Saturday, November 5, 2011
Advice to Parents from a Saint
Advice to Parents from a Saint
By Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)
This post provides excerpts from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s short treatise on parenting. Following each excerpt is a commentary from yours truly.
Children: A Trust, Not a Present
Excerpt from Advice to Parents:
We have," says Saint John Chrysostom, "a great deposit in children, let us attend to them with great care." Children have not been given to parents as a present, which they may dispose of as they please, but as a trust, for which, if lost through their negligence; they must render an account to God.
Children are entrusted to parents, not as a present, plaything or personal possession, as the Saint says, but as a kind of loan from God. And the truth that our children belong first and foremost to God is more deeply impressed upon us when they move out of the house or, God forbid, they should die before we do. In light of this mom and dad are called to be good stewards as God’s surrogate or representative. They are morally obligated to raise them to be responsible adults, productive citizens and most importantly, souls who will be prepared for heaven when their number is called.
The vocation of parents is the most sublime on earth. There is an old English saying that goes something like this: “She who rocks the cradle, rules the world.” How true! But yet it is so under appreciated. Fewer parents in the twenty-first century are raising their own children. Instead, it is being delegated to others. For many men and women, sacrificing the luxuries of life or the adrenaline of a career so as to dedicate themselves more fully to their own children is simply unfulfilling.
With that said, there are very few things in life that are more important than being a totally dedicated parent. After all, the mother and father is the image of God for the child. And it is through this image that the child learns about God, the world and himself. I said earlier that parents “act in the place of God as a surrogate.” However, this is not to be taken in the sense that they babysit their children for God until they come of age. Rather, the love of a father and mother is the “very stuff” of God’s love and authority. When a father and mother does an act of love or justice for the welfare of the child, such an act proceeds from the love and justice of the Lord himself.
We might be able to compare it to Persona Christi at Mass. Here, the priest, during the consecration, is not simply reciting the words of Christ from the Last Supper. Instead, the timeless person of Christ enters into the priest so as to make present, to the congregation, his timeless Sacrifice. What exists, therefore, is a real collaboration between the High Priest, Jesus Christ, and his minister who stands before the altar. It is not just imitation or narration, it is a real participation and joint effort between the two.
Hence, the Catholic priesthood has a parallel in the natural order. It’s called parenting! And parenting, to be sure, is a kind of sacramental power through which God acts. As Pope Leo XIII put it, “For, according to Catholic teaching, the authority of our heavenly Father and Lord is imparted to parents and [superiors], whose authority, therefore, not only takes its origin and force from Him, but also borrows its nature and character.” Just as there is a real participation and joint effort between God, man and woman in conceiving a child, this principle carries forward in their joint effort in the raising of the child. God’s intervention is always active and always at hand. This is why, as a rule, a child has a right to the love of both a mother and a father. God’s plan for child-rearing is but the unfolding of his plan for creating new life.
An important side note: There is a close connection between the consercation of bread and wine at the altar and the conception of new life in the womb. It is the only time when two things i.e. bread/wine & sperm/egg become a person through the blessing of God. Perhaps this is why the percentage of Catholics who practice contraception and the percentage of Catholics who no longer believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist are parallel with each other. It is conceivable that the former leads to the latter. That's right. The means through which God makes the soul(conception) and the means through which he feeds the soul (consecration) are bound ever so closely.
As parents, when we see ourselves as channels through which God’s Fatherhood is expressed, then raising children takes on a whole new dimension. In fact, I would go so far as to say that when a man and a woman become parents they develop a kind of empathy for the love that God has for people. What comes to the fore is a new love and awareness that was previously absent. And from this develops a greater openness to spirituality. Now, without a doubt becoming parents does not automatically lead to conversion. However, for those fallen-away-Catholics who no longer go to Mass on Sunday’s, they see the need for their children to have some exposure to the Faith they no longer practice. As such, they’ll have their children baptized, they’ll send their children to weekly instruction so they could receive their first Communion and eventually receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. However, in many, if not most cases, children of churchless parents will soon behave as their parents did. They’ll stop going to church because it is not reinforced at home. This leads us to our second consideration.
Parenting & Salvation:
Excerpt from Advice to Parents:
"Let us come to the second point, that is, to the means of bringing up children in the practice of virtue. I beg you, fathers and mothers, to remember what I now say to you, from on it depends the eternal salvation of your own souls, and of the souls of your children...And he will save his soul by means of his children, that is, by the virtuous education which he has given them. She shall be saved through childbearing (I Tim. 2:15)…A very uneasy and unhappy death will be the lot of those who have labored only to increase the possessions, or to multiply the honors of their family, or who have sought only to lead a life of ease and pleasure, but have not watched over the morals of their children."
The Parable of the Talents is very applicable here. The Lord gives us so many talents i.e. children, and he, at the end of the day, expects to receive some interest or return on his investments. As St. Alphonsus said, we who have been blessed with children must render an account to God. How we raised them will be the content of our life review when we breathe our last. As a husband, I am called, with the graces which proceed from the Sacrament of Matrimony, to lead my wife to heaven. But as a father, the duty to lead my children to heaven is no less incumbent on me. Just as the Bishop, Pastor and Priest will have to account for the souls that were entrusted to him by God in their own right, I too, as a father, will be held accountable for the words I utter and the example I set. If I, as a parent, fail to point my children to God, then I cease being that clear image of God for them. As parents we are called to foster the virtues of piety, faith, hope, reverence and love in our children. In so doing, we mould these little souls entrusted to us into the image of Christ. The number of children we have will be that many more souls for God to enjoy in heaven.
But how many church-going parents profess one thing in God’s House on Sundays but during the week they behave in a way which is totally inconsistent with that profession of Faith? I have heard so many parents complain that their son or daughter, who went off to college, no longer goes to church on Sundays. Many times this problem can be traced to not living out the Gospel on a day to day basis. Catholicism, if it is not 24/7 lifestyle, does not work. Kids rebel against it. This is not to say that the family has to be wearing on their religion on their sleeves all week long. However, simply going to Mass on Sundays is not enough incentive for children to make the Faith their own when they become adults. Indeed, what is unfamiliar to them in their childhood years, that is, in their schools, family conversation at dinner or even in their social life and entertainment, will lack credibility in their adulthood years. Grace before meals, conversations about Christ, friends who reflect your values, and nighttime prayers go a long way in making a Catholic culture. Without this reinforcement from several vantage points, maintaining one's faith is most difficult; especially in our Secular society.
Going back to a quote by St. Alphonsus, he said, “A very uneasy and unhappy death will be the lot of those who have labored only to increase the possessions, or to multiply the honors of their family, or who have sought only to lead a life of ease and pleasure.” Prosperous societies tend to breed a taste and a propensity for ease and pleasure. Historically, when this attitude hardens and becomes widespread, children tend to be seen as a burden and a sacrifice instead of a blessing. From there, the birthrate drops and having no more than two children becomes the norm. Just this expression by parents, so common today, speaks volumes: “There is no way I am having any more kids. Two kids are enough!!!!” I wish I had a dime for every time I heard that. Yet, it says quite a bit about how much we value life. Unfortunately, such values are communicated loud and clear to the child.
Keep in mind, the greatest gift you can give a child is siblings; and the more the merry! Children can never be reduced to just mouths to feed. They have minds to invent and solve problems. And they have hands to help out around the house. But more importantly, they have souls to love for eternity.
The Most Important Duty:
Excerpt from Advice to Parents: "But if any man have not care of his own, and especially of those of his house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever (I Tim. 5:8)."
A man can be successful in his career, he can be highly esteemed in his trade and receive applause from the multitude, but if he is unfaithful as a husband or derelict as a father then he has failed in life. No amount of professional glory can compensate for this loss. As the Saint indicated, a very uneasy and unhappy death will be waiting for him. This is not to frighten or to threaten it is simply what countless men and women experienced on their deathbed. If the prospects of dying happens to come upon them suddenly, such as in a plane flight in crisis, people’s first instinct is to call home and say “I love you” to family members. Time spent with the family comes flooding to mind. And for those who have been in the office too much or indulging in some grudge with a relative, regrets abound. But for those mothers and fathers who spared no effort in loving and spending time with their children, memories of the family will be of great consolation and strength. Confidence will accompany them when they meet God.
The Example You Set:
Excerpt from Advice to Parents: "Vices are not born with your children, but have been communicated to them by the bad example of the parents. If you had given good example to your sons, they would not be so vicious as they are. So parents, frequent the Sacraments, learn from the sermons, recite the Rosary every day, abstain from all obscene language, from detraction, and from quarrels, and you will see that your children follow your example."
I know parents who frequent the altar and at home cuss and swear at each other in front of their children. There is simply no place for this in a Christian home. Children hate it and according to the Saints, so do their guardian angels. Many a Saint have taught that such discourse between a father and mother is totally bereft of God's favor. Jesus said that we will account for every idle word we speak. Indeed, he added elsewhere that we will pay back every last penny. At the very least, swearing (using cuss words) is an act of using idle words…at the very least!! Keep in mind that the love between a mother and a father is the content or lens of that divine image. The display of intemperate anger before the children blemishes that image.
In addition to anger and foul language, what has become more common than in previous decades is that parents do not want to grow up. Home life for them is depressing. This is a trend that our entertainment industry has created. Some parents, like Hollywood celebrities who constantly get face-lifts to do away with their wrinkles, distract themselves with trivial pursuits, always trying to relive the good-old days. They will indulge in their careers or on a social level, go bar hopping on the weekends so as to recapture those fun times at college. I heard one mother of a high school girl lament to me that the good old days of her youth are “forever gone.” She seemed sad and one who vicariouslly those "good old days" through her daughter. This is what happens when we no longer meditate on eternity and anticipate the joys of heaven. We see death as the end, old age a curse and the good times forever behind us. What a shame! The truth is that in heaven all of the good times- and then some –will be ever before us. We take all that is good about our earthly lives with us and will be introduced to new joys beyond imagining. As Pope Leo XIII said, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live!
Fun and recreation have there place to be sure. But once they become a constant pursuit, an object of our ongoing preoccupiation, we communicate to our children to accumulate as much goodies and experiences before death robs us of them. We then become a slave to time, always hurrying, never smelling the roses that the Lord provides for us. Virtually every person who had encountered death, only to encounter a life review, had come back to report that such a frantic lifestyle is all for nothing. Why? Because it is superficial. Skimming along the surface of life never leads to happiness here on earth, which is meant to be a prelude to eternal happiness. The sanctuary of the church and the sanctuary of the home is the vestibule to heaven. When we try to escape or distract ourselves from either one, it is to hard to find heaven at the end of the day.
I'll leave you with a quote from the 1884 Pastoral Letter from James Cardinal Gibbons to the Catholic Church in America. He addresses those characteristics that ought to furnish every Christian home:
"The pervading atmosphere of the Christian home should be Christian charity -- the love of God and of the neighbor. It should be the ambition and study of Christian parents to make their home a sanctuary, in which no harsh or angry, no indelicate or profane word, should be uttered, -- in which truth, unselfishness, self-control, should be carefully cultivated, in which the thought of God, the desire to please God, should be, sweetly and naturally, held before the children as their habitual motives.
From the home sanctuary, the incense of prayer should ascend as a most sweet morning and evening sacrifice to the Lord. How beautiful and rich in blessing is the assembling of parents and children for morning and evening prayer! Our hearts are filled with consolation when, in the course of our pastoral visits, we meet families in which this holy practice is faithfully observed. In such families, we are sure to find proofs of the special benedictions of heaven. Faith, religion and virtue are there fostered to luxuriant growth, and final perseverance almost assured. We earnestly exhort all parents to this salutary custom.
And if it be not always feasible in the morning, at least every evening, at a fixed hour, let the entire family be assembled for night prayers, followed by a short reading from the Holy Scriptures, the Following of Christ, or some other pious book."
MORE QUOTES FROM ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
The Primary Educator:
Excerpt from Advice to Parents:
o Should a father or mother say, "I myself do not know these mysteries," can such an excuse be admitted? Can one sin excuse another? If you are ignorant of these mysteries, you are obliged to learn them, and afterwards to teach them to your children.
o They teach them first, to thank God for having preserved their life during the night, secondly to offer to God all their good actions which they will perform, and all the pains which they will suffer during the day, thirdly, to implore of Jesus Christ and Our Most Holy Mother Mary to preserve them from all sin during the day.
o Queen Blanche, the mother of Saint Louis, King of France, used to say to him, "My son, I would rather see you dead in my arms, than in the state of sin."
Discipline and Correction:
Excerpt from Advice to Parents:
o Saint Paul teaches sufficiently, in a few words, in what the proper education of children consists. He says that it consists in discipline and correction. And you, fathers, provoke not your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord (Ephes. 5:4).
o To bring up children in the discipline of the Lord, it is also necessary to
take away from them the occasion of doing evil. A father must forbid his children to go out at night, or to go to a house in which their virtue might be exposed to danger, or to keep bad company.
o Another obligation of parents is to correct the faults of the family. "Bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord." There are fathers and mothers who witness faults in the family and remain silent. Through fear of displeasing their children, some fathers neglect to correct them, but if you saw your child falling into a pool of water, and in danger of being drowned, would it not be savage cruelty not to catch him by the hair, and save his life? He that spares the rod hates his son (Prov. 13:24).
o I say, with the rod, but not with a stick; for you must correct them like a father, and not like a prison guard. You must be careful not to beat them when you are in a passion, for you will then be in danger of beating them with too much severity, and the correction will be without fruit, for then they believe that the chastisement is the effect of anger, and not of a desire on your part to see them amend their lives. I have also said, that you should correct them while they are growing up, for when they arrive at manhood, your correction will be of little use. You must then abstain from correcting them with the hand; otherwise, they will become more perverse, and will lose their respect for you. What use is it to correct children with injurious words and with imprecations? Deprive them of some part of their meals, of certain articles of dress, or shut them up in their room.
Posted by Joe at 7:12 PM