bartold@crnet.org, On Prodigy: TXEF95A@prodigy.com, On America On-Line: Marianna1@aol.com. Subscriptions to this excellent magazine for homeschooling families are available for $20.00 a year (4 issues).