August 25, 2023

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Parents teach their children the most important lessons

Sean GallagherA new school year has begun. For some families, it may have started a month or more ago. For others, kiddos have gone back to school only in recent days.

Learning, however, never stops at home. More broadly speaking—and more importantly—neither does formation.

God has given parents the mission to form their children to become adults who seek with the aid of his grace to be disciples of Christ living lives of virtue and holiness.

This basic human reality is why the Church recognizes parents as the primary educator of their children.

It’s not the teachers in any of our Catholic schools, no matter how faith-filled they might be. It’s not any of the many dedicated educators in any public school. And it’s certainly not supposed to be our government in general or the growing power of our technology-driven culture.

Parents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, are to create a home “where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment and self-mastery—the preconditions of all true freedom” (#2223).

Given that our culture in many cases only pays lip service to these values and virtues and often promotes ways of living that run wholly counter to them, this duty of parents can easily seem like their own “mission impossible.”

And certainly if approached from our human skills and talents alone, parents will inevitably fail at this task—and sooner rather than later.

But if the mission of parents in forming their children is given to them by God, then we are invited to trust that he will give us the help for us to accomplish it.

In fact, veteran Catholic parents often discover as they look back over their years of trials and blessings in raising their family that, more often than not, God, in the mysterious working of his providence, did the heavy lifting in bringing their children to a virtuous and faith-filled adulthood.

Formation in the values noted in the catechism doesn’t proceed according to carefully drawn up lesson plans. It happens slowly and often imperceptibly in the ups and downs of daily life.

But even if it is difficult for parents to observe how this formation is working in its tiny, incremental steps, there is the still the necessity for them to put themselves into this mission with great intentionality.

This doesn’t mean that parents go into the task in control of the situation. They’re not, and they’ll only drive themselves crazy if they think they are.

But God blessed parents with the power of reason, with their own experiences and those of friends and family. When parents combine these gifts with the power of God’s grace and providence, they’ll witness the wonders he works in their dear children, wonders whose miraculous qualities grow the more unpredictable and unexpected they are.

Our faith transfigures the daily demands of parenting into an adventure with God’s glory as its goal. Yet our heavenly Father takes it higher still when parents spiritually place their tireless and tiring efforts, marked by both laughter and tears, to draw their children ever closer to him on the altar at Mass, joining them to Christ’s perfect sacrifice of himself for the salvation of the world. †

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