Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

"...You Did It Unto Me"

But everyone we meet is not a sign of Christ in exactly the same way. How, then, can we best help our children to recognize, love, serve and, in turn, be served by Christ our Lord as He comes to them in special ways in special kinds of people?

Let us begin with those of our fellow beings who most directly and objectively represent Christ to us: His priests. How can we best help our children to recognize, reverence, love, and be ready to serve Christ the Priest in every priest they may meet?

To recognize Christ the Priest in every priest means to recognize the Mediator between God and man, who teaches God's truth to us, brings God's life to us, leads us to serve and love God and to be happy with him forever.

To reverence Christ the Priest in every priest means to honor him as sacred to God, set apart, consecrated and empowered for the holiest work in the world; to honor him for God's choice of him and for his own correspondence with that choice.

To love and be ready to serve Christ the Priest means to have our wills in tune with Christ's priestly work, eager to have our priests be truly priests to us. It means being ready to help them in their work in whatever form of parish activities or Catholic action they suggest; to help them for their work by supporting them, not only with money, but, as we find the opportunity, with all those less tangible forms of as- sistance that all men need, however exalted their office and station-- appreciation, the affection of charity, cooperation, opportunities for due relaxation, and so on.

Obviously, a first necessity here is that priests be made realities in our children's lives. If the priest is little more than a figure up at a distant altar once a week, and a voice in the confessional once a month, the children will have little chance to build up any attitude to the priesthood beyond that of vague respect.

Let us, then, give the children every possible opportunity clearly to see and hear the priest when they attend Mass--there is usually room up in the front of the church when there is any room at all!--to witness baptisms and ask questions about what they see, to be present when the priest comes to our houses to visit someone who is sick, in short, to see their priests as they go about their highest priestly work.

Let us also give our priests every possible encouragement to come to our homes as priests, to bless our houses, give special blessings, to visit the sick, and so on, as much as the size of our parish and circumstances permit. And on such occasions let us try to take our part, and the children with us, in making the correct preparations for the priest's visit, and the right responses to his prayers.

Moreover, if our children are to receive from us any idea of working under and with their priests in helping to bring about the kingdom of God on earth, we shall have to take part ourselves in whatever form of parish activity and Catholic action our circumstances and talents are best suited for. Then the children will have the chance to see us making practical applications of the distinction between office and person, so necessary in all Catholic life. They will see us striving to exercise that humorous and humble charity which does not blind itself to "Father's" imperfections and foibles, realizing that we have just as many and more ourselves--and that Father is trying to be patient and charitable with us.

Finally, we could try to make it as easy as possible for priests, especially for our own parish priest and his assistants, to visit our homes, and to feel at home there. Every Catholic family should surely pray for the grace of having real friends in the ranks of Christ's priests. There is no simpler, or surer (or more enjoyable) way to give our children the opportunity to know and love and serve Christ in his priests than actually to have priests as honored, loved, and familiar guests in our homes--guests with whom we do not "stand on ceremony," but whom we do treat with the respect due their priesthood; guests in whom we can most obviously care for Christ Himself; guests who will argue with the parents and play with the children, but to whom we all kneel for Christ's blessing at the end of every visit.

If every Catholic home were to do all that it could along such lines as these to make and strengthen the bonds of common interest in God's work, of unselfish helpfulness, of real charity between people and priests how far-reaching would be the effects on the future generation in vocations to the priesthood, in fruitfulness of the Church's work, in the vitality of the Church's life!

Many of the same general means, obviously, are also to be used in helping our children to come to honor and to be ready to serve Christ in His religious, to bring them to recognize religious as men and women especially dear to Him, who have undertaken at His call to live explicitly, full-time, and by set rules of life, in that bridal relationship of love and total dedication to God which the rest of us must work towards by far less direct methods.

By personal acquaintance and friendship, common work and interests with religious; by reading, by correspondence, by contributions, however small, to the Propagation of the Faith and to contemplative Orders, and so on, we can try to make the manifold forms of religious life a reality to our children. We can help them to grow in gratitude to all religious and in appreciation of the special part religious take in carrying on the great work of Christ.

In this age of widespread vague knowledge about "depth psychology," many of us parents are continually harassed by fears of what we are doing to our children's present and future psychic set-up, by fears of what our children are going to think about us in future years. Whatever measure of truth there may be in the various theories of psychology current today it is all too obvious that our children do obtain from our behavior to each other and to them, the material for their primary ideas of, and attitudes toward, authority, parenthood, marriage, fatherly love, motherly love, and married love. And we also realize, all too clearly, that, in spite of our efforts, our own conduct is not a perfect model of fatherhood, motherhood, or marriage.

