"...You Did It Unto Me"
But everyone we
meet is not a sign of Christ in exactly the same way. How, then, can we
best help our children to recognize, love, serve and, in turn, be
served by Christ our Lord as He comes to them in special ways in
special kinds of people?
Let us begin with those of our fellow beings who most directly and
objectively represent Christ to us: His priests. How can we best help
our children to recognize, reverence, love, and be ready to serve
Christ the Priest in every priest they may meet?
To recognize Christ the Priest in every priest means to recognize the
Mediator between God and man, who teaches God's truth to us, brings
God's life to us, leads us to serve and love God and to be happy with
To reverence Christ the Priest in every priest means to honor him as
sacred to God, set apart, consecrated and empowered for the holiest
work in the world; to honor him for God's choice of him and for his own
correspondence with that choice.
To love and be ready to serve Christ the Priest means to have our wills
in tune with Christ's priestly work, eager to have our priests be truly
priests to us. It means being ready to help them in their work in
whatever form of parish activities or Catholic action they suggest; to
help them for their work by supporting them, not only with money, but,
as we find the opportunity, with all those less tangible forms of as-
sistance that all men need, however exalted their office and station--
appreciation, the affection of charity, cooperation, opportunities for
due relaxation, and so on.
Obviously, a first necessity here is that priests be made realities in
our children's lives. If the priest is little more than a figure up at
a distant altar once a week, and a voice in the confessional once a
month, the children will have little chance to build up any attitude to
the priesthood beyond that of vague respect.
Let us, then, give the children every possible opportunity clearly to
see and hear the priest when they attend Mass--there is usually room up
in the front of the church when there is any room at all!--to witness
baptisms and ask questions about what they see, to be present when the
priest comes to our houses to visit someone who is sick, in short, to
see their priests as they go about their highest priestly work.
Let us also give our priests every possible encouragement to come to
our homes as priests, to bless our houses, give special blessings, to
visit the sick, and so on, as much as the size of our parish and
circumstances permit. And on such occasions let us try to take our
part, and the children with us, in making the correct preparations for
the priest's visit, and the right responses to his prayers.
Moreover, if our children are to receive from us any idea of working
under and with their priests in helping to bring about the kingdom of
God on earth, we shall have to take part ourselves in whatever form of
parish activity and Catholic action our circumstances and talents are
best suited for. Then the children will have the chance to see us
making practical applications of the distinction between office and
person, so necessary in all Catholic life. They will see us striving to
exercise that humorous and humble charity which does not blind itself
to "Father's" imperfections and foibles, realizing that we have just as
many and more ourselves--and that Father is trying to be patient and
charitable with us.
Finally, we could try to make it as easy as possible for priests,
especially for our own parish priest and his assistants, to visit our
homes, and to feel at home there. Every Catholic family should surely
pray for the grace of having real friends in the ranks of Christ's
priests. There is no simpler, or surer (or more enjoyable) way to give
our children the opportunity to know and love and serve Christ in his
priests than actually to have priests as honored, loved, and familiar
guests in our homes--guests with whom we do not "stand on ceremony,"
but whom we do treat with the respect due their priesthood; guests in
whom we can most obviously care for Christ Himself; guests who will
argue with the parents and play with the children, but to whom we all
kneel for Christ's blessing at the end of every visit.
If every Catholic home were to do all that it could along such lines as
these to make and strengthen the bonds of common interest in God's
work, of unselfish helpfulness, of real charity between people and
priests how far-reaching would be the effects on the future generation
in vocations to the priesthood, in fruitfulness of the Church's work,
in the vitality of the Church's life!
Many of the same general means, obviously, are also to be used in
helping our children to come to honor and to be ready to serve Christ
in His religious, to bring them to recognize religious as men and women
especially dear to Him, who have undertaken at His call to live
explicitly, full-time, and by set rules of life, in that bridal
relationship of love and total dedication to God which the rest of us
must work towards by far less direct methods.
By personal acquaintance and friendship, common work and interests with
religious; by reading, by correspondence, by contributions, however
small, to the Propagation of the Faith and to contemplative Orders, and
so on, we can try to make the manifold forms of religious life a
reality to our children. We can help them to grow in gratitude to all
religious and in appreciation of the special part religious take in
carrying on the great work of Christ.
In this age of widespread vague knowledge about "depth psychology,"
many of us parents are continually harassed by fears of what we are
doing to our children's present and future psychic set-up, by fears of
what our children are going to think about us in future years. Whatever
measure of truth there may be in the various theories of psychology
current today it is all too obvious that our children do obtain from
our behavior to each other and to them, the material for their primary
ideas of, and attitudes toward, authority, parenthood, marriage,
fatherly love, motherly love, and married love. And we also realize,
all too clearly, that, in spite of our efforts, our own conduct is not
a perfect model of fatherhood, motherhood, or marriage.
We do, certainly, believe on faith that God will give us, if we pray
and work, the graces necessary to bring up our children. But is there
anything that God means us to do besides praying that He will somehow
bring our children out all right in spite of the psychic dangers
seemingly inherent in family life and childhood among fallen mankind?
Here again the Christian and sacramental pattern is the answer to this
most modern need. We parents are, it is true, imperfect as images to
our children of God's perfect love, perfect parenthood, perfect
authority and care; but we are His images nonetheless, by virtue of our
office as Catholic parents. We can, then, in accordance with our
children's needs and development lead them to an appreciation of both
the positive and negative implications of this fact.
Our love and care are only sketchy pictures of God's love and care.
Whatever is good and real and right in them comes from God. As parents,
we are instruments of God's love, of His care and His will for the
children while they are young, and as such we are meant to have their
respect and obedience, as well as their love. But our imperfections and
limitations show that we are not God; that we are not meant to be and
do not expect to be the most ultimate term of our children's interest,
or respect, or filial love. These should go, and the sooner the better,
through us and around us and beyond us to God Himself.
"God loves you even more than Father and Mother do. He had to give you
both a Father and a Mother to show you something of how much He loves
you, and He gave you our Lady too, His own Son's Mother, to be your
Mother in heaven..." "He gave Father and Mother the job of taking care
of you and bringing you up as He wants, so that you can do great things
for Him when you grow up, and be happy with Him forever. That's why we
have to tell you not to do things that we know would be bad for you,
and to do things we know are good for you, till you are old enough to
know what God wants yourself...." "God wants you to obey us now as
practice for obeying Him directly when you grow up, just as our Lord
obeyed our Lady and St. Joseph when He was a boy on earth...."
And also, when it is clear to the children as well as to us that we
have made a mistake or been unjust or lost our tempers, let us use such
occasions too, as impersonally as possible, to help to establish our
children in the right relationship to God's perfect Fatherhood:
"Yes, Mother was wrong. Isn't it wonderful that God can never make any
mistakes, and that He loves you and is taking care of you all the time,
whatever happens, and however wrong things seem to be...." "Yes, I lost
my temper and I shouldn't have. Daddy and Mother have to try to be
good, just as you do. But God never loses His temper, however bad we
have been, and as soon as we are sorry He gives us another chance.
Let's both tell Him we are sorry and ask Him to help us try again...."
"Yes, Mother just didn't understand. Isn't it a good thing that God is
never too busy to listen and always understands, and our Lady does too
and can help you much more than Mother could...."
By thus using the occasions of daily living to point the children's
attention and affection through us to God, we shall be doing a great
deal to avoid any evil and unbalancing consequences of our own
imperfection as parents and of the children's imperfections as growing
human beings. Such a sacramental attitude toward our own parenthood
should also help us, with God's grace, to avoid both the danger of
over-possessiveness and that of neglect.
It should also help the children to avoid the emotional repressions and
complications that arise with trying to think that their parents are
perfect when obviously they are not. And, such an attitude should also,
with God's help, lay the human foundations for that trustful, truly
childlike attitude to God which is the essence of spiritual maturity,
that attitude which is so much easier to maintain and develop from
childhood on, than to establish for the first time in later life.
In the same "sacramental" way, as our children come to adolescence and
to a growing realization of the implications of human love, we can use
even the imperfections of our own example to show the children what
marriage is and should be. We can help our children to realize that the
ideal of marriage, of love, of self-sacrifice, of perfect union, is
more true and more real than imperfect human beings; that human
imperfections are allowed for in God's plan, and do not spoil or mar
the Reality of love and happiness in love for which we all were made.
And, in doing so, we do much to establish our children in true
Christian realism, to save them from "disillusion," to help them grow
straight and unhampered toward fruitful Christian maturity.
We all know the beautiful statement of the truth, Hospes venit,
Christus venit, "When a guest comes, then Christ comes." What is
difficult is to show our children by our daily example that we are
always happy to have guests of all kinds, because each of them gives us
the opportunity to welcome and serve Christ our Lord. We need to try to
be happy, at least with our wills, not only to welcome a beloved
friend, or an influential acquaintance, but also the bore who is only
going to waste our time, and the salesman whose product we do not want
and cannot buy.
In all these people equally, Christ the Guest is asking us for the best
hospitality that we can give him under the circumstances--say, ten
minutes full attention to the bore, and a human smile and word about
the weather to the salesman. For the more that we can so manage to give
our best to everyone who comes to our door, the more our children will
be prepared to realize that it is the One Christ who is coming under
all these various guises.
And the other aspect of helping our children to learn true Christian
hospitality is, surely, to make it a happy and natural and frequent
event in our homes. If the children see that "having company" is a
strange, unnatural, infrequent affair, requiring all sorts of elaborate
preparations, short tempers and stiffness, they can hardly be taught
the theory that we are doing such things to welcome the Christ who
loves them. On the other hand, they themselves should take part in a
reasonable amount of happy, special preparation for expected guests,
and so acquire the habit of doing whatever can best be done to honor
Christ as He comes to them in our guests.
The sacramental plan of things gives us also the key as to how to help
our children to achieve the truly Christian attitude towards those who
suffer and towards suffering itself. Since our Lord endured the
suffering of the Cross for our redemption, human suffering possesses an
objective dignity of its own from this very fact, whether the sufferer
himself realizes it or not. And, from our Lord's own words, we know
that it is He whom we serve in trying to help the needs of any human
In anyone who is suffering, therefore, we may find Christ Himself in
His Passion, giving us here and now the opportunity to care for Him, to
wait on Him, to sympathize with Him. For these reasons, personal care
of the sick is a privilege; for these reasons, the vocations of doctor
and nurse are greatly to be honored. Any serious illness or affliction
in the family or the neighborhood or among our friends can offer us the
occasion for talking over these facts with the children, and for doing
whatever we can to act on them.
On the other hand, suffering itself patiently accepted in union with
Christ's sufferings, shares in the value of His suffering and is
positively valuable for the eternal salvation of souls. As the
practical St. Therese says, to accept suffering in this way (and all
forms of hardship, trial, and inconvenience) is, as it were, to earn
token money which we can give to our Lord to change into real currency
by the value of His sufferings, and to use to ransom souls from sin, to
free souls from purgatory, to win graces and blessings for those who
need them. When our children have to undergo any severe pain, or dis-
agreeable illness, we can begin to give them such a simple and
practical view of the possibilities of suffering, and so teach them how
to endure it without self-pity, stoicism or softness, with at least the
makings of true Christian heroism.
But, in connection with all these truths, whenever we have occasion to
talk with the children about our Lord's sufferings, the value of
suffering and so on, we should take great care to bring out the fact
that it was original sin and, in its train, the effects of the actual
sins of all the generations of men, that are responsible for all human
suffering. God the Father does not enjoy seeing us suffer; He did not
enjoy seeing His Son suffer. But His wonderful ingenuity, so to speak,
by means of the sufferings of Christ has enabled us to make use of all
this suffering which we brought upon ourselves, to use it in helping
Christ with the very work of effecting our redemption.
All modern techniques of helping the handicapped now use the principle
of self-help above everything else; when the children are of an age to
appreciate such facts, we can point out how wonderfully and how
lovingly, "even to the death on the Cross," God Himself has been using
this very principle in the work of our redemption. Even small children
can appreciate the thought and skill needed to make use of otherwise
useless things, and so to appreciate what Christ has done in His
suffering, for our sufferings.
And, of course, we must also show them that no human wisdom can fathom
all the aspects of suffering; we can only know that God is infinite
Love and infinite Goodness, and that somehow He will bring a greater
good, far greater happiness for more people forever in heaven, out of
all this seeming evil.
Along the same lines, we can give the children the foundations of a
truly Christian attitude toward the handicapped. Any form of physical
or mental affliction shares in the objective dignity which our Lord's
Passion has conferred on all human suffering. In any form of special
consideration or service which a handicapped person may require, we can
find a special opportunity of serving our Lord. Moreover, only God
knows the degree to which any particular person's particular sufferings
or handicaps are of positive value in the great work of the redemption,
but we do know that such a person has, at the very least, a special
opportunity to help our Lord in a most valuable and difficult way in
the work of building up His kingdom. A person so honored is not, then,
to be pitied: for pity implies superiority, and who are we to be
superior to Christ? But he is to be sympathized with, as our Lord
allows us to sympathize with Him in His Passion. Not, of course that we
can expect every handicapped person necessarily to be a saint, (or, for
that matter, that any great affliction or hardship will necessarily
make us saints!), but that he has been given a special opportunity to
When our children are going to meet, for example, a man who is blind,
we should discuss quite frankly with them all the handicaps of
blindness, so that the children can begin to sympathize with ("suffer
with") their future friend. But we should not end up with "Poor Jack,
isn't it dreadful that he is blind!" Rather, "God must think a lot of
Jack to give him such a tough thing to bear for Him. That's why it is a
great privilege to have Jack with us, and let's try to give him as good
a time as we can."
Along the same lines, we can show the children how best to help and
serve Christ in the handicapped or needy. Obviously, this will not
consist in doing what we would like to do for them, but what will help
Christ to live more fully in and through them. In the case of a blind
person, again, the greatest kindness is to help him to independence; to
let him realize that we accept him as a normal human person. So we need
to learn to restrain ourselves from the fussy rushing to his assistance
that bolsters up our own cozy feeling of helpfulness, to find out
instead what kinds of help are really needed, and to accept help from
him in our turn whenever possible.
If we thus try to think out and practice consistently the implications
of the truth of Christ's special presence in those of our neighbors
with special needs and afflictions, our children may be able to learn
from us what true Christian charity means. But if we only try
thoughtlessly, spasmodically, and sentimentally to "be kind to" the
poor or handicapped, our children will be in danger of contracting that
sentimental pity, and fear of all forms of affliction which is the
modern caricature of the true Christian attitude.
We need also to try to get across to our children the correlative
aspect of these truths which concern their own acceptance of help, of
Christian charity in every form. One of our great modern vices is to
feel disgraced by any need for help, to feel that we must be able to
pay in some immediate and concrete way for everything, even for
Such an attitude is obviously a barrier to the free flow of the warmth
and vitality of mutual charity among the members of Christ's Body. For
it is, ultimately, a form of selfishness to try to seize every
opportunity of serving Christ in one's neighbor and yet to refuse to
others that same opportunity as far as one's own needs are concerned.
So St. Thomas says that it is itself an act of charity to receive
charity--of course in the proper sense of that wonderful word: love
shown in loving service of God and neighbor.
We need, then, to try ourselves to give the example and to teach our
children how, graciously and gratefully, to accept help of all sorts as
coming, somehow from Christ Himself. Such training begins with the
inculcation of the simple "Please" and "Thank you" which curiously is
so difficult to make habitual with many children. For such ordinary
politeness involves a certain amount of true humility, recognizing that
one does need things from other people, but that one does not have a
right to anything, and that gratitude is only decent.
We want, of course, to bring the children up to be as properly
independent as possible, especially of us, in the sense that they gain
the habit of trying first to figure things out for themselves before
they ask for advice, and the habit of doing what they can for
themselves before they ask for help. But we need also to teach them
when and how it is sensible and Christian to ask for advice or help,
and to accept it, not as one's due, not as if one had been disgraced by
needing it, but simply and gratefully in the spirit of true humility.
For the spirit of humility is basically a realistic sense of what we
are in relation to God and to each other; and, in relation to each
other we are all needy in one way or another; we all need others' help;
we all need to give and also to receive.
Only many volumes could begin to cover the whole field of human
relations and their wonderful possibilities to the eye of Christian
charity. We have to show our children how to be truly neighbors to
Christ in the people who are our actual neighbors by physical location
in our community and parish; how to be neighbors to Christ in needy and
suffering men all over the world, to the holy souls in purgatory, and
to all the host of heaven. And we need to show the children also how to
accept help themselves gratefully and graciously, as coming somehow
But, surely, the sacramental view, the effort to recognize and serve
Christ as He comes to us in person, is the Christian key to "human
relations" of all kinds. All sound knowledge of how human beings act
and re-act, about our bodies and nerves and minds and souls, all
rightful "techniques" of dealing with people and helping solve people's
problems, all this can thus be ordered to the love and service of
Christ in our neighbor. And, if we try to begin at home, we can help
our children to form the fundamental habits of true Christian charity,
capable of taking up all such modern knowledge and equipment and
putting it all to the service of Christ.
1. Discuss the ways in which parents can foster religious vocations
among their children. What methods are objectionable?
2. Discuss methods of discipline and of punishment of children in the
light of the fact that parents are images of God's perfect love,
perfect authority, and perfect providence. What are some practical
means of balancing love and justice toward children? How can parents
tell if they are too indulgent or too stern? if they are inconsistent
3. Make applications of the principle: "When a guest comes, then Christ
comes." Can this spirit be maintained toward all who come to our front
door, including salesmen, baby sitters, neighborhood children, and
visiting teenagers? Should we make an attempt to invite people to our
homes as guests if we think they need help, although we would prefer
4. "It takes as much charity to receive as to give." Explain this
statement and show how it applies regarding aid and gifts to us from
relatives, friends, and neighbors.
5. Discuss the Christian attitude toward pain and suffering as it
affects the lesser ailments of daily life. Should parents complain
about their ill health in front of their children? Should they act as
though they never had pain or discomfort? Should children be encouraged
to put up with pain and suffering? What should be the parents' attitude
toward the bumps and pains the children suffer?
1. In what ways does a priest particularly represent Christ?
2. List suggestions for making priests "realities in our children's
3. Since children obtain their ideas about authority and parenthood
from their parents, does this mean that parents should act as though
they think they are perfect and infallible?
4. What part does original sin play in suffering?
5. What is the Christian attitude toward suffering? toward those who
The Christian Pattern
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals