Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


II.
Our Neighbors

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 and sacredness.

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 perfection.

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 on trying.

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- opment.

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 forever.

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 life.

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.

Study Questions

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 people?

5. What is the basic reason for discipline of ourselves and of our children?

Discussion Topics

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 her children?

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?

Continue:
The Christian Pattern
Our Neighbors
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Things
Places
Work
Training for Life's Work and Play
Vocations
Redeeming the Times
Sex Education
Attaining Our Ideals

 

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