Before we begin our analysis of those things that we should keep in mind regarding the Christian education of children, it would be good for us to consider other factors no less important, and without which an adequate education would be practically impossible: parents, school, and the Church.
(Please note: In order to take advantage of what is said in these articles, and given that they are part of a series, it would be good to read them in order.)
The first factor to keep in mind: The parents
The parents (father and mother) are the first and most important educators of their children. The help that they receive from grandparents, school, and the Church are secondary and/or complementary. At no time can parents abandon, postpone, or neglect the most important obligation that they have to their children and for which they will need to give an account to God.
To form Christian children, the first thing that is needed is for parents to be Christian too. And when we say truly Christian parents, I mean that they are sacramentally married, living their faith, practicing their religion, leading a serious life of personal and familial piety, frequenting the sacraments, accepting the will of God, open to more children, taking the education of those children seriously, not being afraid to make the sacrifices necessary to adequately educate their children, dedicating enough time to them, able to give up work outside the home, completely or in part, if it is necessary for the good of the children, etc. If those who have to be models for their children already have serious defects, it is quite certain that these same defects, and to a greater degree, will be also be present in their children.
At the beginning we said that the ideal situation for the formation of children is what we mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, we know that this ideal situation is not the reality in many cases.
Still, there are situations where, although the education is more difficult, it is not completely impossible. I am referring to the case of a father or mother who is widowed, and to the case of a divorced or single mother (usually it is the mother who is left with the kids) who has to care for the children by herself, because the father left and doesn’t want anything to do with them. Within this last group we could add the situation of those children who have to grow up with their grandparents or other guardians, because the parents are never home due to the demands of their jobs. In this final case, education becomes much more difficult because grandparents cannot be substitutes for parents. The formation would not be impossible if the grandparents were really serious about the children’s education and the parents did not negatively interfere when they were home (typically at night or on the weekends).
But there are more serious cases in which a Christian education of the children is nearly impossible, because it is built on a foundation of grave errors. I am referring to the following situations:
- There are parents who, although sacramentally married, in reality live a “practical divorce,” because each one lives his own life and has a different way of educating the children.
- There are parents who, though sacramentally married, don’t practice their religion.
- They are many divorced mothers who have sole care of their children during the week, and have to send the children to be with their father on the weekend. In the majority of those cases, he speaks badly of the mother and spoils the children.
- There are parents who are civilly married who cannot return to the Church for a sacramental marriage because of a previous sacramental marriage. These parents already have a very serious underlying problem: they prefer to live together without the blessing of God, and consequently, they cannot approach the sacraments. This irregular situation usually lasts many years, during which the parents lack sanctifying grace and at the same time live in a situation of grave sin that they want to justify in their children’s eyes. This makes the parents very imperfect models because the children “understand” that it is not so bad to live together if they love each other, even though they don’t have God’s blessing and they are living in grave sin.
- There are cases of parents who simply live together without even a civil marriage.
- All of these cases and many other similar ones, including those even more grave, are a serious detriment to the education of the children.
The Christian education of children is impossible when the “parents” are gays or lesbians. The problem that it has, apart from being a very grave sin, is that it is contrary to nature, and for that reason there is no way that these parents could fulfill what God wants of them. These parents always try to justify themselves to their children as being something normal. Not only is this a serious sin, but also makes them incapable of being human and Christian models for their children.
If raising children today is tremendously difficult, even in ideal conditions, then it’s even more difficult when the first stage in their formation does not fulfill those ideal conditions. The final result, then, is more than a challenge.
The secondary role of schools
Schools, and centers of learning in general, exist in order to help parents in the human and Christian education of their children. At no time should schools replace parents, nor should parents avoid their primary responsibility and leave this task entirely in the hands of a third party.
Fifty years ago, it was relatively easy to find good religious schools, including boarding schools in some cases, that were praiseworthy in their work of formation. But in the last fifty years, as a result of the serious crisis that the Church and all of the institutions that depend on her have been suffering, finding a “Catholic school” that lives up to its name is very difficult.
I have recently received letters from parents asking for direction about Catholic schools that I trust in Spain. Sadly, I have to say that, although there could be an isolated one, I don’t know of any that I would recommend. In the past I would tell them that sending their children to a Jesuit, Piarist, or Salesian school would guarantee them a good education. Today (with the possibility of some isolated exception unknown to me), sending children to “religious” schools is the same as, or sometimes worse than, sending them to a public school.
By virtue of sending their children to a religious school, parents innocently hope that the education will be really good on both the human and Christian level; but today, perhaps the majority of the “craziness” that I hear comes out of the religious schools.
In order to attract parents, they try to maintain certain “Catholic” ways, but when you dig a little and probe the content of their teachings, you see that there’s practically no difference between them and a public school. There’s also the added difficulty that, because the parents believe that the school was “good,” they let down their guard regarding the formation of their children, and when they remember, the children have already been humanly and Christianly malformed.
I have already said that some isolated religious school that provides a good human and Christian formation could exist, but I am not aware of any. Until recently, the schools associated with Opus Dei in one way or another had the reputation of providing a solid academic formation and maintaining a high degree of Christian moral values. In reality, I don’t have any detailed information about them.
Generally speaking, we should analyze each case individually, but this is not within my scope. It is your task to examine the curriculum of every school, teacher, and book that is used to teach the classes before sending your children there.
“Homeschooling” or Teaching at home
In your comments about the first article in this series dedicated to the education of children, some of you have pointed out the possibility of teaching your children at home yourselves. With respect to this mode of teaching, I’d like to say the following: I lived for nine years in the United States and am very familiar with this way of teaching because it is quite common there. There are many Catholic parents that recognize that the problem with public and private (religious) schools is so serious that they have chosen to teach their children in their own homes. Although it might seem like a good idea in the beginning, the final results are tremendously varied, and it involves many factors that can make the “experiment” to be a success or a failure.
- Each country must have the methods for evaluating this type of education. A student who has completed his homeschooling studies, when he wants to go on for further education or to college, might not have the courses that he has completed with you recognized by the university. The government could also take the children away from the parents, saying that they are not educating their children properly. I know of some cases like this in the United States.
- The parents must be properly trained academically (Christian formation is presupposed, for if not, they would not begin this type of educational endeavor). What happens in the great majority of cases is that they can only teach classes until the children are ten or twelve years old. Starting at age thirteen (which is when the difficult age begins), if they remain at home, they might have more success with Christian formation; but on the other hand, the academic training will be rather deficient, because the parents are not prepared (generally speaking) to explain algebra, biology, chemistry, Latin, languages, and many other subjects. So then, when they arrive at twelve or thirteen years old, they must either accept that their children will not have an adequate academic formation, or they have to send them to public or private schools. That’s when the serious problems that they have managed to avoid until then will begin.
- Independent of this, homeschooling also has the disadvantage that the children do not interact with other children, spending most of the day in the house, and end up lacking social skills. Regarding this particular point, I have known children who are totally normal as well as children who are incapable of making friends and have ended up being “weirdos.”
- On the other hand, parents who try to protect their children from any outside bad influence create a type of “aseptic” environment, which is to say “without germs” (no TV, no internet, no videogames, etc. There are only movies of saints and others of the like), which make it so that the children don’t have defenses prepared for when they’ve finished their studies and home and have to leave. Then, the world awakes abruptly. For the first time, they see the world for themselves. They know other good things, but also many evil things. They discover a world that is totally unknown to them and they begin to make friends; they learn that there are professors that teach better than their parents, that the world is not the four walls of their house. Little by little, they find themselves to be immersed in this new world and begin to discover things that attract them, ones which their parents always told them were sinful. This is the moment when the fight begins, and in the majority of cases, not having sufficient defenses, they fall into evil habits and fail as men and as Christians. It would be as if a child had grown up inside a bubble and had never received the “contamination” of the outside world. When this child comes into contact with the “germs of this world” he will not have the proper defenses prepared and his life will be in danger.
Even though homeschooling can be good in the beginning, it is not a panacea, and it has many limitations that must also be kept in mind.
The role of the Church in the education of children
In the same way that we said that schools exist to help parents in the education of their children, the Church performs a similar function. The primary role of the Church (independent of Catholic schools) is to help parents to teach their children in the areas of morality, catechesis, liturgy, and the sacraments.
The “religious” education of children in the Church should begin from their most tender infancy. Parents are responsible before God for bringing their children to Mass where they can begin to learn these things. Even more, I personally love to see when parents come to Church with their babies who are only a few months old. The Church is a living organism; Christ is the Good Shepherd, and in His flock there are little lambs that leap restlessly and bleat, but that bring joy to the whole congregation. When these children are only a few months old, it makes me so happy to see when parents bring their children before an image of the Virgin and say: “give your heavenly Mother a kiss.” They received faith in Baptism; now it is up to the parents to help God to form this faith; first they start with kisses for the Virgin, later they teach them the “Prayer to the Guardian Angel,” the Hail Mary, and the rest of the prayers. They do this in such a way that when they come to catechesis for First Communion at six or seven years old, they already know the most foundational prayers, and they are used to praying them. They know who God is, how Jesus died, what the Eucharist is, how to behave in church, and many other simple but most necessary teachings, and which are the start of the “Christian piety” of these children.
Unfortunately the reality is very far from these “dreams.” The great majority of the children that come to catechesis for First Communion don’t know who Jesus is, why they have to kneel or to be quiet in the church; in short, they don’t know the least sign of piety because they have never learned it from their parents (and sometimes not even from their priests).
In addition, if we agree that the most important function that the Church should have for children at this age has nearly been reduced to teaching them to color pictures and to learn a couple of sentences, but nothing more, then this precious time will be lost.
On the other hand, if parents don’t worry about bringing their children to Church on a weekly basis while they are under their care, it will probably be the last time that we see these children in many years, because the role that the Church should have will be completely lost. And I say this with my own experience of more than 30 years of priesthood.
It’s a fact that:
- After finishing catechesis for First Communion, less than 20% of these children return to catechesis for Confirmation.
- Out of all of those baptized, less than 15% marry in the Church.
- Weekly attendance at Mass is no more than 10% in the majority of parishes.
- The number of baptized persons who fulfill the precept of the Church to confess their sins at least once a year is less than 5%.
If in addition to all of this we add the fact that in many parishes the teaching provided is far from the Magisterium of the Church, then we see that the picture before us is even bleaker.
In short, I am giving you but a glimpse, although it is not really necessary, as you know many other, and more serious, examples.
A few days ago a mother of a family (who did not belong to any of my parishes) told me that she had caught her 15 year old son looking at pornography in his bedroom and committed an impure act. When the mother saw him, she didn’t know what to do, but a few hours later she approached her son with great love and told him that what he did was not right. She told him to confess what he’d done as soon as possible and ask for God’s forgiveness. The following Sunday the boy, more out of obedience than out of love of God, confessed. He told the priest what he’d done, and according to the mother the priest’s response was the following: Try not to do it again, but still, don’t worry too much about it because it’s something common at your age. It’s one way to release tension.
You tell me now, what type of education produced this boy. But on the other hand, this makes me think, and I am not wrong in this, what type of chastity does a priest who gives such advice live; what will he do when he personally has this “tension.”
As you can see, the education of children is something extremely difficult. There are enemies on all sides. It is for this reason that everyone – parents, schools, priests – must all pray a lot, take our vocation more seriously and realize that what’s at stake is the happiness of many individuals, and that what is most important is their salvation as well as our own.
In the next article we will begin to discuss more particulars and give practical advice that can help parents with this difficult mission. May God bless you.
Fr. Lucas Prados
[Translation by Carolina Santos.Original article]