When a couple celebrates the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Church they promise to each other, to the priest who presides over the Sacrament, to the Community present at the marriage, and most important to God who witnesses and knows all things, that they will be open to having children and to raising them in the fear and love of the Lord and His Commandments.
BAPTISM. When a child is baptized, once again, both godparents and especially the parents make a firm commitment to raise the child to know and love God in the Catholic Church. In the Sacrament of Baptism, the seed is planted in the soul of the child; then it is the imperious and serious obligation of the parents to bring that seed to fruition. That means in concrete that the parents must water, weed, and cultivate that seed of faith so that it grows, blossoms, and flourishes to the fullest extent possible. Another way of expressing this truth is that the parents are responsible for the eternal salvation of their child. In the realm and hierarchy of importance, there is nothing more sublime and important in life than to live in grace, grow in grace, persevere in grace, and die in the state of grace. As the great Moral Theologian and Doctor of the Church, Saint Alphonsus, asserts: “The grace of all graces is to die in the state of grace.” It is an imperious obligation incumbent on all parents to strive for this end for themselves as well as for their children—to get to heaven!
CHURCH DOCUMENTS AND COMMON TEACHING. The Dogmatic Constitution from the Vatican II teaching Gaudium et Spes # 52 (behind which was Karol Wojtyla—the future Pope Saint John Paul II) insists on the importance of the parents as the first educators of their children in the faith. Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church when commenting on the 4th Commandment, Honor your father and your mother, reiterates this same teaching—parents must be the teachers of their children especially with regard to faith and morals. “The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute. The right and duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2221)
Therefore, in our brief essay we would like to highlight and accentuate practical points that parents can take to live out and implement their obligation to be the light for their children, so that parents can be a solid bridge or ladder by which their children can cross from this world to eternal life in heaven!
1. SACRAMENT OF HOLY MATRIMONY. Sad to say, from the very outset, couples must be reminded and encouraged to avoid cohabitation, living together, what is sometimes termed Trial marriage—all of these living conditions in the eyes of God are sinful and harmful for the couple and for the children, harmful towards the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ that is wounded, and towards the world at large. The common sense saying rings so true: “You cannot give what you do not have.” A couple living outside the state of grace will not be able to transmit and communicate efficiently and effectively the grace of God to their children. It is a very sad reality that many couples, and I say many couples, have trial unions and sometimes for many years. Holy Matrimony blesses couples and their children, and sanctifies the Church, as well as giving good example!
2. LIVING A SACRAMENTAL LIFE. Once the couple has been married sacramentally in the Church, they must make a real concerted effort to receive the Sacraments frequently, fervently, and faithfully—most especially the Sacraments of Confession and the most Holy Eucharist. Jesus said: “I am the vine and you are the branches; you are called to bring forth fruit and fruit in abundance.” (Jn 15:5) The worthy reception of the Sacraments redounds to the blessing of the children. If you like, it is like a downpour of dew, sun, and pure wind upon the saplings in the field of their harvest—their children!
3. THE LIFE-LONG PROCESS OF PERMANENT FORMATION. It is truly incumbent upon parents, as well as all Catholic-Christians for that matter, to take very seriously what might be termed Permanent Formation. It is interesting to note that in almost all professional fields such as Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers and Professors, Architects, and even Professional Athletes—all must be in a perpetual process of formation. That pans out in participating in talks, seminars, and constant study through reading. In other words, if a professional is not up to performing their task, they can be dismissed due to negligence. A Doctor/Surgeon who fails in the performance of an operation can be subject to expensive law-suits and lose huge sums of money. This being the case, should not parents and adults in the faith be so to speak Professional Catholics??? Would any well-educated adult be content stagnating at a juvenile Elementary School level? The law of growth applies to all—professionals, athletes, as well as parents with respect to their growth in faith.
4. WHAT THEN SHOULD I BE STUDYING, LEARNING TO ROUND OUT MY PEREMANT FORMATION??? This is a very important question, but not easy to respond to given the many demands of the modern and complicated lifestyle that we are immersed in! We have never lived in a society with so much information and actually good literature. However, at the same time, we have never lived in a society with so much mass confusion!!!
5. WHAT THEN? HOW CAN I DISCERN? The response to these two questions follows from classical Christian-Catholic Theology and Pastoral formation. And it is this: SPIRITUAL DIRECTION. Baseball players need coaches; businesses entrepreneurs, advisers; and teachers, principals and mentors. Even more important in our pursuit of holiness and salvation do we have a dire need for capable and competent SPIRITUAL DIRECTORS. This being said, in the context of spiritual direction, parents should explain their vocation of Holy Matrimony, their work, their children, and the milieu they inhabit, and through discernment the Spiritual Director will shed light on their needs and the process by which they can arrive at the process of permanent formation. Jesus said it: “A blind person cannot lead a blind person; both will fall into the pit.” (Lk 6:39) Competent Spiritual Direction illuminates the pathway to God and salvation! Take advantage of it!
6. ACTIONS ARE POWERFUL MOTIVATIONAL TOOLS: LOVE BETWEEN THE COUPLE. It must be said with the utmost clarity that the parents will be superb educators when their relationship with God is growing by leaps and bounds. However, it must be that this love that the couple has for God flows over like an abundant river in the mutual love that they promised towards each other on their wedding day! Put bluntly, if children are to be educated in the faith, they must be instructed to know and love God, but also they must see the love of God reflected in the way their Mother and Father truly love each other. If there is a lot of God language from the parents but this is coupled with harsh words, cruel and prolonged silences, a constant anger, sarcasm, and bitterness, then the seed of the Word falls on thorns and will quickly be choked out.
7. COME APART FOR A WHILE AND REST WITH ME!!! If parents truly want to be good teachers to their children, then they must heed the words of Jesus to the Apostles and to us: “Come apart with me and rest for a while.” (Mk 6:31) As it was, the Apostles were being overwhelmed with work and demands such that they barely had even enough time to eat! Consequently, Jesus told them to pull back and rest with Him for a while, and then go back into the battleground. Ideally speaking, on an annual basis, parents should pull out from the hustle and bustle of the rat race and find some time for a Spiritual Retreat. If not, there is the danger of burn out! In order to recharge their spiritual batteries, it is necessary to spend time alone with the Lord, at least for a weekend. In the middle of November this year (2018), I went off with 123 adults to a Retreat house Friday night, Saturday, and half of Sunday for a wonderful retreat. The graces were abounding and the many adults were able to recharge their spiritual batteries with talks, silent meditations, spiritual reading, quiet and reflective walks, and most important Confession and Holy Mass and Holy Communion. Jesus Himself would separate Himself from the multitude to spend deep, quality time in communion with His Heavenly Father.
8. SUNDAY: THE DAY OF THE LORD AND FAMILY DAY. Pope Saint Pope John Paul II penned an all-important short but substantial document, Apostolic Letter Dies Domine (May 31, 1998)—the Day of the Lord. The essence of this document is that the modern world is losing the sense of the sacred character of Sunday. In other words, Sunday is becoming an extension of Saturday. Sunday is spent shopping, cleaning, working, eating, and enjoying, with the end result of forgetting to keep holy the Sabbath, even omitting attendance and participation in Holy Mass—which must be the very heart of Sunday, the Lord’s Day! In addition to keeping the Lord’s Day in the fervent assistance and participation in Holy Mass, Sunday should be family day. This is the message of Saint Pope John Paul II. The primary institution in society, the primary building block and basic cell, and the domestic church—the family—is under violent attack and in danger of being ripped and rent asunder. An excellent way for parents to carry out and implement the formation of their children and teens is to have them enjoy Sunday with their parents. Mass, followed by a substantial brunch, then fun time in the park with some physical activity or if you like sports. Then a picnic in the park with some wholesome family sharing—no phones or electronic devices! Let all of the members in the family share what is on his/her mind with the attentive and charitable listening of the others. Indeed, it must be said that communication is at an all-time low between parents and children, especially the teens. May Sunday after Mass, be the time to really connect and communicate with your kids! NOW is the time, and do not say TOMORROW! By the way, tomorrow never arrives; it is beyond our grasp and may never arrive at all!
9. PARISH ONGOING FORMATION GROUPS. Check out your Parish and the groups that you, your spouse, and your children can become involved in. Ongoing catechesis, Bible groups, Marian Consecration programs, Spiritual Exercises opportunities, Youth groups and activities, the Legion of Mary—all of the above and other groups can serve as a catalyst to motivate parents and their family to get to know, love, and serve the Lord with greater vigor and enthusiasm!
10. LIKE MARY, BE MISSIONARIES! After the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit, she went in haste to visit her cousin Saint Elizabeth. The joy of the Good News welled up in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and she could not contain it. The Holy Spirit moved and motivated Mary to bring Jesus to others. May Mary, who Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta called, “The first Missionary of Charity”, be an example for parents and their children! Indeed, one of the most efficacious ways that one can grow in one’s faith is to share it with others. Saint Thomas Aquinas points out that when we share on a material plane, we become impoverished. On the contrary, when we learn the art of giving and sharing our faith with others, we are enriched! The more we give spiritually, the more God, the author of all good gifts, fills us with His riches and grace. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, born again Christians—we meet them all over the place with their fervent messages. As Catholics, we should be even more fervent in our desire as part of the family of the Catholic Church, which is the family of God, to share the Good News, the Gospel, to the whole world! The last words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew were: “Go out to the whole world and teach what I taught you; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And behold I will be with you even until the end of time.” (Mt 28:19-20)
In conclusion, it is our most ardent desire and hope that parents will take very seriously their obligation to work on their own personal spiritual life and permanent formation so that they can be sure guides for their children on the Highway to Heaven. May Our Lady, who is Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, guide us safely to the port of eternal salvation!