We believe, of
course, that every human being is, in one way or another, a sign of God
his Creator and Sanctifier and of Christ his Redeemer. We ourselves,
incorporated into Christ by Baptism, are meant in God's plan to become
more and more Christ-ened all our lives long, increasingly perfect
undimmed signs of Christ, through whom He can love and serve His Father
and His brethren. And He has so identified Himself with the human race
that we can recognize and serve Him in every person we meet, baptized
or not, sinners or saints.
Every human being is made by God, called to share God's life in Christ,
and, therefore, actually or potentially a child of God, a brother,
co-worker and co-heir with Christ, a temple and instrument of the Holy
Spirit. We are, in fact, to be judged as fit for heaven or not, on the
basis of whether we have treated other people as signs of Christ Our
Lord: "Come, blessed of My Father--when I was hungry, you fed Me..."
There is no need to go into details as to how this sacramentality, this
sacredness of each human being, should affect our own actions, and our
family life in general. We are all accustomed to try to act in the
light of these truths. But we must now consider some of their
implications in education.
On the side of self-development, each child is meant to become another
Christ in his own individual way. Surely, then, all the long process of
caring for his needs, physical, mental and spiritual, and of training
him to take over his own care and development, can and should be
ordered to this high purpose. And surely, also, the truths that God has
told us about human nature will afford us a guide as to how to order
all our training to this purpose of forming 'other Christs.'
The children, as they are given to us, are, first of all, signs of God
their Creator; they are God's creatures, made to His image and
likeness. Their bodies and souls and all their powers are then
fundamentally good, planned by God to be used for good. Consequently,
as the children become aware of their own bodies and of their physical
prowess and powers, we can teach them to reverence and admire God's
workmanship, and to want to cooperate with God's purposes.
When the children want to know, for instance, what happens to the food
they eat, we can tell them the basic scientific facts in simple
language, and lead them to praise the Maker of these marvels. We can
also lead them to see the reasons for eating proper food, for taking
reasonable care of their health so as to cooperate with His plans. Such
a habit of mind fostered all during childhood should likewise prepare
the children for a real appreciation of our remaking in Christ. These
bodies, so wonderfully made to begin with, have been re-made by
Baptism, Confirmation, the reception of the holy Eucharist, to be
Christ's own members, the temples and instruments of the Holy Spirit.
And if we should use them and develop them properly because they were
made by God, how much more since He has given them this added wonder
In the same way, as the children come to be aware of their own
emotions, and of their own spiritual powers, we can teach them what God
actually intended these powers for--that Tommy's explosiveness, for
instance, was given him by God to be harnessed as a driving force to
help him overcome obstacles in doing God's Will. He has to learn to
control this power with God's help, but in itself it is as good and
necessary as is the explosive power of gasoline in making a motor run.
And, along the same lines, we can show the children gradually what the
graces of the sacraments do, and will do to bring all their powers to
But our children are, as is only too evident, fallen children of Adam,
even as we are. (If anyone of us did not believe in original sin,
surely the experience of being a parent would soon convince him of its
truth, so evident are its effects not only on the children but on
ourselves!) Even when God's life has been given us in Baptism, even
with the grace of the sacraments, we all still have weak wills, tending
to sin, uncertain minds, tending to error, emotions tending to run away
with us rather than work for us.
But our incorporation into Christ by Baptism means that we can share in
His victory over sin, sinfulness, and the devil who would lead us into
sin. By the grace of His Passion and Cross, even our weakness and our
tendency to sin can work for our good and His glory. We can be brought
in His strength to the glory of His Resurrection.
As the children, then, become aware of their own weaknesses, of their
own tendencies to sin and sinfulness; as they begin to realize how much
easier it is to do the wrong thing, or the less good thing than the
right one, we can try to show them that all this is no cause for
surprise or undue alarm or worry. Every human being has these
tendencies because of Adam's sin; they can somehow, in God's love,
finally work for our greater happiness; our job is to try to accept the
hazards of our special weaknesses patiently, to ask God's help in
overcoming them; to realize that overcoming them perfectly a long, long
job, but that God has promised the victory if we hope in Him and keep
But any parent who tries to teach the children self-control and
self-discipline and to deal with their faults along these lines, soon
discovers that it involves a great deal of discipline for him (or her)
also. We find that we have to discard those handy parental weapons of
"How could you...!", "To think that a child of mine...!", "Well, I am
surprised!" Why in the world should we, fallen children of Adam
ourselves with all our own so evident failings, have any right to be so
surprised that our children take after us also in having faults? Yet it
is a rare parent who has never said something similar!
And we have to discard also those other easy lines of attack, "Where is
your self-respect...?", "What will people think?--", and try to work
instead along the lines of respect for God's making and re-making,
recourse to God's help and His love, the desire to carry out His plans
and do His work.
Again, the effort to direct all our teaching and training of the
children along these lines soon shows us the reasons for positive
discipline and training. We see that we not only have to try to keep
our tempers with the children--which is hard enough, God knows!--but
that, on the other hand, we have no right simply to make ourselves the
servants of their impulses and whims.
We see that we need to learn to serve Christ in each child, not by
giving in to him in his various phases of growing up, but by helping
him to develop the raw material of his nature into the image of Christ
that God intends him to become. We have to make ourselves the
intelligent servant of his true needs as a Christian-in-the-making, and
this includes the need for discipline and necessary punishment as well
as for positive training in obedience, self-control, and self-devel-
There is, of course, no hard and fast line between the individual and
social development of a child; for to develop oneself is to develop
one's possibilities of serving others; to develop skills in serving
others is to develop oneself. And, in general, it seems that most
children find the idea of self-perfection a rather static and
unappealing motive, whereas the idea of fitting oneself both by
discipline and development to be someone's fellow-worker, therefore to
help Christ to win His victory, build up His Kingdom, help other people
come to His happiness--all this makes good sense.
It would seem better, therefore, both for supernatural and obviously
utilitarian reasons, to consider the child's personal, individual
development as only one aspect of the whole process of his growth as an
interdependent member of the mystical Body of Christ.
But with regard to what is usually called "social adjustment" as such,
we can begin, as soon as a child is becoming aware of other people as
people, to show him that they are sacred because they are God's, and
related to himself in that sacredness because he is God's also. A small
child is aware of himself as a maker--of block houses, mud pies, sand
castles, peggy-toy guns, etc.--before he is explicitly aware of himself
as a child in relation to his parents, and long before he is explicitly
aware of himself as a person.
He can be taught very early, then, to realize that people are things
that God made with special love and care for very special reasons,
things that He wants us to learn to treat properly and to use as He
meant them to be used. "God gave Johnny a dark skin and you a lighter
one.... Wasn't He clever to think up such a lot of different ways of
making people!" "You know you didn't like it when Tommy knocked down
the house you built; well, God doesn't like it when you knock Tommy
down, because He made Tommy...."
Soon the children can also begin to realize and act upon the
implications of the fact that people are not only things that God
specially made, but also His children that He specially loves. They can
learn that all children are brothers and sisters of God's Son who
became a human child like themselves. They can learn that some of us
already have the great privilege of belonging to His special family,
the Church. "Bobby is so nice because God made him that way.... You
look a little like Daddy, don't you? Well, all God's children look
something like Him, and that's one reason why we love them." "You
wouldn't let anybody hit little sister while you were around. Well, we
all ought to feel the same way about everybody in the world, because
God has made them all our Lord's brothers and sisters and ours too."
As the children begin to be aware of other people's failings and
weaknesses and failures, we can show them here also that mistakes and
faults and sins are nothing to be surprised at, that only God is
perfect and always to be counted on; that people are to be loved and
cared for and served even though they are not perfect, since God made
them and loves them and redeemed them and wants their company in heaven
So we should help the children as they grow up not to become
"disillusioned" by any fact that they learn about human nature or by
any experience that they may have of other people's weakness and
sinfulness. We should help them to be properly on their guard against
other people's weaknesses as well as their own, while at the same time
hoping for the best from other people as being redeemed in Christ
together with themselves.
In the light of the full Christian truth, we can also show the
children, as they become increasingly aware of their own reactions to
other people and of theirs to them, that true affection, friendship and
love are reflections of God's own love, and that they mean wishing and
working for the other's true good, ultimately for his Christ-likeness
on earth and his eternal happiness in heaven. We can help them to see
in the mystery of true human attractiveness and lovableness, a shadow
and sign of the infinite attractiveness of God, a sign that is meant to
lead us beyond itself to Him.
