District Superior's Letter: Feb 2011
It is at this age, from the early years of the age of reason until the first troubles of the teenage years, that a child starts maturing rapidly in faith, in virtue, and in love of God and of His Church. Their knowledge of the Faith can and must grow, their virtues must take root, and they must be, as much as possible, infused with the beauty of the ceremonies of the Church...
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
Having addressed the education of toddlers last month, I wish now to see with you the education of youngsters in the next phase of their childhood years.
It is at this age, from the early years of the age of reason until the first troubles of the teenage years, that a child starts maturing rapidly in faith, in virtue, and in love of God and of His Church. Their knowledge of the Faith can and must grow, their virtues must take root, and they must be, as much as possible, infused with the beauty of the ceremonies of the Church.
Firstly, it is at this time that the faith of the child must be deepened by a solid religious instruction; he must learn the Catechism so that his mind is not only open to the lights of God, but informed by the Revelation of God. Fr. de Chivre explains that the priority:
is about allowing God to possess in the mind of the child—by preparing it for Him—a place where His lights, His counsels and His inspirations might be received, to the point of being not only accepted by the child but so desired that he will then, of his own volition, enlarge that place as much as possible by a heartfelt need to open himself to the action of the supernatural."
Thus, being taught the mysteries of our Faith, the child must also be helped to acquire virtue. It is all the more essential as it is not too difficult for him at that age; he does not yet have to struggle against his passions or against significant temptations. It is, then, an opportune time to develop the virtues, good habits: honesty, frankness, generosity, purity… These are, or can be, natural and easy for him to acquire, if we push him in the right direction. But it is also at this time when a supernatural spirit can be instilled easily, helping the child to act for a supernatural motive such as the love of God…
At this age especially, parents must try to know their child, to see what his virtues are, and what his faults are. This is necessary if they would help develop the child’s good inclinations, and correct or punish the evil ones. The child’s bad inclinations are not always easily recognizable, but how unfortunate are the children who are not corrected daily and without capitulation! Again, this is the easiest time for a child to acquire every virtue; it will become more and more difficult as the years pass.
In today’s world we have a tendency to praise our children for everything, even the most insignificant things they do. It is, of course, necessary to encourage our children, but we are often inclined to overdo it, and we are too often afraid to correct them. Not only that, but when we do correct them, too often it is simply because we are annoyed, angry, or embarrassed by their behavior. Thus the correction is made more due to our “feelings” than because of a judgment of mind that the child’s action was wrong. There is nothing more destructive for a child; how can he learn the morality of his actions if the rightness or wrongness depends on the mood of his parents and educators?
The commandment of Our Lord, “Si si, no no—Let your yes be yes, and your no be no” is also a basic element in the education of children to virtue. How often a no becomes a yes just because the child asks so many times that we give in out of annoyance or frustration! How many times we promise punishment for a wrong done, and fail to follow up on it! I recall overhearing, once when I was traveling, a mother say to her child, “If you hurt yourself, I’m going to kill you!” It might seem amusing, but how backwards, educationally!
Cardinal Pie, explaining the importance of correcting children, uses a comparison:
When a mother sees her child hurt and bleeding, she turns pale and will do whatever possible to heal the wound. But when anger, jealousy, lies and other deadly vices come to hurt the souls of our poor children, we look without alarm at the evil, and put off the cure for an older age!"
Let us not make this grave error!
A third element of education is to immerse the child in the beauty of the Catholic ceremonies. Let us teach him to love the Mass; to be impressed by the beauty of the altar, the singing, the incense; to respect and love the Blessed Sacrament. Fr. de Chivre emphasizes that in so teaching our children, it is not so much a question of quantity but of quality. It is, in other words, not a question of bringing the child to Mass every day, but of teaching him and showing him how to love the Mass and the ceremonies of the Faith.
The first thing is to teach the child respect for the ceremonies. He must not be allowed to wander about, or be noisy… If it was important to instill in him a sense of the sacredness of a church when he was younger, even before he could fully understand, such is all the more essential as he gets older. A church is the house of God! A child can and must realize this long before the age of reason. The practical way to do it is by example and by firmness. A church is not a place to play and fool around!
We must also explain the ceremonies to the child, and help him at first to follow the Mass in a picture prayer book or in a children’s missal. We must teach and show him to participate in the liturgy in the way encouraged by the Church. St. Pius X insisted, for instance, on the necessity of learning to sing the Mass; singing, he taught, is not just for the choir, but also for the congregation. What a beautiful way to help our children love the liturgy! Boys, of course, should also learn at a young age to serve the Mass, and doing so, they will easily approach the altar of God with great respect and love.
In order to instill these principles, Cardinal Pie encourages parents to bring their children to be taught by the priests:
As the child grows up, the teaching of his mother very soon becomes insufficient; he starts to need a stronger and more solid religious formation. Up to then, the fatherly home was for the child like a domestic church; he now needs the public teaching of the Church."
Thus the next important step in the education of little children is to put them in contact with religious, and particularly priests: “Bring them to us early, so that early on, the authority of the priest’s teaching confirms that of his mother.”
As soon as he is able, the child should start attending catechism instructions, and begin preparing for the reception of the sacraments of holy Penance and First Communion, so that when he has reached the age of reason he is ready, prepared and eager to receive them. Religious instruction, however, is not only for preparing to receive the sacraments. It should continue from that young age even into adulthood, not only because a broad teaching of the mysteries of our Faith is in this way given, but more profoundly because the plan of God, and the indispensable role of the Church in salvation, is brought to light. It is for this reason that the popes throughout history have reminded parents of the obligation to bring their children to the priest for instruction, and she has at the same time incessantly reminded priests of their obligation to teach the flock entrusted to them.
Let us remember the words of Our Lord: “Sinite parvulos venire ad me.”—“Let the children come to me, and forbid them not.” Our Lord affirms His right, as Christ the King, to receive and form the children. The Church claims the same right in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ; let the little children come to the Church for instruction. It is because of this principle that the Catholic Church has founded and developed schools to teach the children, and it is because of this principle that the popes have so emphasized the duties of parents to send their children to Catholic schools. Children need a strong and solid Catholic formation, and the Church is able to give them that formation.
The question of Catholic schooling is, especially today, a delicate one. The crisis within the Church has, to a certain extent understandably, resulted in a great deal of mistrust. However, as we work to restore all things in Christ, we must recall and apply, as much as we can, what the Church has always explained.
The homeschooling question is even more delicate. It happens, at times, that there is no Catholic school within a reasonable distance of the family, or that a child has special needs that can not be provided for at the parish school. In such cases parents can find themselves obliged to keep their children home for school, and they can be confident that God will provide the graces needed to compensate for the absence of a Catholic school. It is to be wished, however, that all our children could receive the benefit of a Catholic school, and the popes have repeated over and over how important this is for our children.
Thus deeply understanding the critical role of schools, the Church has ever striven to establish more of them, and she has even opened boarding schools. Boarding schools are important not merely due to practical circumstances, such as the fact that not all locations are blessed with a school, but also for the good of the children themselves, as they are able to receive more from the Church when they have been entrusted in such a way to her care. It has always been a hard thing for the parents to see their children go away from home for school, but it has long been a common practice even with young children. Our Lady, for instance, was presented and remained at the Temple from the age of seven. What a heroic sacrifice, and yet one which today would be considered by many as a crime!
The example of Archbishop Lefebvre shows this same high regard for the Catholic school; during his time in Africa, he increased the number of schools in the territory under his care by 600 percent! Following his instructions and example, the Society of St. Pius X has for many years now made every effort to provide Catholic schools in as many places as possible, and also to offer boarding possibilities for high school students, continuing the practice of the Church.
There are parents who claim that they alone have the privilege to decide as regards their children’s education, but they must not forget that the Church also has the right and duty to educate their children. This right belongs to parents in virtue of their bringing children into the world, but it belongs—and strictly so—also to the Church, because she gives an even more important life: supernatural life, through Baptism and the other sacraments. Thus Our Lord’s clear instructions: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mt. 28:19), and “Let the children come to me” (Mk. 10:14). Cardinal Pie concludes one of his sermons on education by saying that parents must not only allow their children to go to Our Lord Jesus Christ, but that they must themselves bring them to Him by entrusting them to the Church.
The education provided by the parents, joined with the formation the Church gives, will lead the children to the place of happiness, where parents and children together will praise for all eternity the goodness and the mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us remember how beautiful that age is, how lovely that time of life is, when children can love God so much without being distracted and troubled by the passions and temptations of the adolescent years! How wonderful that age is, when virtues can be acquired so easily! And at the same time, what a responsibility for all educators, especially parents. May the Blessed Virgin Mary bless and guide all our families!
With my prayers and blessing in the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Fr. Arnaud Rostand