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The Responsibility of Catholic Parents

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

What we have been trying to do, as you know, is to have a distinct subject for each of our lectures. And since we are covering the general subject of Christian marriage—and of course the family, I thought our present comments would be on the responsibility of Catholic parents for the religious education of their children.

Notice we are speaking of “responsibility”, and we are identifying “Catholic parents and the religious education of their children”.

First, by way of a short introduction: to know this is no simple exhortation, it is not just that giving religious instruction to their children is a “good thing”. No! It is a grave—and I mean grave—responsibility. In our country today this responsibility is the most serious obligation. It is by all odds binding as we say, under pain of mortal sin. For parents to neglect the religious education of their children is to sin gravely. Only God knows how many, but I believe many more than most people either realize or are willing to admit.

What is the scope? I want to cover three parts: The meaning of what we are talking about, the motives or the reasons, and then the method or how this should be done.

Grave Primary Duty

First, what do we mean? Parents have the grave primary duty to educated and train their children in the Catholic faith, in Catholic worship and in morality. Why? In order to prepare them for eternal life in heaven. In one declarative sentence—the purpose or goal of Catholic education is heaven. And the only reason under God that parents even should bring children into the world is to prepare them for heaven. It would be shear madness to bring children into the world for “just” this world. Lord, spare us!

Noting what we are saying, it is a grave duty, to repeat, binding under mortal sin.

Not too many years ago it was a grave obligation for parents to send their children to a Catholic school when there were “Catholic” schools. And it is primary in two ways. It is primary both for the parents, in other words, no one else can really replace them. They may need help, they may be in a position where they cannot provide, really cannot provide the religious education. But then to that extent they are transferring or transmitting their own primary responsibility to someone else, but no one else has the primary responsibility.

Primacy of Teaching Religion

And secondly, it is also a primacy of teaching religion. However, when we say teaching religion, that is not quite the same as “religious education”. And by now you might be bored by the frequency with which I refer to the English language as being the most confused language in the world today. I did tell you what the editors of the Webster’s Unabridged English Dictionary after years of research, wrote “It is impossible, it is no longer possible to publish an English dictionary which defines the meaning of words.” Now their explanation was “more sophisticated language”. But in plainer English they said it is because people who speak English do not know the meaning of words. They can be very literate. Question: Is every literate person intelligent? No! Is every illiterate person stupid? No! Three doctorates in class, applies to all of us too, the fact that you have an education proves nothing about your intelligence. Zero.

So primary that the obligation to not really teach religion as an isolated subject, which was never the mind of the Church-never! Everything you teach, because everything we are to learn has bearing on eternal life. And therefore religious education is that education which provides those who learn, to understand that everything in their lives- from the breakfast that they have in the morning, to the car that won’t start, to the cold to whatever. Everything in our lives is meant to be a divinely ordained means of reaching our eternal destiny. There is such a thing (Is there ever!) as teaching history as part of religious education. Such a thing as teaching spelling. In fact, studies have shown that Americans may be otherwise very educated that they are especially ignorant of the meaning of religious terms, massive national stupidity of the meaning of religious terms. So spelling, does a word like sacrament occur in your spelling?

To Educate

To educate-instruction of the mind, but watch it, to educate includes the mind indeed, but the mind is to be educated in order to inspire the will. There is nothing more devastating, and I mean devastating, than acquiring what may be call, “sterile knowledge”. Feeding the mind, stuffing the mind, with all kinds of ideas and not having that mind motivate the will to do what God wants us to do.

The Catholic faith, what to believe and what the Faith means. Catholic worship, prayer and the sacraments, Catholic morality, the decalogue and the beatitudes. In other words, we are talking about the meaning of religious education. It means therefore, that the parents train the children, both in their minds and in their wills on all three levels of our religious instruction. Namely, what our minds are to believe, how we are to worship God and especially how we are to put what we believe into practice, in other words, how we are to behave.

In order to prepare, God gave the parents children to be the channels of grace to their offspring. In other words, the single principle (whatever word we use) means, vehicle, by which the children are to both learn their faith in their minds, know how to worship from infancy, and know how to live in practicing the moral law. The parents are the principle means that God put into their lives, to educate and train their children. But then lets be clear, the purpose is not merely to be pedagogue to their children, not even by their good behavior as parents to edify their children. No. It is mainly that the parents might be channels of grace to the children whom God gave them. And this is a whole monumental subject of what we call “external grace”. Remember? External grace or plural “graces” are those persons, places, and things that God puts into our lives as the means by which God gives us “internal” grace for the mind to know and for the will to choose and love. And parents are the principle channels of this grace to their children. And why? For their eternal life in Heaven. In other words, families are meant to be reunited in Heaven. And one of the lessons we all as we grow older will learn, the loved ones that leave us before we enter eternity (and this is in God’s providence) is to make us more aware of the fact that the kinship we have with the people we have known and loved on earth, especially our own families, is meant to go on for all eternity.

