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Heart of Home Education: Teaching the Catholic Faith
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Surely one of the great developments of our day has been the rise and growth of what is popularly called home schooling, and what I prefer to describe as home education.
Behind this development is far more than a reaction to the inadequacy of so many organized schools in North America. In fact, it is more an act of divine providence than a result of merely human factors. In my judgment, it is nothing less than a gift from God which I hope to help all of us appreciate and put to use for the greater glory of God.
My plan for this conference is to cover the following:
Our Primary Duty as Catholics
It must seem strange to say that our primary duty as Catholics is to share our faith with others. But this will seem less strange if we reflect on the fact that, as Christ told us, we shall be mainly considered His disciples if we have love for one another.
What is love except providing for the needs of others. In our Lord's own words, if people are hungry and we provide them with food to eat, we are practicing love towards them. People are thirsty and we give them to drink. They are naked and we clothe them; or sick or in prison and we visit them.
But what is bodily hunger or thirst or nakedness or loneliness compared to these needs in the soul! And the most fundamental need of the soul is for possession of the truth which means possessing the faith. We have the truth only if we believe that God became Man.
That is why the most fundamental duty of our lives is to communicate to others what others have so generously passed on to us, namely the true faith. The key factor here is the word "true." Every rational human being believes in something, in fact believes in many things. The main question is whether what a person believes is the truth.
The great gift of our Catholic faith is that it is a treasury of God's truth. Our faith tells us there is a God who made us to be at peace on earth by doing His will and perfectly happy with Him in heaven for all eternity. As Catholics, we should have no doubt why we exist, what is the purpose of every which, why, who, every where, every when, in a word every thing in our lives.
Surely our highest and deepest responsibility is to share with others something of this precious gift that God has so undeservingly given us.
The Primary Duty of Parents
The more a society is preoccupied with making money or achieving success, or living a long and healthy life on earth, or being honored and praised by others the less meaningful is our statement that the primary duty of parents is to teach their children. Do I say, "less meaningful?" I mean that teaching the faith becomes meaningless as parents become immersed in these worldly values.
Let us be honest. We could so stress the negative factors which started the home schooling phenomenon that we are liable to overlook the main positive purpose for home education. This main purpose has always been, since the time of Christ, is now, and always will be to have parents teach their children the one true faith which came from Christ through the Apostles.
Standing in St. Peter's in Rome, while Pope John Paul II offered the Mass just two days ago on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul thousands gave dramatic witness to this faith. Every square foot in St. Peter's was filled with people from all over the world. It is this faith for which, by now millions have shed their blood, that parents are privileged and obliged to give the children they have brought into temporal life, but only to bring them to eternal life in heaven with the Holy Trinity.
We have a problem however. By now something like a million parents are giving their children home education. Many, perhaps most of these parents are not Catholic. Yet they are concerned for their children's faith and make great sacrifices to pass on a sound pedagogy to their sons and daughters.
Why are they doing this? It is not merely because existing schools are not providing an adequate secular education in history, literature, geography and grammar. The underlying reason is the need for authentic religious instruction.
After two centuries of history in our country, religious believers are finally waking up to the consequences of a secularized democracy. A democracy which ignores the rights of God becomes a mobocracy that destroys even the most fundamental rights of man. Our nation is moving in that direction.
That is why every other factor in home education is secondary to its main purpose. This is to enable parents to teach the true faith to their children. As a country loses its hold on immortal values, the educational agencies in that country tend to become either agents of those in state control or partners in its paganization, or silent spectators of the secularization process.
Catholic parents have the unique privilege of possessing the fullness of religious truth. They have the corresponding grave vocation from God to open the treasury of this truth to the offspring entrusted to their parental care.
Let us be very clear. It is one thing to say that parents are to give their children religious instruction. It is something else to do this adequately. The obstacles are numerous and in some ways insurmountable.
The single most important asset which the parents need is their own possession of a deep enlightened faith. This is not easy to come by in today's massive electronic confusion. That is why, I would say that parents must be trained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Another way of putting it even more clearly: parents must understand their faith in a way consistent with the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Twenty years of religious speculation leaves a library of biblical fiction, theological views, liturgical make-believe and day-dream unreality.
In not a few places, once-Catholic colleges and seminaries have literally purged their stacks of thoroughly Catholic books. Something like a dozen once fully Catholic publishing houses have gone out of business or drastically changed their Catholic character.
All of this, simply illustrates the desperate need for Catholic parents to do what we might say is humanly impossible. What is that? They must, at no matter what cost, know their faith by learning it from authentic Catholic sources.
They must find those priests, religious and lay instructors necessary; families may have to cluster together to obtain the required religious education. I know this from years of experience in Chicago, Detroit, Ann Arbor and New York City.
Gone is the day when parents with even young children can be satisfied with a rote knowledge of their faith. Why? Because the most fundamental truths of doctrine and morality are being constantly assailed and undermined by our media of social communication.
Children before the age of two are now being faced with demonically seductive ideas in every aspect of Christianity. Sex education has become a synonym for sex perversion on a scale and with such sophisticated approval that parents are pressed to explain to their pre-adolescent children why the Church is so backward as to forbid the enjoyable pleasure of unchaste thoughts or the satisfaction of so-called sins of unchaste actions.
Home Teaching and God's Providence
Our third and final reflection is on the role of home education as part of God's providential plan for restoring family life in the Western world.
What exactly do I mean? I mean that generations of parents have given over the responsibility for training their own children to the school system that was available. As a result, many parents are now so accustomed to someone else replacing them that it has become a national pattern. Add to this the economic pressure on parents to even raise a normal size family, and the "burden" as many call it, of home education seems intolerable. But this simply proves one thing: that home education is part of God's providence to
Parents who learn their Catholic faith are, in many cases, being faced with a hard alternative: Either lose their children to the Catholic faith and the prospect of these children losing their immortal souls; or doing the heroic thing and giving their children a sound Catholic education at home.
I cannot exaggerate the role of God's providence in this historic phenomenon. The Lord knows that without a Catholic training in faith and morals from childhood, the very survival of the Catholic Church in some countries is at stake. So what did He do? He allowed the situation to become so grave and the spectacle of Catholic apostasy so obvious that parents who still cherish their religious heritage were finally aroused to do something.
This "something" that must be done is not only providing children with religious instruction. It is also, and with emphasis, giving the children home inspiration.
What is "home inspiration"? It is the parents living such holy lives that they are the constant channels of divine grace to their children.
This is more, much more, than giving a good example. It is nothing less than what Christ told us to be: the light of the world and the salt of the earth. All the graces God wants to confer on our children, He will confer, but on one condition: That we and especially parents are the conduits of this grace from Christ who is God, through us who are Christians, to those whom God has placed into our lives.
There is no one under heaven who is a more necessary channel of divine grace than are parents to their children. After all, parents are meant by God not only, or mainly, to bring offspring into this place of space and time. No! They are meant by God to raise families for the New Jerusalem where there will be no more sorrow or mourning and where every tear will be wiped away.
"Mary, Mother of the Holy Family, obtain for parents from your Son the wisdom they need to raise their families according to His divine will. Ask your son to give home education parents the courage to proclaim this truth in an unbelieving world; the patience to carry this cross without complaining because they love Jesus Crucified, and the holiness they require to be channels of divine grace as they lead their sons and daughters to that eternal home for which we were made. Amen."
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