We do, certainly, believe on faith that God will give us, if we pray and work, the graces necessary to bring up our children. But is there anything that God means us to do besides praying that He will somehow bring our children out all right in spite of the psychic dangers seemingly inherent in family life and childhood among fallen mankind?

Here again the Christian and sacramental pattern is the answer to this most modern need. We parents are, it is true, imperfect as images to our children of God's perfect love, perfect parenthood, perfect authority and care; but we are His images nonetheless, by virtue of our office as Catholic parents. We can, then, in accordance with our children's needs and development lead them to an appreciation of both the positive and negative implications of this fact.

Our love and care are only sketchy pictures of God's love and care. Whatever is good and real and right in them comes from God. As parents, we are instruments of God's love, of His care and His will for the children while they are young, and as such we are meant to have their respect and obedience, as well as their love. But our imperfections and limitations show that we are not God; that we are not meant to be and do not expect to be the most ultimate term of our children's interest, or respect, or filial love. These should go, and the sooner the better, through us and around us and beyond us to God Himself.

"God loves you even more than Father and Mother do. He had to give you both a Father and a Mother to show you something of how much He loves you, and He gave you our Lady too, His own Son's Mother, to be your Mother in heaven..." "He gave Father and Mother the job of taking care of you and bringing you up as He wants, so that you can do great things for Him when you grow up, and be happy with Him forever. That's why we have to tell you not to do things that we know would be bad for you, and to do things we know are good for you, till you are old enough to know what God wants yourself...." "God wants you to obey us now as practice for obeying Him directly when you grow up, just as our Lord obeyed our Lady and St. Joseph when He was a boy on earth...."

And also, when it is clear to the children as well as to us that we have made a mistake or been unjust or lost our tempers, let us use such occasions too, as impersonally as possible, to help to establish our children in the right relationship to God's perfect Fatherhood:

"Yes, Mother was wrong. Isn't it wonderful that God can never make any mistakes, and that He loves you and is taking care of you all the time, whatever happens, and however wrong things seem to be...." "Yes, I lost my temper and I shouldn't have. Daddy and Mother have to try to be good, just as you do. But God never loses His temper, however bad we have been, and as soon as we are sorry He gives us another chance. Let's both tell Him we are sorry and ask Him to help us try again...." "Yes, Mother just didn't understand. Isn't it a good thing that God is never too busy to listen and always understands, and our Lady does too and can help you much more than Mother could...."

By thus using the occasions of daily living to point the children's attention and affection through us to God, we shall be doing a great deal to avoid any evil and unbalancing consequences of our own imperfection as parents and of the children's imperfections as growing human beings. Such a sacramental attitude toward our own parenthood should also help us, with God's grace, to avoid both the danger of over-possessiveness and that of neglect.

It should also help the children to avoid the emotional repressions and complications that arise with trying to think that their parents are perfect when obviously they are not. And, such an attitude should also, with God's help, lay the human foundations for that trustful, truly childlike attitude to God which is the essence of spiritual maturity, that attitude which is so much easier to maintain and develop from childhood on, than to establish for the first time in later life.

In the same "sacramental" way, as our children come to adolescence and to a growing realization of the implications of human love, we can use even the imperfections of our own example to show the children what marriage is and should be. We can help our children to realize that the ideal of marriage, of love, of self-sacrifice, of perfect union, is more true and more real than imperfect human beings; that human imperfections are allowed for in God's plan, and do not spoil or mar the Reality of love and happiness in love for which we all were made. And, in doing so, we do much to establish our children in true Christian realism, to save them from "disillusion," to help them grow straight and unhampered toward fruitful Christian maturity.

We all know the beautiful statement of the truth, Hospes venit, Christus venit, "When a guest comes, then Christ comes." What is difficult is to show our children by our daily example that we are always happy to have guests of all kinds, because each of them gives us the opportunity to welcome and serve Christ our Lord. We need to try to be happy, at least with our wills, not only to welcome a beloved friend, or an influential acquaintance, but also the bore who is only going to waste our time, and the salesman whose product we do not want and cannot buy.

In all these people equally, Christ the Guest is asking us for the best hospitality that we can give him under the circumstances--say, ten minutes full attention to the bore, and a human smile and word about the weather to the salesman. For the more that we can so manage to give our best to everyone who comes to our door, the more our children will be prepared to realize that it is the One Christ who is coming under all these various guises.

And the other aspect of helping our children to learn true Christian hospitality is, surely, to make it a happy and natural and frequent event in our homes. If the children see that "having company" is a strange, unnatural, infrequent affair, requiring all sorts of elaborate preparations, short tempers and stiffness, they can hardly be taught the theory that we are doing such things to welcome the Christ who loves them. On the other hand, they themselves should take part in a reasonable amount of happy, special preparation for expected guests, and so acquire the habit of doing whatever can best be done to honor Christ as He comes to them in our guests.

The sacramental plan of things gives us also the key as to how to help our children to achieve the truly Christian attitude towards those who suffer and towards suffering itself. Since our Lord endured the suffering of the Cross for our redemption, human suffering possesses an objective dignity of its own from this very fact, whether the sufferer himself realizes it or not. And, from our Lord's own words, we know that it is He whom we serve in trying to help the needs of any human being.

In anyone who is suffering, therefore, we may find Christ Himself in His Passion, giving us here and now the opportunity to care for Him, to wait on Him, to sympathize with Him. For these reasons, personal care of the sick is a privilege; for these reasons, the vocations of doctor and nurse are greatly to be honored. Any serious illness or affliction in the family or the neighborhood or among our friends can offer us the occasion for talking over these facts with the children, and for doing whatever we can to act on them.

On the other hand, suffering itself patiently accepted in union with Christ's sufferings, shares in the value of His suffering and is positively valuable for the eternal salvation of souls. As the practical St. Therese says, to accept suffering in this way (and all forms of hardship, trial, and inconvenience) is, as it were, to earn token money which we can give to our Lord to change into real currency by the value of His sufferings, and to use to ransom souls from sin, to free souls from purgatory, to win graces and blessings for those who need them. When our children have to undergo any severe pain, or dis- agreeable illness, we can begin to give them such a simple and practical view of the possibilities of suffering, and so teach them how to endure it without self-pity, stoicism or softness, with at least the makings of true Christian heroism.

But, in connection with all these truths, whenever we have occasion to talk with the children about our Lord's sufferings, the value of suffering and so on, we should take great care to bring out the fact that it was original sin and, in its train, the effects of the actual sins of all the generations of men, that are responsible for all human suffering. God the Father does not enjoy seeing us suffer; He did not enjoy seeing His Son suffer. But His wonderful ingenuity, so to speak, by means of the sufferings of Christ has enabled us to make use of all this suffering which we brought upon ourselves, to use it in helping Christ with the very work of effecting our redemption.

All modern techniques of helping the handicapped now use the principle of self-help above everything else; when the children are of an age to appreciate such facts, we can point out how wonderfully and how lovingly, "even to the death on the Cross," God Himself has been using this very principle in the work of our redemption. Even small children can appreciate the thought and skill needed to make use of otherwise useless things, and so to appreciate what Christ has done in His suffering, for our sufferings.

And, of course, we must also show them that no human wisdom can fathom all the aspects of suffering; we can only know that God is infinite Love and infinite Goodness, and that somehow He will bring a greater good, far greater happiness for more people forever in heaven, out of all this seeming evil.

Along the same lines, we can give the children the foundations of a truly Christian attitude toward the handicapped. Any form of physical or mental affliction shares in the objective dignity which our Lord's Passion has conferred on all human suffering. In any form of special consideration or service which a handicapped person may require, we can find a special opportunity of serving our Lord. Moreover, only God knows the degree to which any particular person's particular sufferings or handicaps are of positive value in the great work of the redemption, but we do know that such a person has, at the very least, a special opportunity to help our Lord in a most valuable and difficult way in the work of building up His kingdom. A person so honored is not, then, to be pitied: for pity implies superiority, and who are we to be superior to Christ? But he is to be sympathized with, as our Lord allows us to sympathize with Him in His Passion. Not, of course that we can expect every handicapped person necessarily to be a saint, (or, for that matter, that any great affliction or hardship will necessarily make us saints!), but that he has been given a special opportunity to become so.

When our children are going to meet, for example, a man who is blind, we should discuss quite frankly with them all the handicaps of blindness, so that the children can begin to sympathize with ("suffer with") their future friend. But we should not end up with "Poor Jack, isn't it dreadful that he is blind!" Rather, "God must think a lot of Jack to give him such a tough thing to bear for Him. That's why it is a great privilege to have Jack with us, and let's try to give him as good a time as we can."

Along the same lines, we can show the children how best to help and serve Christ in the handicapped or needy. Obviously, this will not consist in doing what we would like to do for them, but what will help Christ to live more fully in and through them. In the case of a blind person, again, the greatest kindness is to help him to independence; to let him realize that we accept him as a normal human person. So we need to learn to restrain ourselves from the fussy rushing to his assistance that bolsters up our own cozy feeling of helpfulness, to find out instead what kinds of help are really needed, and to accept help from him in our turn whenever possible.

If we thus try to think out and practice consistently the implications of the truth of Christ's special presence in those of our neighbors with special needs and afflictions, our children may be able to learn from us what true Christian charity means. But if we only try thoughtlessly, spasmodically, and sentimentally to "be kind to" the poor or handicapped, our children will be in danger of contracting that sentimental pity, and fear of all forms of affliction which is the modern caricature of the true Christian attitude.

We need also to try to get across to our children the correlative aspect of these truths which concern their own acceptance of help, of Christian charity in every form. One of our great modern vices is to feel disgraced by any need for help, to feel that we must be able to pay in some immediate and concrete way for everything, even for kindness.

Such an attitude is obviously a barrier to the free flow of the warmth and vitality of mutual charity among the members of Christ's Body. For it is, ultimately, a form of selfishness to try to seize every opportunity of serving Christ in one's neighbor and yet to refuse to others that same opportunity as far as one's own needs are concerned. So St. Thomas says that it is itself an act of charity to receive charity--of course in the proper sense of that wonderful word: love shown in loving service of God and neighbor.

We need, then, to try ourselves to give the example and to teach our children how, graciously and gratefully, to accept help of all sorts as coming, somehow from Christ Himself. Such training begins with the inculcation of the simple "Please" and "Thank you" which curiously is so difficult to make habitual with many children. For such ordinary politeness involves a certain amount of true humility, recognizing that one does need things from other people, but that one does not have a right to anything, and that gratitude is only decent.

We want, of course, to bring the children up to be as properly independent as possible, especially of us, in the sense that they gain the habit of trying first to figure things out for themselves before they ask for advice, and the habit of doing what they can for themselves before they ask for help. But we need also to teach them when and how it is sensible and Christian to ask for advice or help, and to accept it, not as one's due, not as if one had been disgraced by needing it, but simply and gratefully in the spirit of true humility. For the spirit of humility is basically a realistic sense of what we are in relation to God and to each other; and, in relation to each other we are all needy in one way or another; we all need others' help; we all need to give and also to receive.

Only many volumes could begin to cover the whole field of human relations and their wonderful possibilities to the eye of Christian charity. We have to show our children how to be truly neighbors to Christ in the people who are our actual neighbors by physical location in our community and parish; how to be neighbors to Christ in needy and suffering men all over the world, to the holy souls in purgatory, and to all the host of heaven. And we need to show the children also how to accept help themselves gratefully and graciously, as coming somehow from Christ.

But, surely, the sacramental view, the effort to recognize and serve Christ as He comes to us in person, is the Christian key to "human relations" of all kinds. All sound knowledge of how human beings act and re-act, about our bodies and nerves and minds and souls, all rightful "techniques" of dealing with people and helping solve people's problems, all this can thus be ordered to the love and service of Christ in our neighbor. And, if we try to begin at home, we can help our children to form the fundamental habits of true Christian charity, capable of taking up all such modern knowledge and equipment and putting it all to the service of Christ.

Discussion Topics

1. Discuss the ways in which parents can foster religious vocations among their children. What methods are objectionable?

2. Discuss methods of discipline and of punishment of children in the light of the fact that parents are images of God's perfect love, perfect authority, and perfect providence. What are some practical means of balancing love and justice toward children? How can parents tell if they are too indulgent or too stern? if they are inconsistent and arbitrary?

3. Make applications of the principle: "When a guest comes, then Christ comes." Can this spirit be maintained toward all who come to our front door, including salesmen, baby sitters, neighborhood children, and visiting teenagers? Should we make an attempt to invite people to our homes as guests if we think they need help, although we would prefer our privacy?

4. "It takes as much charity to receive as to give." Explain this statement and show how it applies regarding aid and gifts to us from relatives, friends, and neighbors.

5. Discuss the Christian attitude toward pain and suffering as it affects the lesser ailments of daily life. Should parents complain about their ill health in front of their children? Should they act as though they never had pain or discomfort? Should children be encouraged to put up with pain and suffering? What should be the parents' attitude toward the bumps and pains the children suffer?

Study Questions

1. In what ways does a priest particularly represent Christ?

2. List suggestions for making priests "realities in our children's lives."

3. Since children obtain their ideas about authority and parenthood from their parents, does this mean that parents should act as though they think they are perfect and infallible?

4. What part does original sin play in suffering?

5. What is the Christian attitude toward suffering? toward those who suffer?

The Christian Pattern
Our Neighbors
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and Play
Redeeming the Times
Sex Education
Attaining Our Ideals


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