“The family is the foundation unit of the human race. God Himself solemnized and witnessed the first marriage and ordained that through marriage the race should increase and multiply. The continuance of marriage and the family throughout time was therefore the plan of God. Christ, moreover, when on earth, concerned Himself with the nature of the individual marriage. Because of its permanence, its indissolubility, its lasting character, He decreed in this matter, ‘What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Matthew 19: 6).”
—Most Rev. Edward Q. Jennings, Bishop of Fort William in Canada
As our physical well-being is profoundly affected by the air we breathe, so our spiritual welfare is profoundly affected by the atmosphere of ideas in which we live. It is the duty of Catholic parents to shape and form their children. This education starts in the home. It is clear that the supernatural life with God has been chosen by Him to be initiated and developed in that grouping of humanity which is most natural: the family. This is why the family is at the very foundation of things, a grouping willed and ordained by God.
The family is defined as a father, mother, and their offspring, united in holy matrimony. When the family structure is properly in harmony with God’s design, it is most fruitful and able to carry out a healthy society and a Christian apostolate, bringing good to others with parents as the primary teachers of the children and as spiritual guides in a dark world.
There is nothing more evident than that the human race has a very special destiny. God has given to man the image of His own nature. Clearly, God has created man to be happy and do his work in this world so as to enjoy the reward of heaven for eternity. Over and above our natural life, there is also a spiritual life which prepares us for living with God in eternity. This supernatural life on earth must be a conscious and close unity with God, the union of our spirit with the Divine Spirit—in other words, an exalted love.
The faither and mother have a special role as primary teachers, molders of character, directors of the spiritual life, and disciplinarians. This is the fulfillment, it can be said, of the ordinance of God, who made them parents of the specific child with the great wonder of uniting a special soul, created in His own image, and a human body provided through the human parents.
And so the parents who are faithful in the discharge of their duties will see that their children are nurtured in a strong Christian faith. They will develop this faith by word and example. Parents do this first by educating themselves and then doing their best to live the life of faithful Catholics. Parents will begin teaching their children the tenets of the faith from the youngest age, reading to them and instructing them in pre-school years and continuing this instruction through First Communion age and through all the following school years. This is done even if their children are in a Catholic school where time is evidently already given to instruction in the Faith. Parents must do their share at home by reading the Catechism to their children and engrossing their imagination in the sacred liturgy and lives of the saints.
Parents are to exemplify and inculcate in their children the code of morals that is in keeping with the Christian faith. This is best done by example and by clear explanations, showing the child a standard of domestic morality at home. A high moral relationship should be shown in regard to those outside the home, “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” in the famous words of Abraham Lincoln. This includes a genuine will for the spiritual good of other members of the immediate and extended family and of other families and individuals. Parents are key to the forming and support of this moral atmosphere where the natural virtues will not be neglected.
Further, an important part of the formation should include the diligence of prayer and liturgical instruction. The habit of prayer is born from family prayer, praying together at the family hearth. The daily Rosary is highly recommended. In the words of Fr. Patrick Peyton, “The family that prays together stays together.”
Though daily Mass is often impossible, especially with little children, liturgical formation is not to be ignored. Parents ought to instruct their children also in the rites and ceremonies of the Mass as best as they can. Children should be familiar with the Order of Mass and its parts and prayers in the Ordinary of Mass. A good First Holy Communion gift is a hand missal to accompany the children in prayer in the pew.
With this, seen with special success in homeschool families, care must be given to the development of refinement, polite manners, delicacy, graciousness, courtesy, and natural abilities. All of this teaching is done first in the home in conformity with the best principles of educated society of old and with the teachings of God, as revealed to us by the lessons taught by Christ Himself.
Further importance and strength is given to the spiritual life by the cultivation of a love for prayer. If the family is to live a life with God here and now, as a preparation for life eternal, then prayer is indispensable. Parents are to inspire a life of prayer in their children and help others do to the same. Having a prayer life within the context of family life is contagious. Good parents set this example, and children learn in time to pray together in good times and bad.
Prayer is defined as conversation with God. There is not much of a living union with God on earth without prayer, without this conversation. In prayer, especially praying the rosary together, the children learn the rhythm and mysteries of the sacred life, death and passion of Our Lord. The Rosary and other prayers are learned by heart. Wisdom and grace is drawn in to see problems with renewed spiritual strength to edify and help them fight sin.
Pope Pius XII, in an allocution just before his death (August 14, 1958), gave a message to a group of families referencing the Christian family as having an influence around it, especially in the area of family prayer. He attaches chief importance to the family that prays together, aspiring to perfection through the devout life, a source of great and lasting peace.
Such families, he said, “are true centers of holiness, where Our Lord is present by His grace; where the members pray together, assisting together at their duties of divine worship and receiving the sacraments; where the law of God is strictly observed; where each seriously aspires to perfection . . . where the souls of men and women, worthy of the Church in future days, are rightly developed; where there is enough spiritual fire to make its beneficial rays felt by all in the surroundings; on which God looks down with love, knowing that there His holy and adorable will is constantly fulfilled.”
Finally, a word about the spiritual forces that create obstacles to family living and are negative influences of indifferentism. Parents should beware of an evil spirit that can poison the heart of any member of the family through indifferentism. It denies the value of doctrines by either denying them altogether or by declaring them to be all of equal value, giving no particular value to any doctrine.
In an atmosphere or culture of indifferentism, it is difficult to assert the truth effectively. It becomes difficult to live according to principle when principle is not recognized. Forces that have bearing on family living can be both spiritual in nature and material. Parents must be keenly aware of such attacks when they are forming their children. Lastly, they must never give up as spiritual guides for, “prayer is the oxygen of the soul,” to quote Padre Pio.
John Paul Sonnen is an author and history docent. He is also Director of Content at TAN Books and is Managing Editor of TAN Direction. His subjects of interest include Catholic Studies, Christian culture and civilization. His graduate degrees are from the Angelicum in Rome.