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Practical Ways to Save the Family
For the Third Millennium

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

As we get more specific about cooperative responsibility, I would like to identify the three ways that the parents personally nurture their children in things of the spirit. They do so

  • by what they are
  • by what they do
  • by what they say
  1. Parents living the ways of God
    I am saying that the most fundamental way the parents train their sons and daughters in the ways of God is by themselves living the ways of God.

    There is more here than merely giving a good example. We are here in the atmosphere of divine grace. In God’s ordinary providence He uses as the channels of His grace those persons who are in possession of His grace.

    • Believing parents are channels of His faith to their children.
    • Chaste parents are channels of His chastity to their children.
    • Prayerful parents are channels of His spirit of prayer to their children.

    In a word, holy parents are channels of holiness to their children.

  2. Actions speak louder than words

    Parents nourish their sons and daughters spiritually by what the parents do. This may seem unnecessary after what was just said, that father and mother give religious upbringing by what they are.

    On the contrary. In things of the spirit, it is not enough to be a professed Catholic. A person must act like one.

    Why is this important? Because there is in all of us a tendency to divide our lives into two compartments. There is the temptation to claim to be one thing and yet to behave like something else.

    This Jekle and Hyde separation in us is neither rare nor surprising. St. Paul confessed that, “the good things that I will, I do not do; and the evil things that I will not, that I do.”

  3. Words and actions must agree

    Parents nurture their children in the supernatural life by what they say.

    We are here touching on the mystery of self-communication. And there is no communication that is more universal or more effective than the spoken word.

    The child begins to ask questions: Why this? What that? Why now? Why here? Why so? Depending on how the parents answer these incessant questions — which are not always asked out loud — the children will be trained accordingly.

    The fact that a child has questions and asks them is a law of life. The answers that the child receives will shape that life as we believe, not only for time but for eternity.

Parents' Responsibility for Influences Outside the Family

In this our final reflection on the responsibility of parents toward influences other than the family, we enter the most difficult and delicate side of our subject.

All we have said so far stands. And we are now speaking of the responsibility or duty of the parents to give their children the proper religious training. I would single out the four terms that I emphasized:

  • duty or responsibility
  • parents, both father and mother
  • their children
  • proper religious training

If Catholic parents are to fulfill their responsibility according to the will of God they most absolutely must be:

  • selective as to whom they will choose to assist them in the religious and moral nurturing of their children.

  • convinced that the schools or religious instruction programs for their children are really and not only nominally Catholic.

  • courageous in insisting that what their children are taught by others corresponds to what they, as Catholic parents, believe is good for the children whom God has placed under their care.

  • generous in giving their children all the time they need, all the patience this will take, and all the sacrifice this will call for. Gone is the day when parents can simply turn over to others the spiritual training of their offspring.

Let me be as clear as I can. Parents must be alert, and aware and, I would say, aggressive in making sure that other people, no matter how powerful, are not contradicting the religious formation which they, the parents, have the first and foremost duty before God to provide for their children.

Before God, parents have received a sacred trust. No one has a higher trust than they. No one has a higher responsibility than they. No one has a higher responsibility.

But, I must add, no one can take either the trust or the responsibility away. It belongs to the parents because it is given to them by God. The children they call theirs are first of all this. They came from Him and they are destined for Him.

That is why God became a child to teach us how simple it is to reach heaven, if only we are humble enough to listen to His words, and for parents, courageous enough to lay down their lives, if need be, for the souls entrusted to their loving care.

Fatima Family Messenger
April-June 1992, pp. 29-30

Copyright © 1997 Inter Mirifica

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