I think I may have mentioned this on some occasion, over the years I would always say my grace before and after meals, as I had been so taught by my mother. I can’t imagine sitting down to eat anything, In fact, even drinking a glass of water without the sign of the cross. Never. Then when my mother died, I always say grace after meals, why else? So I say the grace after meals and then say amen. Then make the sign of the cross and leave. But then it dawned on me, “Hardon how dumb can you be? There is an addition to that grace after meals. Who knows? “And may the souls of the faithfully departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.” I want all of you- what is today? October 24th. From tonight’s meal, you might forget a few times and then try to remember you forgot. From tonight never say grace after meals without adding that invocation. Because I realized, my gosh, there is one person as I was confident that she would be in Heaven was my mother, because I was hoping she would get me there.

But this is a deep, not merely human, but supernatural desire we should all have- to be reunited in Heaven with those whom we have dearly loved here on earth, to pray for them.


Now the motives: Why should parents have a grave duty to train their children religiously? First, because they are the parents. Except for the parents there would be no children. And even now with all kinds of stupid tampering with parenthood, that so-called “scientists” are indulging in, and this is one aspect not just of our faith, but of our sanity. And a country like ours, that we had better be clear about, because parenthood in our country is becoming more and more obscured. But remember, and I hope to be clear, parents are by God meant to be parents for their children twice over. They are obviously parents for their children physically—except for mother and father there would be no children. The physical existence of the children depends on having father and mother bringing them into the world, but we have two kinds of lives. We have a physical life and we have a spiritual life. This is different than merely that parents are to educate their children. That is still on the natural level. In other words, parents are to be believers and only believers can reproduce other believers. And the more clearly and deeply the parents believe their Catholic faith, the more grace they will be communicating to their offspring. In other words, parents are to be parents both of the physical and spiritual lives of their children. First of all, unless the parents have the faith in the first place, the odds are the children would not even have been baptized to begin with. Believing parents then, will make sure that their children are baptized. We go on…

Why is there such a grave responsibility? Because the parent’s responsibility is revealed by God in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, especially Saint Paul, and therefore, it is part of our faith. It is therefore, a revealed truth taught by God and gravely binding on everyone who has the faith. First, to make sure that the children who they have brought physically are baptized and thus receive the supernatural life at baptism. And this by the way, is becoming again, a test of our faith in our country. I am told in more than one parish, when a priest baptizes, the people will be told (the godparents, the parents too) “You understand of course that we no longer believe that original sin is removed by baptism.” Well, we have better believe that original sin is removed. Because it is not impossible for a person to be baptized and not have received sanctifying grace. There must be faith behind that baptism. Faith in the parents who believe, faith in the godparents who believe, and faith in the priest who baptizes. So even baptism itself does, and hear it, the Sacrament of Baptism confers the “virtue of faith”, but only a believer can make baptism valid.

I must by now have said this ten times, in other words the pouring of water and the pronunciation of the Holy Trinity does not baptize anyone. There must be faith behind the baptism, and this is first faith in the parents.

Question from audience: If you were aware, and this was brought up by a priest that would indicate right off the bat that the priest does not have a faith in what he is teaching. So then should you have the child rebaptized by a believing priest?

Father Hardon: No. That is good thing that you asked because even though the priest does not believe, the baptism does, as we do believe remove original sin and restore the state of grace. Nevertheless, somebody’s faith must be there. The faith of the parents would then, shall I say (What a statement!) would supply…my Lord for the lack of faith in the priest. Pray for priests, that they remain firm in their faith. The devil is especially active to seduce bishops and priests in the world today.

Second, because the parent’s responsibility is revealed by God.

Three, because the Church teaches it, and page fifty-nine at least in Standard English Translation that I have of a document you should all read of the present Holy Father- “Familiaris Consortio”. Which incidentally is heavily drawn on in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If there is one thing that the present pope makes so clear in the Catechism is the responsibility of the parents to teach their children their faith, because in the last analysis their influence is deepest on the children.

