Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
Driving to Baltimore and back for the Thomistic conference on the Sacrament of Penance, I listened to hours of Catholic talk radio, mostly by means of podcasts that I downloaded onto my smartphone. I felt like I got a whole education on current events from a Catholic point of view, as well as in doctrine and morality. I hope you take advantage of Catholic radio to continue your education in the Faith. I am so grateful for the EWTN network, and for all the radio stations established in the last couple of decades. They have made ongoing education in the Faith for adults a much more accessible reality than it has ever been before. An intentional disciple of Jesus Christ certainly needs to keep learning the Faith… even this poor priest who is writing to you. Please consider whether you have built into your life a consistent way of nourishing your intellect on the Faith. Sunday homilies alone will not suffice–even if you hear a good one every once in a great while.
One of the segments I listened to was an interview of a popular columnist and mother. She writes frequently about her experience learning how to be a mother and wife. She had recently written an article entitled, “How to Make Your Kids Happy”. Pretty enticing title, isn’t it?! It was a good interview, focusing mainly on how it was not her intention always to make her children happy. And, since an interview can only go into so much depth, it really did not get to the root of the question: “Should a parent want happiness for his/her child?” Here is how I would answer that question:
A parent should certainly desire eternal happiness for his/her child. (This aspect was left entirely out of the interview, for obvious reasons of time limitation.) Remember that the vision of God’s being in heaven that will be granted to us–God willing–is called the “beatific vision”. The word “beatific” comes from the word “beatitude”, which is a deep, pervading happiness. The happiness of heaven will be beyond anything we have ever experienced on Earth. So this happiness is the first goal of a parent for his/her child. And to get our children to this goal, an earthly training in love is required (since the God your child will meet in heaven is Love), which is not always an experience of bliss. And this gets us to our question of the earthly happiness for our children.
If by earthly happiness we mean keeping a smile always on our children’s faces, we have to answer negatively the question about whether a parent should desire always to keep his/her children happy. Because human nature is fallen as it is, children will pretty early on start acting selfishly, thinking themselves the center of creation. In fact, pretty early on you can identify a “primary vice” that characterizes your son or daughter. A child has to be trained to choose the good and avoid evil, rather than living primarily out of weakness or vice. Beginning with the child’s very earliest years, it is a parent’s job to identify the good to be chosen and teach his/her child about this. This obviously means a child will have to be corrected when she/he chooses evil. A child’s intellect has to be informed, the will trained. This will require training a child in the great virtue of obedience–a virtue which will serve the child for the rest of her/his life. Obedience requires the virtue of humility, and upon this virtue the others can be founded. On many occasions during a child’s education, therefore, her/his will will be overruled. This won’t feel like a very happy thing to most children. On those occasions when a parent prudently contradicts her/his child, it is a good thing that the parent is not worried about always keeping a smile on a child’s face.
Does this mean that a parent is not worried about a child’s earthly happiness? No! Forming a child in virtue, educating a child beyond/through vice will ultimately mean laying a foundation for the child to live quite a satisfying life. Ultimately, what I’m writing about here is teaching a child to get out of her/himself, to lay down her/his life in love for God and others. Train a child in virtue and she/he will be capable of sacrificial love. Love is the “form of all the virtues”. And since the human person is designed to love, achieving this goal in life will result in an overall deep and joyful fulfillment. Think of all the sacrificial love involved in marriage and raising children; and yet most spouses and parents would say (I hope!) that they would not choose another way of life. Sure, there are days when things get pretty tough, and perhaps moments when a person is even tempted to walk away. But overall, giving the gift of oneself results in fulfillment and joy. In this sense, a parent is certainly very concerned to bring about that solid, long-term, virtuous-founded experience of fulfillment in life.
Jesus Christ, Incarnate Love of the Father, will always be the source of our capacity to live self-gift love.… especially through His presence with us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass leads our children in this way to blessed happiness…. another reason to make sure we teach our children to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
So there is my attempt at answering the question, “Should a parent want happiness for his/her child?” I hope it rings true for you. It’s actually a pretty “Thomistic” (i.e., based on the virtue/vice theology of St. Thomas Aquinas) answer that I give. There are many, many great books and audio teaching resources to help parents raise their children in virtue. If I were to realize there is a felt need in my parish for a list of such resources, I could easily put one together and make it available at the office.
One such resource that immediately comes to mind is the Disciple of Christ – Education in Virtue program of the Dominican Sisters in Ann Arbor, the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. This program can be used in homes or schools. It comprises many different components for teaching virtues and vices, such as definition cards with activities that exemplify a given virtue; also saints cards that connect a particular saint to a particular virtue that the saint exhibited. The sisters are teaching sisters, so this program arose out of their own schoolwork.
May all of our children become saints, by definition rich in virtuous happiness! Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,