Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Christian Education of Children. How to Face Today’s World (I)

On many occasions parents that I hardly know, as they don’t usually go to church very often, come to me overwhelmed and looking for recommendations about how to fix the serious problems that they have with their adolescent children. I try to help them with their particular situation, and while there is always something that can be done, the damage is so deep in the majority of cases that a complete repair is almost impossible.

Another very common occurrence is that of truly Catholic parents who are worried about the Christian formation of their children. They are worried and feel like they don’t have the tools to fight because they see how their children, who have been formed in a truly Christian environment and in the faith, as they approach adolescence, are taken in, enthralled, and poisoned by the world. The moment comes in which those young people want nothing to do with the Church, with their religion, or with their own parents. How can it be that these young people who have been educated according to Christian principles have been destroyed so easily in the short span of two or three years? What could the parents have done to have prevented the world from destroying what has cost them so much work? What can parents do so that their children are truly filled with God and have the proper weapons in their fight against the world?

The solution is not easy, but over the course of several articles we will discuss the most frequent problems that face parents in the education of their children from the time they are young; and we will try to guide them, offering possible solutions that could be applied before their children leave the nest.

Some years ago when speaking with my mother, she told me: “One of the most difficult tasks that parents have is the education of their children. Children,” she told me, “are like birds that you have in your hands; if you squeeze too hard, they suffocate, and if you open your hands too much, they escape. It’s really a miracle that as parents we must continually ask of God.”

The Gravity of the Present Situation

The first problem that we face is that parents have an awareness of the seriousness of the present situation so that they begin the Christian formation of their children according to proper rules and guidelines from infancy. It is very common, and something that I encounter daily, that when I advise parents who are worried about the Christian formation of their children from their most tender infancy, they smile and innocently respond: “My children are good and they will not do any of the things that you say.” But the sad reality is that when these children are fifteen or sixteen years old, you ask about their children again, and again quite worried they say: “our children are good, but…” In this answer, one can imagine their anguish and worry because they can’t control their children. In a word, “the world has already swallowed them.”

One of the most serious and worrisome problems that faces truly Christian parents is the human and Christian formation of their children. These articles are directed especially to those good and worried parents for that very reason.

There are other parents, who are unfortunately the majority, and who call themselves Christians, who have never seriously considered the education of their children according to Christian principles. I don’t think these parents will get much out of reading these articles – even if they fell into their hands – because it would require a change so radical that they would never be able to do it. Those parents know, however, that they will be judged severely by God when they stand before the Throne of the Most High.

A Pressing Task Without Possible Delay

Although parents are such throughout their lives, they only have the first fifteen or twenty years of their children’s lives to carry out this work in a meaningful way. As these years go by, the children might occasionally listen to some advice from their parents. In the majority of cases, they will already be independent enough to make their own decisions and to choose the path, for good or evil, that they would like to take. And if they press me a little, and given the present situation of our society, I’d say that parents really only have the first ten or twelve years of their children’s lives; after which, in the majority of cases, the children are inseparable from their group and listen to their friends before their parents.

Let me tell you a true story that happened to me this year. Two years ago, I started a Confirmation class with a group of 20 young people between 10 and 12 years old at one of my parishes. The first day I gave an overview of the course and told them that the first thing that they had to do was to go to confession and to receive Holy Communion so that their catechesis could bear fruit. That same day almost all of them went to confession. I was overjoyed. Most of them continued to do so during their first year of catechesis.

Last September we began the second year. The kids had grown older and were now between 11 and 13 years old. The first day I made the same announcement about confession and to my great surprise, no one came to confess. After much insistence on my part week after week, I got five or six of the 20 that started, but the rest were waiting for the day before Confirmation to confess because I had told them that if they did not confess, they could not be confirmed.

It was only one year that had passed, but in this year many things had happened, things that had defiled their hearts and as a result, they no longer dared to confess.

It is hard to say, but once they are confirmed I will probably not see many of them until… until their burial.

We’ve all heard the famous story a thousand times about the tree that is planted and that has to be staked and tended to while it is still young. Once the trunk has hardened, it is almost impossible to change its course. That is the reason why parents must exercise extreme care during the first years of their children’s lives, because that is the time when they will be the most receptive.

The Virtues and Defects of Parents in their Children

The parents’ defects are almost always “inherited” by the children. The virtues, on the other hand, are only sometimes passed down. Parents frequently complain about their children’s bad habits, but do not realize that many times these bad habits are ones that have been learned at home. If parents are not honest, virtuous, truthful, ordered, and pious, they can hardly expect their children to be the same.

It makes me laugh when the parents of First Communicants drop their children off for Mass and, in the meantime, go to the closest bar to watch the soccer game. After Mass is finished, they return to pick up their children and ask them: “Did everything go well?” When that child grows up, it’s likely that he will do exactly the same thing with his children.

When a seven year old child says a blasphemous word, a brief investigation will show that he learned it from another kid or from his parents. If he learned it from another kid, it is because that child, at one time, learned it from his parents. Parents are the first teachers of their children, for good or for evil.

Some years ago, I heard a nice story of a family of crabs that was very telling. The story went like this:

“Once upon a time there was a family of crabs who lived at the bottom of the sea. One fine day the father crab, worried about the formation of his children said to his dear wife:

My dear, it would be a great joy for me if our children were well-trained crabs who always walk forward and never to the side like we do. To that end, tomorrow at noon, gather all our children around the rock and you and I will teach them to walk forward.

The following day came and mama crab gathered all her children in front of the rock that had served as a hideout. Papa crab arrived very proud and with a beautiful speech prepared for his children:

My dear children, your mother and I want you to be well-trained crabs who always walk forward. So, starting today we will all gather here to practice and to teach you to walk in this new way.

The little crabs were amazed by their father’s idea. And Mama crab couldn’t say anything because she didn’t want to put her husband in a bad position.

They spent several days practicing. Papa crab lined all of his children up behind him in single file.

Mama brought up the back of the line, carrying the smallest crab in her arms, for he had not yet learned to walk.Ending this successful experiment, papa crab went back to gather all his children and told them:

You know, dear children, you must always walk like this from now on. You can no longer walk to the side like the rest of the crabs do. We have to be the crabs of the future.

Papa crab, very proud of the lesson that he’d taught, took his wife’s arm and went together to visit another family of crabs that lived nearby; but they didn’t realize that they had been walking to the side. When the children saw their parents walking, they looked at each other and said:

Why change? Let’s do the same as our parents, for it’s much easier!

And so it is not enough to teach good lessons; if the parents are not the first to put them into practice, it is difficult to get the children to follow.”

Over the next few articles, we will discuss those topics that are intended to help parents. We will begin by discussing how they must act during the first 10 or 12 years of their children’s lives (attending Mass, prayer, reading, use of the TV, internet, cell phones, what to do while on vacation, time for sleep, teaching them to eat, and a long etcetera). Later we will enter into the more problematic years that are usually from 12 to 20-something. And finally we will try to shed some light so that they can continue helping their children once they are out of the house, but are not taking the correct path (living together before marriage, falling into alcoholism or drug abuse, losing the faith, engaging in unnatural sexual behavior…).

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