Four, because of the powerful forces at work in the modern world to take the rights of parents or take away the rights of parents and give them to the states. And this is not just a basic premise of communism; this is where Karl Marx has deeply, profoundly infected our nation. Does United States have income tax? I never thought I would live as a Jesuit vowed to total poverty to pay my income tax every year. I am taxed even for… Well, I turn all the money I put in. The Order is taxed, and this is for my publications. Karl Marx brought income tax into the world. When you pray for the repose of somebody’s soul, pray for the repose of the soul of Karl Marx. Over the years I have taught graduate courses in Marxism, and the bottom line of Marxism is for the state to take over the education of children from their youngest years. Behind the billions of dollars, “remember?” of so called childcare, is the demonic shadow of Karl Marx. This is what is going on, and most Americans are just like sheep not realizing what is going on. So what is happening, so many parents are now in competition with the state. That is why, since we have already formed, you know we already now have a National Catholic Home Education Association to assist parents in home schooling. Why is this so important for parents to educate their children? Because the modern media are largely in control of persons and agencies that are positively hostile to the teachings of the Catholic Church. And the word is positively, absolutely hostile to the Catholic Church, and thus the radio, television, newspaper, periodicals, books and film.

If you ask why, it is because, unless parents do everything they possibly can then that will happen, what has already happened in so many parts of our country where the parents are no longer the educators of their children. And this same society, to make sure the state has complete control of the education of children, make sure that (now it is approaching sixty percent) the laboring force of America is women. Depriving then, right and left, of their rights of fathers and husbands. And you don’t dare say a word! If you do, how well I know, you can be in trouble with the law.

I had a distraught father calling me when I got home from the West Coast, I get a call from the West Coast. A father of four children, “Why I did it only God knows”, but he encouraged his wife to get a medical degree. She got the medical degree and now he is suppose to take care of the children. Except for in this case, in the meantime she got a divorce. She has other men available and this Catholic father and before God still “husband” is in agony. “And the woman claims to be a Catholic” he told me, “and she is teaching CCD in the local grammar school”. The husband pleaded with the school “My wife is living in open adultery”. He was told that most of the children don’t know.

The lecture we are having this afternoon identifies the heart of the crisis in our once Christian United States. The only parents who are going to live up to this responsibility in the years to come are those, and I mean it, who will be willing to lay down their lives rather than compromise the Faith where they have learned, and now how to teach their children. No price should be too high.


Now the method: When we come to asking how parents are to exercise their responsibility I have limited myself to seven recommendations, and I will not spend the time that each one deserves.

First: By the parents’ example. This begins in the Mother before birth. Did you know that? “Well she is not giving an example.” She sure is! The mother’s behavior, the way she lives will effect that child already at birth. And of course, the role of both father and mother is irreplaceable, indispensable and hardest of all- irreversible.

Secondly: By verbal instruction. And that again, from the moment the child is born what mother and father say, and they are both involved, and the father is not much of a talker, he better become one. He better start talking!

Did I ever tell you about the woman I had in class at Western Michigan when I taught there? One day she told me the happiest day of her married life was when her husband and she were driving in the dead of winter across Canada (some two thousand miles). And they ran into a Canadian blizzard, had to stop the car, they couldn’t move. Snow, wind and they stalled for the night. They had just enough heat not to freeze. “And all through the night”, said the wife to me “Father, my husband talked all night. And he practically has not talked since." I wasn’t sure it was true so I invited myself out for dinner. I came for dinner and we sat down, first refreshments and he was a pleasant man, he just didn’t talk. I would ask a question he would smile, or shake his head, he just wouldn’t talk. I think I counted (I am not exaggerating) in about a two hours visit- twelve words that he said.

You can't just talk, you have to know what you are saying. As I have said so often, most people can talk without thinking, nobody can write without thinking. That is why I recommend, and oh mothers, “Oh father, I have just had a baby, the last thing I need is to do any writing”. Look, I am telling you to write. No big manuscripts, just do some writing so your thoughts will be on paper. So you share something worthwhile when the child that God gave you.

Again by the family environment, family practices. In fact, this is where both the husband and wife want to have a child, they just cannot go back over the practices they have had before they were married. They may not be good ones, or not suitable for this situation. Pictures, what a difference, and I would add, statues. All I know is the two pictures in my room and first picture that I recognize as a child, were of the Sacred Heart and the Sorrowful Mother and her heart being pierced.

It is a relation with parents, in other words, how the children deal with the parents. And this is where the Sacrament of Matrimony provides parents with insight they would never have had naturally. Ideas would never had occurred to them, and this (I didn’t use to talk this way but I do now) is where the in-laws should remain in-laws. And not as so many in-laws… Of course there are exceptions. But the tendency is for the mother of the son especially, but daughter too, to still think to herself, well “I am the mother”. Again there are exceptions, but most mothers when their son marries are not sure this is the best that their boy could have done. In other words, it is something that husband and wife, mother and father are to (with God’s grace) provide for their children assistance of course, but how important this is, but not interference, and especially mazuma. “I will give you this kind of money if you do this”. It is the parent’s responsibility and not the grandparent’s responsibility. It is the parent’s responsibility.

The family that talks together stays together. May I ask, is there anybody here that in their homes that does not have televisions? One, two, three, four, five. Well, we have four television rooms for the Jesuits at Detroit University. And over the years I have spent my time before television. But the longer I am in the priesthood, the more convinced I am one of the first things that parents should do, and seriously, ask themselves is “How much influence does television have in our family?” In most cases much more than should be there. That of course effects other media too. But the one aspect that brings out the point I am making is especially engaging in conversation, there are families, from what tell me that they are almost never together as families. And this is where our society in the United States, “Barring” and this is the Pope saying, “Barring miracles of grace, the American families days are numbered.” And one reason I am here, almost the main reason, is that those of you listening with children, especially young children, will you in the name of God will allow nobody, that means of course, radio and television to replace your role as teachers. The media are deliberately seductive, consciously geared to evoke maximum attention. I think I told you about television being addictive. Most Americans are addicts. And unless something is done, first of all to Christianize our television which is no easy task, in the meantime to make sure the parents do their share in teaching their children.

In particular children from alien forces knowledge, the ideas what school, what classes are taken, what books are read, not allowing the home to be invaded. You might say, “My gosh, what am I suppose to do?” We have to start somewhere. The friends that you have, the social life.

What I am doing in this hour plus of the lecture is just touching the tip of a mountain of responsibilities. By prayer, if parents are to raise their children according to the will of God, they have no option, they must pray. Parents must pray, the children must pray, the family must pray. And pray much, pray fervently, pray together.

Then by the parents knowing their Catholic faith, that is one reason also I am so happy to see young people here with a future, secure insofar as young people will raise their children in that faith in which, unless we have it when we are young, the odds are we will never acquire it later on.

Recognizing the teaching authority of the Church. Is that ever important! And that of course means that the parents respect what the Church teaches, what she says.

And finally by the parents making decisions about their children’s formal education outside the home or should it be at home. May I ask how many of you people are engaged in home teaching? I would say continue! In many cases without home education the faith will disappear. So the choice whether it is to be at home or in a school—where? And what the Catholic Church needs desperately is authentic, real Catholic schools.

What we need in our country is another Elizabeth Seton. That is why I have organized, I think I have told you, two associations—lay people of Ignation Catechist and Marian Catechist—so that there will be someone who is dedicated on principle to the teaching of either their own children or for other people’s children. And not ask for money in return. And once the sisters who were in our country began demanding the same wage that say, the lay teachers of public school teachers get, that was the beginning of the end of the Catholic school system. There no longer is a Catholic school system in American. Did you know that, it is gone.

And these figures I keep repeating: Detroit, one community in one year, informing then Cardinal Deardon, we are leaving thirty-one of your parish schools. And nobody could dissway them. Somebody has to do the teaching. And one of my responsibilities is to encourage the formation of teaching religious orders, institutes desperately needed. That is why the Holy Father told Mother Teresa, “You have been doing great work in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing shelter for the homeless. I want you now to start teaching religion—you sisters.” Then Mother and I spent two weeks going over the draft of how this should be done. She took four pages back along with her and so now the Missionaries of Charity throughout the world are being trained to teach religion. Somebody better because so many parents are either unequipped or indifferent or so confused.

Let’s tackle the questions. Young parents are so imbued with the idea of daycare, that even if their own mother stayed home with them they think they are depriving their small children if they don’t put them into some kind of daycare each week. Amen. Parents have been brainwashed. I did tell you and I mean it, America is the most brainwashed country in the world. I can prove it!

Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life

The Sacrament of Matrimony Series
Fall Semester, 1993
Domino Farms, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Copyright © 2005 by Institute on Religious Life

Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
P.O. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641

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