by Fr. Plus S.J.
CHESTERTON expressed himself as well satisfied that education is entirely confided to women until that time when to educate becomes entirely useless for, 'a child is not sent to school to be instructed until it is too late to teach him anything.'
In other words, education depends on the training given during baby days and early childhood and such training is the concern of women. That is a certain fact. It is also a serious fact. Because at once there arises a problem. Are all mothers charged with educating their children capable of it?
Some women excel in child-training. And often they are equally successful in handling their children once they are grown.
How solicitously these mothers watch over their children even in their babyhood not only in concern for their bodily good but for their soul as well, warding off from them whatever could be a source of trouble later. With what love of God they profit by their babies' first glimmerings of reason to teach them how to fold their hands in prayer and lift their hearts to God. How zealously they prepare them for their First Holy Communion, speaking to them of the marvels of the Eucharist, encouraging them to generosity and love of Jesus Crucified.
Without any thought of self, but with joyful and supernatural austerity, they teach their children to make sacrifices, to think of others; with what divinely inspired skill they show them the immense needs of the world, make them think of little pagan children who have no Christian mother or father or brothers or sisters who have been baptized.
“Children are serious-minded, and to keep a childlike soul means precisely to continue to look at life with a serious attitude,” says Joergensen. Mothers with a supernatural spirit, whether they have read Joergensen or not, seem to use this idea as a guiding principle and by it help their children to preserve, while growing up, the juvenile depth of their serious outlook on life.
Even when their children are grown, how they help them to develop this serious attitude and protect them from losing it or submerging it in an atmosphere of worldliness and frivolity! How earnestly they try to give their children true Christianity grounded much more in love than in fear; they do not constantly terrify them with the idea of sin; they lead them even more by example than by word, to look upon God as a God of mercy and not as a sort of “super-parent” who is always dissatisfied, severe, angry, ready to forbid and to punish.”
Living a life of divine familiarity themselves, these mothers have learned the great mystery of “God nearby,” of God residing in the depths of the soul in grace, a God whose dearest wish is to draw us into closer intimacy with Himself.
It has been said that “there are two ways of giving the consciences of children an intense sense of the privation of God”; either by default, by never putting them in His presence; or by excess, by putting them in His presence in such a way that He becomes a nightmare to them from which they flee as soon as they realise that the whirl of life helps them not to think of Him.”
Supernatural-minded mothers would never fail in the second way. If their grown boys and girls remain in the state of grace, it is through a holy pride, an interior joy, the result of having been impregnated early in life with the conviction of God's nearness, with the determination to remain forever living tabernacles of the Trinity other Christs.
Honour to these mothers, true educators!
This does not mean education to piety. In Christian families this is properly provided for: The children are taught their prayers, how to go to Confession, how to prepare for Holy Communion, how to assist at Holy Mass and other church services, how to say the Rosary. All this is fine, but perhaps it is not the e s s e n t i a l ! T h e important thing is to teach the child who he is, who God is, and how God wants to mingle His life with his by coming to dwell in him, consecrating him thereby as a living tabernacle of the Most High. When the child knows all this not merely as bookish knowledge but as knowledge lived out and often recalled, exercised by his faith and his young good will, then and then only, will there be a solid foundation on which to build religious instruction, to justify and demand exercises of piety. It is absolutely essential that before all else the child be informed of the divine riches which his baptism has brought him. It must be explained to him that the day he was carried as a little baby to be received into the Church, God came to take possession of his soul.
He should be taught that when people come into the world they do not possess this divine life. God gave it to Adam and Eve in the beginning but they lost it. Right here is a splendid opportunity to explain the greatness and goodness of God, the marvel of our supernatural life, how God created man greater than nature, how He wanted to make all of us His children. The little one knows well what a father is. Explain to him that God is our Father in order to give him what is essential in all true piety, a filial spirit and an understanding of how true it is to call God, Good.
The story of creation fascinates children; so too does the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall. What a lesson for the child is the example of the terrible punishment incurred by disobedience!... The divine life is lost! But God still loves His poor human creatures just as Mom and Dad continue to love their child after he has done wrong. And what is God going to do to give back this lost supernatural life? When one commits a fault, he must make up for it to obtain pardon. Who can make up for such a fault? God asks His own Son to do it. His Son will come down to earth. And then follows the beautiful story of the Christmas Crib and the timely application of these truths: How we should pity those who do evil and, if we can, help them get out of their misery, their bodily and spiritual wretchedness!
Not only will Jesus live upon earth with us but He will die for us after living more than thirty years over in a little country where we can find many souvenirs of His stay the little town of His birth, the workshop of His foster father, that noble carpenter named Joseph, the villages that heard Him preach to all, and especially to children, on how to get to heaven, the place of His death upon the Cross, that place of suffering where Mary His Mother stood beneath His instrument of torture... All that, all that so that John, Paul, James, Mark, Peter, Louise, Konrad, Helena, Teresa may be, even while they are still on earth, little and, yes, very great living tabernacles of God who is Goodness itself; so that later in Heaven they may be with the God of their hearts forever.
Religious instruction is not sufficiently centred; it is not centred about the central mystery of Catholicism. Even the catechism with its divisions of Dogma, Morals and the Sacraments divisions that are perfectly logical and understandable but more adapted to theological authors than to the souls of children can, if we are not careful, make one forget the beautiful wholeness of Christianity which is superbly majestic in its architectural lines, clear, and pulsing with life.
It is clear that everything centres about the dogma of grace and our supernatural elevation. The best way to develop this idea with the child is to use the technique of an object lesson and explain the rites and ceremonies of baptism to him. That will be a little drama in which he has been the hero, and consequently, it will hold tremendous interest for him. It is something about himself, it is his own story he hears; he will be delighted.
Describe the ceremonies graphically for the little one. As soon as feasible, take him to church. Before showing him the tabernacle, the Eucharistic dwelling, take him to the baptismal font: Here is where you became a living tabernacle of God. At the words of the priest, 'Go out of this child, unclean spirit; give place to the Holy Ghost,' the devil was forced to leave you, because of the power Our Lord gave May 2006 Vetera Page 19 to His priests. Then the Holy Ghost came to dwell in you. And since the Holy Ghost is one with the Father and the Son, God in His fulness came to dwell from then on in your heart. Yes, there are three Persons, but there is just the same but one God; there are five fingers but they make only one hand and that one God in all three Persons dwells in you. God does not have to use an aeroplane like the one you saw landing from its flight the other day, but He does come down from heaven to dwell in your soul: He came into each of us, Dad, Mom and in you, in Mark and James and Magda, in Teresa and little Helena. He comes on His own without anyone else sending Him and His coming is very real. Besides all this, His dwelling in all of us does not keep Him from continuing to dwell in heaven, too. He is all-powerful; it causes Him no difficulty to be at several places at once. If He, who exercises His power everywhere, comes especially into the souls of the baptized, it is to dwell there in a dwelling of love. When your godmother or your grandfather come to spend a few days at your house, how happy you are! It is to give you pleasure that they come; and they bring with them goodies and lovely presents... God does the same thing when He comes to stay in you He brings presents with Him; we call these gifts, graces; that means favours, gifts He is not obliged to give but which He gives just because He is so good. Good, did we say? Extraordinarily good! Much kinder than godmother or grandpa; kinder even than Dad or Mom. He is the One who made the kindness and goodness of fathers and mothers and of all good people on the earth. Think how much greater is God's goodness since He possesses all this goodness put together and a great deal more besides!
But then if God is like that, how ought James and Joseph and Mark and Margaret and Helena and Magda behave themselves? Well, first of all, they should never do anything that would chase God from their souls; to do that is what we call mortal sin; mortal, because it forces God to leave just as if it killed Him. God cannot die, but it is just as if the person would say to Him, “I don't want anything more to do with You; if I could do away with You, I would do so!” That is why mortal sin is such a vile thing.