So we can help them to begin to watch their own motives in their loving
and giving, to learn to love and give for the sake of the other person,
and, ultimately for Christ, rather than for the sake of making
themselves feel good or excited. We can help them to judge whether
another person's affection is real, and therefore leading them toward
God, or false and leading them away from Him; and so with their own
feelings for others. And with God's help, we can give them some sort of
real chart to guide them toward God and the Christlike service of
others amidst all the surprise, pain, bewilderment, comfort and
happiness involved in their future relations with other human beings.
Such a "sacramental" way of looking at our children and their
development will, incidentally, make more endurable the inescapable
drudgery involved in caring for small children, and even more, the
almost sickening effort often required by the disciplining and training
of children in the essential habits and basic skills of ordinary human
And such a "sacramental" way of looking at themselves and their
neighbors should make it much more interesting to the children to take
over the work of their own self-discipline, of keeping up and
developing their own good habits, physical, mental and spiritual. Such
things as remembering to brush one's teeth twice a day, to keep one's
clothes reasonably clean and neat, to make oneself reasonably
attractive, to eat real food rather than candy and ice cream, etc., can
be shown as jobs to be done for God, part of taking proper care of His
instrument, His temple, one's own body.
In the same way, we can show the children that learning how to choose
their own reading or movies or television shows, to study lessons
thoroughly, to control their daydreams, all such things, are part of
their responsibility to God for taking proper care of the member of
Christ, the instrument of the Holy Spirit that God wants each child to
become. And, again, we can teach them that learning how to sweep a
floor or read a book thoroughly, how to cook, how to drive a nail, how
to do arithmetic, are not simply tiresome necessities, but are part of
their present or future service of Christ in others.
This does not mean, of course, that whenever mother tells Suzie to sit
up straight, she must always add "because God's child oughtn't to
slouch"; or that whenever father stops Tommy from beating up his little
brother, Tommy should be reminded that "Johnny is God's child too."
Such a course would be likely to turn its victims away from all
religion! But it does mean that we parents should keep before our own
eyes the sacramental vision of what people are and are meant to become,
that we try to act upon it ourselves, and that we communicate it in
words to the children as their interest, curiosity or special needs
give us the opportunity.
In other words, we should try to think and act ourselves, to teach the
children to think and to act, in such a way that the explicit doctrinal
teaching about what human nature is and is meant to become, as the
children learn it in formal religious instruction, will be merely the
formulation of truths already to some degree realized and acted upon.
None of our training, of course, can substitute for the children's own
free wills. We cannot save them without their own consent--God Himself
does not do that. We cannot force them to become saints, nor even
passably good Christians. All this is, ultimately, up to God's grace
and their own freedom; our part here is that of prayer.
But God has entrusted the children's training to us during the years of
their growth. We cannot help training them somehow--if only in
self-defense. Let us, then, try to train them in accordance with His
own plan, for His own plan, not stopping at any lesser plan or purpose.
And then surely He will supplement our feeble efforts and help our
children to become by His grace, what He Himself wishes them to be.
1. How will we be judged by God as fit for heaven? (Read aloud the
Gospel according to St. Matthew 25:34-46)
2. What should we teach our children as being the reason for taking
care of our body and for being proud of the body?
3. What importance does the doctrine of original sin have for parents
in the task of rearing children?
4. How should children be told about the rights and failings of other
5. What is the basic reason for discipline of ourselves and of our
1. "Each child is meant to become another Christ." How can this idea
influence an other in her daily work of feeding, clothing, and training
2. List the principal failings common to parents in dealing with their
children. Show how these defects could be modified by the development
of a deeper religious understanding and motivation.
3. Discuss the typical reactions in our community toward peoples of
different races, colors, nationalities, and religions. How can we, in
our own particular environment, teach our children to practice
neighborly love toward members of other groups?
4. What qualities should a "model child" have at the age of 7? at the
age of 12? (Would he ever show anger? would he be instantly obedient in
all things? would he consciously have a religious motivation for every
act? how advanced would he be in awareness of social obligations?)
5. Discuss the extent that parents should regulate their children's
recreational interests, and the means that they should use. What
responsibility have parents for controlling the time and judging the
quality of movies, radio and television programs, and reading
materials? Is it sufficient merely to censure what is bad? How can
positive Christian standards of judgment regarding recreational outlets
be developed in children?
The Christian Pattern
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals