The modern attitude
toward the universe as a whole, toward our earth, toward places made by God
or man is, naturally, as secularist as the current attitude toward individual
things and possessions. Few people are brought up to look for the power and
wisdom and love of the Creator in His creation; even those scientists who
recognize the "great Mathematician" or "the great Architect of the universe"
usually do not recognize Him as a Person who is interested in mankind. To
the majority of people today, the heavens do not declare God's glory, but
only man's littleness and impotence; the wonders of heaven and earth do not
invite them to praise, but to a pagan sense of "lacrimae rerum," the tragic
fragility and passingness of all things, or still worse, to a kind of wondering
despair at the purposelessness and chanciness of nature in all her
As St. Bonaventure says, creation was meant to be for mankind a great book
in which we could learn about God. Civilizations other than ours have realized
in the main that this book was made to mean something, even if they did not
know the alphabet or the language. Ours, alas, is the first to hold, as a
general assumption of ordinary people, that it is only a meaningless scrawl
or, at best, a cold-blooded mathematical report.
We need to arm our children against this assumption as they will meet it
in their friends, in popular magazines, in literature, and even in education.
We want to equip them not only to possess, but to share with other people
the true vision of creation. The sense of the presence of God in His universe
which we try to give them must, therefore, be full and deep and mature, rooted
in faith and knowledge as well as the sense of awe and wonder native to unspoiled
Our aim, then, is to give the children a positive sense that the heavens
are telling the glory of God. We want to give them the habit of going from
"When I consider the work of Thy hands, the moon and the stars that Thou
hast set up..." to the mystery of "What is man that Thou art mindful of him,"
a mystery not of doubt that God could be mindful, but of wondering love that
He is mindful, even to making His only Son the Head and Redeemer of mankind.
We want the children to come to appreciate all the wonders of nature as signs
of God's creative power, wisdom and love, and of His redemptive and sanctifying
love as well. We want them to learn to give God the intelligent and loving
praise for His marvelous work that only a man can give, and to give that
praise as part of the great praise which our Lord is continually giving to
His Father in the joy of the Holy Spirit.
Our special task as parents, here, is to lay in childhood the foundations
for such an attitude, and to be always ready to show the children how to
integrate into this attitude all the different kinds of information they
may acquire about the make-up of the world and the universe.
For this purpose, we need first to see to it that the children actually have
sufficient opportunity to see God's works: the night sky, for instance, and
trees and fields and grass, and, when possible, hills and lakes, the sea
and mountains. (Here is an excellent argument for at least some rural life
for families!) Then, we need to equip ourselves with an elementary knowledge
of the natural sciences dealing with the make-up and functioning of the universe,
the solar system, our earth. We also need a good working knowledge of the
nature of Psalms, in particular, 8, 18, 28, 64, 95, 96, 97, 103, 147, 148
and the Canticle of the Three Children in the fiery furnace.
Equipped with such knowledge, we may be able to lead the children from their
initial wonder at, say, the sky full of stars, to a greater wonder resulting
from some real knowledge of what the stars are, their distance from us and
each other etc., to the praise of God as expressed in human words by the
Holy Spirit Himself. And if we can make it habitual so to proceed from the
observed facts of nature to the praise of God, whenever the children's interest,
some new view or piece of knowledge, some startling event like a big storm,
make it natural to do so, then we will be laying the true and right foundations
for a life-long attitude toward all natural science.
And, as the children grow older, we can continue to deepen and broaden the
scope of this habit in all its dimensions. We can encourage the children
to observe accurately, to study and think about natural science of all kinds
(even by making collections of odd bugs or butterflies); we can find out
from bookstores or libraries where to get more detailed scientific information
about whatever most interests the children; we can absorb enough of this
information ourselves to give the children the habit of looking first for
the purpose for which God made anything and made it the way it is; then to
admire how marvelously the design, material and functioning of the thing
is adapted to this purpose.
We can continually try to complement the children's experience and growing
knowledge of nature and natural things with an ever-growing appreciation
of the way in which these things are used by our Lord and in Holy Scripture
as signs and "types" of His relations with us, of His life in the Church,
and of our lives with Him hereafter.
For example, Christian tradition has always seen the sun as a "type," a sign
of our Lord. Any child's spontaneous reaction to the wonder of a sunrise,
or of a glorious sunny day after many dark ones, can be made a basis for
some growth in the knowledge and love of our Lord as the Sun of our lives.
And any scientific knowledge about the action of the sun on all the water
of the world, for example, or in photosynthesis, can be used as material
to fill out and expand the analogy, to lead the growing and grown-up mind
and heart to God.
Perhaps our whole aim in all this can most powerfully and beautifully be
summed up in one paragraph from St. Bonaventure's "The Journey of the Mind
into God." For we want to train our children so that they will always be
free from the blindness, deafness, dumbness and stupidity he speaks of, and
train them so that they may be able to awaken others to use all material
creation as 'material for glory', for praising the glory of God and so achieving
"He must be blind, then, who is not enlightened by the great splendors of
created things; he must be deaf who is not awakened by such loud outcries;
he must be dumb who does not praise God for all these effects of His power;
he must be stupid who is not led to the First Principle by all these indications
in His work.
"Open your eyes, then; listen attentively with the ears of your spirit; move
your lips and direct your heart, so that in all created things you may see,
hear, praise, love, serve, magnify and honor your God; if you do not, the
whole world may rise together against you.
"For it is for this reason that the whole world will fight against the unwise.
But for those who are wise, the world will rather become material for glory,
for those who can say with the Prophet: 'Thou hast delighted me, Lord, with
Thy making, and I will exult in the work of Thy hands. How wonderful are
Thy works, O Lord, Thou hast made every- thing in wisdom, the earth is filled
with Thy possessions.'"
But we need to show our children also how the great works of man's hands
are meant to lead our minds and hearts to God. A Christian is crippled for
God's service if he cannot see what is good and wonderful in a great city,
a great bridge or dam, a great building; if such things do not give him material
for thinking of and loving and praising God, as well as reasons for shrinking
Of course, we need not try to blind ourselves or the children to the evils
involved in the very existence of a big modern city, of a skyscraper, of
a great factory. But the thrill that comes to anyone at the sight of the
New York skyline, or the Golden Gate Bridge8 can just as well be ordered
to God as that which comes, say, from the Grand Canyon; and if it is not,
a whole side of our children's lives will be allowed to grow up cut off from
God and His love.
So we need to direct the children's admiration for man's wonderful works
to an admiration for God who made men able to discover how to make these
things, able to get together and actually build them. Again, when opportunity
permits, from the sight of all the ordered activity that goes on in putting
up a new building, for example, we can show the children how we should all
be working to build up God's house; from the care with which each brick or
rivet is put in its right place, we can lead them to think about the care
with which God is fashioning us with "blows and strokes" as the stones of
His eternal dwelling.
When they come to experience the life of a great city, or to learn about
city organization and so on, we can show them that it is by no mistake of
terminology that the Church is called the "City" of God; that the company
of redeemed mankind will be the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down
from God; and, therefore, it is part of the Christian's work to make our
human cities less completely unlike the heavenly one, to see to it that life
in these cities is better suited to lead men toward that heavenly City rather
than away from it into that of the devil.
Along these lines also, we can begin to give the children some sense of the
Church at work all over the world, leavening with Christ's own presence and
action cities and towns, villages and country, wherever there is a priest
at work, wherever there are Christians building up the kingdom of God. And
so we can begin to give the children a world-wide vision of the Church at
work, of its needs in various coun- tries, of our responsibility to pray
for and support all missionary effort.
Such a vision will mean also what might be called a Catholic sense of geography,
which sees Rome as the real nerve-center of the world, the home of Christ's
Vicar and of all the organizations by means of which he governs the worldwide
Church. Such a Catholic sense of geography is also aware of the great spiritual
centers in each country, of the great shrines of our faith, of the Holy Land
as what it is.
But above all it sees the world as being vivified and renewed by the invisible
force of Christ's life working through the visible organization of the Church,
reaching from the Holy Father in Rome to our Bishop in his Cathedral, to
our own parish Church in which we receive the teaching, the life and the
direction of Christ Himself.
It is hard for a 'born' Catholic to realize how featureless must be the lives
of those whose ordinary experience does not include any kind of a 'holy place.'
All other cultures have had places known to be especially filled with the
power of their god or gods or demons; only to ours is everywhere equally
neutral, equally empty of any presence above or below or beyond the human.
But since we live in such a culture, we need to do something to cultivate
in ourselves and our children a real and living sense of the sacredness of
our churches. "This is a place to fill one with awe," says the Introit of
the Feast of the Dedication of our own church, "Truly it is the House of
God and the gate of heaven."
One seldom-used means of giving our children such a sense of our church's
holiness might be to ask our pastor or his assistant to give a private (or,
better, public) description of the marvelous ceremony of consecration (if
ours is a consecrated church, or of its blessing, if it is not). Surely such
a description would make a wonderful sermon for the anniversary of consecration
Again, we might ask our pastor to take the children, as a priest friend of
ours actually does, on a conducted tour of the church, showing them the
consecration crosses, letting them have a good look at the altar and its
furnishings, at the holy oils in the ambry, at the sacred vessels and vestments
for Mass, while he tells them as much as they could follow of the special
blessings of each thing and of its use.
Besides such special means, we must, of course, take the day by day ordinary
means of teaching the children to appreciate the holiness of our church by
teaching them to appreciate the wonders that take place in it: the Mass,
especially the Sunday Mass, Baptisms, Confirmation, Confessions, blessings,
prayers made and heard, the Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
We also need to give the children a sense of the sacredness of places in
which Christians live and work, not that this is of the same kind or degree
as the sacredness of a church, but it is nonetheless very real in its own
right. The most obvious among such places is, of course, our own home. We
need to bring the children to feel implicitly that their home is, as it were,
their special workshop, training-ground, gymnasium in the work and exercises
of real life, and not to feel that real living takes place everywhere else,
that home is simply a filling-station for their physical or spiritual needs.
(Though, of course, they will always feel at times that other people's homes
are more interesting, more full of promise and vitality than their own.)
And, by the time they grow up, they should realize that it is now their task
to go out and form some new home, whether in a rectory, or a convent, or
a group, or a new 'little church,' an ordinary Catholic home. But for the
years of their home-life we should surely try to make them feel positively
and not merely negatively "at home at home." And for this purpose, we need
to make sure that real living, spiritual and mental, as well as physical,
is going on in our house. If we ourselves are trying to lead a fully Christian
home life, surely this effect will follow.
In this regard, we can also try to make sure that the physical lay-out,
furnishing, decoration, etc., of our houses are, as far as possible, suited
to the life we are trying to lead in them, not to somebody else's life, or
to some notion of static unrumpled perfection.
So we can try to train the children in habits of order and tidiness; teach
them to help us with the cleaning and beautifying of the house by showing
them that all this is for the sake of more efficient, more fruitful, more
vital living both human and Christian; that if your tools for carpentry,
or for cooking, or for clothing yourself are so mixed up that you cannot
find what you want, such a mess is neither practical nor efficient, nor worthy
of a house in which Christ's mem- bers and fellow-workers live and work.
So, also, we can not only have our houses blessed when we first move in and,
when possible, at Epiphany and Eastertime, but we can try to make these blessings
really understood by the children as vital forces in our home life, forces
with which we want to cooperate in order to live as fully and happily as
In this connection also, we can try to give the children the sense of going
away from home and coming back as special events. For instance, one mother
known to the writer is careful always to give her children a blessing, the
sign of the Cross on their foreheads, before they go out, even to school
or to a friend's house to play.
We can also work towards awakening in the children a sense of responsibility
about going to other people's houses, being sure they are invited generally
or specifically, telling us just where they are going, and being back home
again on time. And, above all, we can try to make sure, in our discussions
of our home furnishings and improvements, and in our comments on other people's
houses, that our children come to understand that it is not the material
or size or plan or efficiency or "niceness" or "loveliness" of beautiful
surroundings or furnishings that are important about a house, but rather
the Christian life of charity that is lived in it--that all these other things
are only important as possible means toward this end.
As the children grow older, of course, they will realize more and more explicitly
that, although God is everywhere, there are many places, alas, in which He
is not wanted, to which He is never invited, and many from which He is as
positively excluded as the perversity of human (and devilish) wills can do
it. Our task here, it would seem, is to be aware of children's instinctive
reaction to the presence of evil in places, to encourage them to realize
that our Lord has, in fact, overcome all this, and that they can overcome
it also in His strength with the sign of His Cross.
We can show them also that their future work as Christians is to be our Lord's
instruments in bringing His life and grace to the human beings who are
responsible for the unholiness of unholy places, and so helping Him to restore
all places as signs of His presence. And we can also reassure them, whenever
the need presents itself, that in deepest truth, unless by unrepented serious
sin they have cut themselves off from God's presence, wherever they go they
will find, ultimately, "only God and nothing strange."
1. What is the Christian attitude toward nature?
2. List the ways in which children can be aided in acquiring an understanding
3. How can children be led to appreciate that the parish church is a place
of special reverence?
4. In what ways can we give a religious meaning to our own home?
5. What standard should children use in judging the homes of other people?
1. List examples of how the Church uses some places or some aspect of nature
as a symbol for religious truth. (Consult the litanies and Scripture; for
example, the Blessed Virgin as "Ark of the Covenant.")
2. Discuss the importance of religious places in our lives. Do we have the
same concern for learning about the sacred places in our area (such as the
Cathedral church and religious institutions in our dioceses) as we have for
places of civic interest? Would it be possible to arrange pilgrimages to
various religious places in the area?
3. A conscientious Christian housewife said: "One of the things that bothers
me is that now with several children I can't keep the house as tidy as I
would like to have it." Discuss this problem and try to set a standard to
guide a Christian mother in her housekeeping: can there be too much "order"?
too little order?
4. Discuss ways of building an appreciation for Rome and the various European
countries through which we have received our Christian culture.
5. Discuss the places in the community where "God is positively excluded."
Do teenagers have difficulty in recognizing the places where God is excluded
and the places that are occasions of sin? What kind of program can be suggested
which would encourage teenage recreation at places and in ways consistent
with Christian culture?
The Christian Pattern
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and Play
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals