A SECOND LETTER
On Parental Authority.
By Rev Robert Nash, S.J.
AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY No. 1317a (1960). (1st Printing was in the war.)
DEAR FATHERS AND MOTHERS,
The very gracious reception you gave to our first Letter emboldens us to write to you again. Many of you had the kindness to tell us of your appreciation and not a few who are entrusted with the training of youth expressed their satisfaction at seeing in print ideas, which they say, need to be continually stressed. The printer too has been kept busy. Three or four editions have passed through his machine and thence, we fondly hope and pray, to the homes of many of our parents. From all of which we deduce that, like Oliver Twist, you are asking for more.
[The first letter, can be read at:
It is a recommended read!]
I want to
begin by talking to you about God’s authority which is vested in you.
Though we have had a good deal to say already on this head, we make no excuse
for our repetition. Why? Because the number of foolish, infatuated parents, who
fail to understand their responsibility seems to be alarmingly on the increase.
Let me illustrate.
Quite recently, a much
respected parish priest received a letter from an irate mother. How dared he
correct her child? What business was it of his? She would not have his
interference, and if it was going to continue, she would withdraw her child
from that school! In his simplicity the excellent priest considered that he
might have something to say to the spiritual welfare and training of those
committed to his care. But this youthful enlightened mother would soon teach
him! Let him try it again and see what would happen!
Oh yes, she was a Catholic, — of
a sort — and he is not young except in the energy and zeal with which he works
for souls. When a young Catholic mother in Ireland can write in such a strain
to a man entitled to respect by reason of age and position I think we need not
apologise for emphasizing the obligation parents have to use their authority.
Other examples have been
brought to light. Another priest, in the course of his rounds, came upon a
young Irish woman who had gone through a form of marriage in a non-Catholic
Church with a non-Catholic. There were three or four children, no one of whom
was even baptised. The mother had been reared a Catholic, and the priest was
trying to wake her up to a sense of her responsibility. “Here is your record — living
habitually in sin and utter neglect of those children. Now I ask you as a
Catholic, suppose you die tonight, suppose a bomb drops on this house, or a
fever strike, how are you going to stand before your God”? And her answer? With
an inane smile, she replied: “Father, what’s the use in talking like that? Why
not try to look on the bright side of things?”
All right, smile if you will
as many of my friends have smiled when I told them, and I do not pretend to be
blind to the ridiculousness of it. But there is surely an appallingly sad and
depressing lack in the mentality of this poor woman. If the story was
ridiculous merely, one need give it no more than a passing thought. But when
you remember that in that home the fate for eternity of immortal souls is in
the balance, I think your smile will soon fade out. Here is a woman who hasn’t
the first idea about what she is bound to do for her children’s souls redeemed
by the blood of Jesus Christ. Think of it from that angle and believe me it
becomes no laughing matter.
Shortly after the appearance
of our first Letter, a friend sent me a gem from the daily paper. Here it is:
Derry last Thursday, a woman was fined for the fifth time because her daughter
refused to go to school. This daughter, who appears to be a self-willed young
lady, lies in bed all day where she passes the time reading and smoking.
is not content for that matter, to smoke any kind of cigarette, but sends her
mother out and insists that she bring back one particular brand. She insists
too that there shall be a fire in her bedroom all day. One might not be very
surprised at this sort of behaviour in an up-to-date sophisticated young woman
of seventeen years, but in a child of twelve, even an advanced child of twelve,
it is almost unbelievable. The Educational Committee have realised the
importance of the offence and have acted accordingly, but apparently, the
mother would prefer to pay the fines, and to provide cigarettes, novels and a
fire, rather than listen to the ‘backchat’ from her daughter. . . . During her
last year’s attendance, the girl had gone from one school to another, attending
in all about seven schools. . . . Surely there is something wrong with a system
which allows a child to wander casually from one school to another in an
attempt to discover which one she dislikes least, and, when she finds none
agreeable to her, to retire to her bedroom to read and smoke.
fine the mother, who is in no position to pay fines, surely is futile. When
five fines already have failed to achieve the desired effect, it is scarcely
likely that a sixth, less than some of the previous ones, will be successful.
More severe measures ought to be taken before the young lady begins to consume
large quantities of cocktails at her mother’s expense. Dare we suggest a
Dare we indeed? To be quite
candid I very much want to ask at this stage if some of our parents are bereft
of reason. Have they the power to take into their minds the irreparable damage
they are doing to souls and the fearful judgments of God, Who will demand why
they have failed to use the authority He gave them? I refrain, with an effort,
from enlarging on this theme, but do please read again our first Letter, — not
because it is ours, but because it embodies the teaching of Christ and Our Holy
Father, His infallible mouthpiece.
In this Letter, I want to
speak, not so much about parents who do not use their authority at all,
like those in the examples quoted, as about parents who use it in a wrong
and harmful way.
And, lest you might think from
what has been said so far that I want you to tyrannize over your children, let
us deal in the first place with the parents who correct too much.
Frankly, I think this type is on the decline; the majority of parents offend by
defect rather than by excess. However, it is beyond doubt that there are
parents whose idea of training the child seems to be to nag at the child and issue
endless prohibitions and warnings at every stir.
Anybody can foresee the
inevitable result. After a short while, the child placidly ignores these
Mother is always checking the
child, — “don’t sit there”; “put away that book”; “don’t walk on that path” ;
“stop singing that song”; “hurry up and finish your tea”; “you mustn’t play
like that”, — and so on through a whole series of decalogues. Now if you, dear
father and mother, are going to be eternally forbidding and eternally commanding,
your child will presently give you a deaf ear and do exactly as he pleases. And
when you have a really important order to give, he has been so long accustomed
to hearing you warning or prohibiting, that in this case too the chances are
that he will take very little notice, if any.
And this is extremely bad for
the training of your child, for in this way he forgets all about God’s
authority, vested in you. He discovers he can disobey with impunity for how
could he be expected to live the strait-jacket existence which obedience to
your innumerable behests would entail?
Closely allied to this type of
parent is the one whose main weapon is to threaten punishment. I was
walking up a street the other day and here was a little girl sitting on the
damp kerb-stone. From a distance mother was expostulating: “Stand up! Wait till
I catch you! I promise you you’ll pay for this!” And of course, the little girl
continued to sit there defiantly, and when mother approached, she arose, ran on
a few hundred yards, and promptly squatted again! She had very probably learned
that mother had no notion of carrying out these threats and that all that was
required, in order to do her own sweet will, was to keep out of sight for a
while after the offence.
It is a pity, as we hope to
show, if the threat has ever to be employed in training a little child. But if
you do use it, for goodness’ sake execute your threat. If you tell the child he
or she will be punished for a certain offence, don’t let the child get away
Punish, yes, and in cold
blood, which brings me to the next way of misusing authority. Never punish a
child when you are in a temper. Easy? One of the most difficult rules to
keep but if you do keep it your child will bless you throughout his future
life. To take the cane and give your child a spanking when you are boiling with
rage is going to contribute not a whit to your child’s training. He sees very
well that you are gratifying yourself, giving your own wrath an outlet. Did you
ever try this, — when the child has infuriated you to say: “I’m much too angry
to punish you now, and if I were to punish I would probably be unjust. But you
shall have your punishment this evening!” And this evening let him or her have
it well and truly. The child knows he deserves it, and, what is even more
important he sees you are moved, not by your own passion, but by your determination
to teach him obedience.
Like many sound rules, this
one is difficult of observance. Try it, and if you tell me, for a start, that
you keep it once in six, I’m going to congratulate you from my heart.
Then there is the parent who punishes for the wrong thing. A friend of mine entered a house to find the little child howling as a result of a beating from mother. And what had the child done? Done, indeed? She had spilt a whole bucket of water on the floor! Now even you yourself might do that and you would probably consider the accident quite sufficient trouble in itself without having to face a beating over and above!
And that same parent will meet
her child coming in after the day at school. “Mother, did you hear that
So-and-So was brought home dead drunk last night?” “Do you tell me so? Come
over here, darling, sit on mammy’s knee and tell me all about it!” Do you see
my point? The mother belabours the unfortunate child for an accident for which
she was not responsible. But when the little one is ready to serve up a spicy
piece of scandal, she is applauded and encouraged. That mother was wrong in
punishing the child in the first case. She was more wrong still in listening
and drawing out the uncharitable story.
I know of parents and so do we
all, who keep their children at home from school for no reason or for very
flimsy reasons. And what happens? Mother will tell the child: “If the teacher
asks why you were absent, say you were sick; tell teacher the doctor made you
stay in bed!” The child knows perfectly well that this is a black lie. He has
been having a roaring holiday out at his country cousins, or he has been buried
in the cinema for three or four hours during school time. This is a very
serious misuse of your authority, my dear parent. You are using God’s
gift, entrusted to you, to make your child commit sin.
And the danger will develop.
Later your boy or girl, now aged sixteen or seventeen, is employed in shop or
factory. Tea is hard to get, and you drop a hint that there wouldn’t be any
great harm in your child bringing some home. Butter is scarce and your girl
could easily manage to slip away with an occasional pound for your family gathering
on Sunday. Money for that matter is none too plentiful, and what would be
simpler than that your child should help himself or herself to a little from
the employer’s cashbox and so solve a few of your many financial worries? All
this sort of thing is to lend your God-given authority to the doing of evil. He
has entrusted it to you to use; you accept it and with it, you condone sin,
co-operate in sin, appear at least to approve of sin.
What is going to be the result to your child? In school days, he was taught by you, his mother or father, deliberately to tell lies. Now you encourage him to steal. If later still he turns out a first-class swindler, are you going to exonerate yourself from all blame? And even if you do, if you shrug your shoulders and try to pass up your responsibility, is God your Judge going to corroborate that comfortable sentence?
A father or mother will sometimes tell you: “Well, I’m not much good at going myself to Mass and the Sacraments but I always make sure the youngsters go.” Do you imagine that in this good easy way you can salve your conscience? How will any child argue as soon as reason begins to dawn? “Mother always sends me but never goes herself! Dad makes us go to Mass every Sunday and to the Sodality meeting. But if it is so important for us, why isn’t it the same for him?” And there is no answer except to admit you are quite wrong. An ounce of example is worth several tons of precept.
By all means send your child
to Confession and Holy Communion regularly, — but kneel by the child’s side and
receive yourself. Certainly insist on the practice of morning and night prayers
but let your child see an object lesson in your own fidelity and reverence in
prayer. Enforce the injunctions you give by example and the child will believe
in their importance. Neglect to give the example and there is a goodly chance
that the child will follow your evil lead at an early date.
Our divine Lord, we are told,
“began to do and to teach.” (Acts 1:1) In this as in all else let Him be your
Model. Who does not know the lasting influence throughout life exercised by the
memory of a good father and mother? Their mutual love and forbearance, their
vigorous piety, their strictness tempered with a loving sweetness, — such
things as these are long-lived and they act as a most powerful support to your
God-given authority. On the contrary, if in later life, your children recall
that you missed Mass for every trifling excuse, that you were often at
logger-heads with each other and squabbling bitterly, that many a time there
was dishonesty in your dealings or uncharitableness in your conversation, — don’t
you think that all this is going to influence permanently and for evil, the
future of your child? I hope you yourself were blessed with good parents. If
so, test yourself and see how their example influences you to this day. Your
own children will be telling the same by and by.
So our next hint about your authority is that you should enforce it by your own example.
Our present holy Father, John XXIII, is reported to have stated that in many ways the most important years in a child’s life are the first six. (Pius XII was also recorded as making this observation.) In these six years, the character develops greatly and it is quite possible for parents to make the mistake of thinking that to yield always to the baby’s whims is the correct way. Far from it. The baby in the cradle can gain a victory over its elders, and moreover be quite conscious of the fact. Baby can soon understand that mother or father is sure to yield if baby cries long and loud enough. Now it is of the first importance to train that little child, even from earliest years, that its every whim is definitely not going to be granted. So, dear fathers and mothers, begin in time, to assert your God-given authority. If you are on the point of calling me a martinet may I ask you please to go back a page or two to what we said about tyrannizing?
In every one of us, there is a
deeply-seated self-love. Naturally, every one of us is devotedly fond of doing
exactly what we please, saying exactly what we want to say, going to just those
places where fancy or impulse beckons us. Now if father and mother yield to
every whim of the child what is going to happen? This innate selfishness will
develop at an alarming rate, and, like our ‘Lady of Leisure’, the child will be
utterly impossible, utterly beyond control, in no time. Hence, begin early.
And lastly, in exercising your
authority, may I suggest that you do not multiply or overstress the “don’ts.”
Did you ever try, when cycling, to avoid riding over a stone on the road?
You see the stone ahead of you, and you say to yourself: “Now don’t you go over
that stone. It won’t do your tyre any good, so don’t you ride upon it. Tyres
are expensive at present, and if you get a puncture, you are going to rip the
new one you’ve just bought. So don’t.” The very fact that you’ve said that “don’t”
seems, somehow, almost to impel you in the wrong direction, and you won’t
surprise me if you tell me that you go bump right over the stone.
Something similar seems to
happen if you are always giving negative commands to your child. “Don’t put
your finger into your mouth. Don’t turn in your toes. Don’t go into the pantry.
The reiterated prohibition
stresses in the child’s mind the thing he is not to do. He visualises the
pantry and the jam, his teeth begin to water, and when your back is turned, he
pounces on the forbidden fruit. Don’t turn in your toes, — the very phrase
summons up an image in his mind. To walk with toes turned in seems so funny or
clever that at once he wants to do it and have the experience of seeing how it
actually looks. Don’t put your finger in your mouth, — and immediately that
finger begins to taste sweet as candy and he longs to feel and do the direct
opposite to your “don’t.”
Suppose you try instead, to
give your orders a positive turn. Dad says to mother, as it were by accident,
when the child is listening: “I notice how smartly Mrs. Next-Door’s little girl
picks her steps.” Your own child will probably never again want to turn in her
toes. Instead of saying: “Don’t go to the pantry,” say: “We are going together
to town this evening to do some shopping.” “Don’t put your finger in your
mouth” is translated into “please hold mammy’s umbrella,” or “please carry this
parcel” and the desired result obtains automatically.
And now, mea culpa, on
re-reading these pages I find that so far I have inflicted a number of “don’ts”
on your good selves, dear fathers and mothers. Let me collect them here before
passing on to the positive ways of using your authority aright. Here is the
list as far as we have gone:
Don’t multiply rules and injunctions needlessly.
Don’t employ threats except when other means fail, but if you do threaten, fulfil your threat always.
Don’t punish your child when you are in a temper.
Don’t punish where the child is not to blame, and
don’t approve when you should show strong disapproval.
Don’t use your authority to condone or encourage sin.
Don’t merely issue orders; enforce them by your example.
Don’t begin too late to exercise your authority.
Don’t overstress the “don’ts.”
You will have noticed the
severity with which Our divine Lord, Who was habitually so gentle, treated the
Pharisees and Scribes. If you go back on our list of “don’ts” in the preceeding
paragraph, you will easily see His reason. They misused the authority God had
given them, in one or other of the ways against which this Letter is warning
us. Thus, they were forever wrangling about the lesser details of the Law and
ignoring its spirit utterly. They were always ready to dictate to others but,
puffed up with pride, as they were themselves, they made very light of their
own obligations. And the gentle Christ lashed them mercilessly. “Woe to you
Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, brood of vipers, whitened sepulchres!” Why?
Because they misused their God-given authority. I don’t want you, dear parents,
to fall under the same condemnation.
By way of sharp contrast,
notice how Our Lord uses His authority. He enforces His commands by His shining
example. He does not multiply injunctions; rather He reduces them all to the
great Commandment of love. In exercising your authority often ask yourself: How
would He act in these circumstances, I wonder? How would He treat this child of
mine who has disobeyed? How would He set about correcting this fault in my
child? If you can discover the answer, you need read no farther. You have all
you require to direct you aright.
Perhaps you want to tell me
that your child or children have very glaring faults of character. Shake
hands! I’m very glad to find you admitting it. To hear some parents raving
about their progeny you would be inclined to think they were scarcely of the
earth, — until, perhaps, you come to know them personally! But you are more honest
and you say that your child is sour-tempered, or sulky, or untruthful, or lazy.
Of course, many of these objectionable traits are born with your child and I am
not going to pretend that, even with all the care in the world and all the
training you can give, they will necessarily be completely cured.
But I think it is worth while
examining into your attitude towards the child in order to find out if you are
developing rather than stemming these faults. Take a child who is naturally
stubborn. A common way of handling such a child is to threaten and employ
force. And there may well be times when no other means will succeed. But, I
fear, the most you will attain to is a most ungracious unwilling obedience and
you may well have the humiliation of witnessing a disgraceful exhibition of
fury from your little child, — possibly, to add to your confusion, in the
presence of strangers.
So, I would say, if your child
is naturally inclined to sulk and pout, do be slow to bully or threaten.
Though, let me repeat, I am very willing to admit that there are times when the
rod is the only means left to you of securing obedience. But, rod or no rod,
let me implore you to make sure that you are going to win. If once you tell the
child that this or that is to be done, never yield. It is of paramount
importance that you and not the child win through.
What is objectionable in the
method of threatening and bullying is that it fails to train the character. It
secures at best a forced external compliance with your wishes, but this much
effects very little that is of permanent value to the formation of your child.
The same holds for the craze parents have at times for multiplying rules and
regulations. Over all these, there looms in the mind of the child just one
all-embracing rule, — don’t get caught! As long as your eye is upon him he may
be a paragon of all the virtues but the moment he is on his own he kicks free.
Why? Because the motive of fear predominated and that motive is very nearly
worthless in the all-important business of giving your child sound principles
to guide and foster his obedience. “Send us out men to India,” wrote Saint
Francis Xavier, “who can be depended upon to do the right thing when they
had a cartoon some years ago of Mary Ann, the cook, seated comfortably in her
kitchen arm-chair reading a yellow-back novel, the table in front of her
littered with unwashed dishes and cups. Behind at the kitchen door appears the
mistress of the house obviously in a rage.
Ann, how does it happen that every time I come down to this kitchen of yours I
find you idling?” And Mary Ann, dropping the offending novel and assuming her
most innocent expression: “Well ma’am, to tell you nothing but the truth, I
believe it is the rubber heels that does it!”
Having dwelt thus at some
length upon the “don’ts” it is time we turn now to the positive side and
try to discover what we ought to “do” in order to develop on right lines the
character of the child. And let me state with all the emphasis at my command, that
I am absolutely convinced that every child, if taken in time, can be profoundly
moved and permanently influenced for good, by true religion. More than
that, I am convinced that nothing except true religion will save the child from
the innumerable pitfalls to which he will necessarily be exposed as he journeys
Every child, certainly every
Catholic child, starts life with an enormous advantage. Grace has been
poured into his soul in Baptism and with it, there is in the child an
innate religious sense. He quite naturally longs to hear about God and divine
things and if the parents take him early in hand, they can effect wonders. I
have seen it and so have you. There is an immediate response on the part of the
child to the teaching given about the supernatural. Nor is this to be wondered
at, seeing that Our Lord promised that the heavenly Father would reveal Himself
“to little ones.”
Sometimes the false notion is
spread abroad that the little child cannot take in this or that religious
truth. I wonder. I admit that if you pack your little child off out of your
sight to the cinema on a Sunday evening, and allow him or her to read the
sentimental sensational “literature” of the day, or deck them out in a way that
offends modesty and that soon will develop in them a forwardness that is far
from lovable, — if you do these things you will quickly stifle the child’s
innate sense of the supernatural and I feel intensely sorry for you, and for
the child. But if, as is your duty to God, you forestall the attacks of
worldliness on the little one’s soul and take care to develop the seed of
divine grace, you will be amazed and delighted at the promptitude with which
the innocent pure heart will leap up in an ardent love for Jesus Christ and
Of course, in this place the
old adage comes into its own, that no one can give what he hasn’t got. For many
tolerably good Catholics, religion runs parallel to the rest of their lives
instead of permeating them, energizing them, vivifying and deifying them. But
it is not enough to be a tolerably good Catholic, especially in our times. You,
Catholic parents, are entrusted by God with the formation of a generation that
is going to have to stand loyal to Him in face of fearful difficulties. Hence, teach
your child, from the cradle, true religion and thus make him invincible.
True religion? Yes the teachings
of the Catholic Church, of course. But teach these, not as dry truths
divorced from your daily life, but as the mightiest forces shaping and
directing and determining you in your choices, in your decisions, in the whole
orientation of your mind towards men and things. Again, let me illustrate. Only
a few days ago I saw a man standing in a Church before a large image of Jesus
Crucified. He was carrying a little child, aged about two years, in his arms.
You should see how that tiny baby listened to the excellent father’s
explanations and watched the bleeding Figure. Don’t tell me they cannot take it
in. They can, unless, — the calamity of it! — unless you allow the world and
the devil to get in first! I don’t mind telling you that I whispered a word of
well-deserved praise to that father.
True religion? Teach them that
God, their loving heavenly Father is everywhere, — that His eye is
always upon them, watching their every step, listening to their every word,
seeing their every thought. Teach them to cultivate towards Him the attitude of
a simple, very loving little child, and watch their responsiveness.
Very early in life acquaint
them with the most wonderful love story ever written, — the deep personal
love of Jesus for them, — a story written in the blood of the Lover. Give
them the details of His life, in simple easy language, and I’m greatly mistaken
if you do not find their little hearts expanding with love for Him! and eagerly
awaiting the next section of His story.
Tell them why He came amongst
us, love for us and anxiety to have us with Him urging Him to descend from
heaven. Dwell on the cold and poverty of Bethlehem, the shepherds and the Magi,
the Flight before Herod’s sword, the Hidden life of, obedience, the miracles
and preaching of the Public Life, the long hours spent in prayer on the
mountain-side, the attacks of His enemies, the parables He gave and their
application, and finally the Passion which I have seen more than once to draw
tears from the child’s eyes. Are our parents too sophisticated for all that?
Will you object that your child would never sit and listen? If you do, I
counter your objection by telling you what I suspect. I fear you have allowed
the silly butterfly mentality into your child’s life. You are training an
affected, precocious, worldly-minded, worldly-tainted little boy or girl. The
taste for divine things has been vitiated and you have deprived God of your
child’s love, and your child of the greatest treasure, — a development of the
life of sanctifying grace in the soul.
True religion? Never forget that the child must give to Mary the deep affection due to a most loving Mother. Never speak to your child of Jesus without mentioning His Mother. Speak of her sinlessness, of the suffering she endured, of her courage in standing under the cross and offering Him for you and me, of her immense power with God in heaven.
Talk much about prayer. Some of the most exquisite prayers ever spoken are the spontaneous utterances of little children to the heavenly Father, to Jesus or to Mary. Make the child realise, at least in some measure, the meaning of the Blessed Sacrament. All this is the sort of thing I mean by true religion. Believe me, the little mind is receptive, the little heart will quickly go on fire, — if to you yourself religion is a real living force, not a dry code of formulas, and if your words carry the ring of conviction and the warmth born of personal experience.
Haven’t you an immense power placed in your hands by God, dear fathers and mothers? No wonder our hearts bleed when we hear how Catholic parents squander God’s precious gift. For what can be more lamentable than the sight of father and mother turning their backs on the children when most the child craves for God and the things of God? Parents, forsooth, have other engagements, — there is the bridge party, the latest picture or thriller, there is golf or an all-night dance or a late dinner. The list runs on indefinitely. It is nothing short of sickening to think of Catholic parents frittering away their lives thus and shirking the training of their children. Sickening, yes, that is the word. And tell me, if you happen to be of their ilk, does all this sort of thing make you happy? I don’t believe it. You may proclaim loudly that you are having a rollicking time. Nothing will ever convince me that you have not your moments of bitter remorse when your conscience reproaches you. And if you deny this, let me assure you that they are ahead of you!
And wealthy parents are by no means the only offenders. It is just as distressing to see a queue of poor ragged little children drawn up outside our cinemas, even on Sunday evenings. “In this town the children live in the cinema” I was told the other day. Parents will dump the children on the cinema and children will beg, borrow or steal the few pence for admission. And what are they going to see there? Scenes that will help them to love God, to know Jesus Christ, to understand the meaning and purpose of life, and the beauty and value of their immortal souls?
I wonder what hour at night those poor little ragged children come in off the streets. Have the parents no responsibility? Is that little boy of seven or that girl of nine going to see anything good at eleven o’clock, or even later, in the streets of a big city? Do you want straight talk? All right. I have seen little children of that age hanging around the doors of a public house and enjoying the boisterous refrains, and for all I know worse, that were coming forth. No man or woman who thinks at all but must be profoundly grieved by the apathy and indifference of such parents. Those children are not going to see or hear anything good in the vicinity of a public house. They will probably fare worse in the other holes and alleys. And why? Because their fathers and mothers are neglecting their God-given commission to train those children and “suffer them to come” to Him.
For rich and poor alike a
return to duty implies self-sacrifice. It means curtailing your liberty
in many ways. But it means more. It means that God, Who has made you “the
ministers of His Omnipotence” will reward, as He is always seeking opportunity
to reward, in a measure “pressed down, shaken together and flowing over.” This
reward will be the bond of strong love that will bind your hearts to the hearts
of your children. We have often repeated the golden sentence, and here too it
finds place, that God never allows Himself to be outdone in generosity. Try it.
I think I can promise you that if you take the child in hand early in life and develop its sense of the supernatural, you are not going to have much trouble in securing respect for your authority and obedience to your commands.
Where a child’s heart is inflamed with a personal love for Jesus Christ, obedience becomes the most logical thing in the world. The good parent will have brought the little one many a time to Nazareth and pointed out that all Jesus did there for eighteen years is summed up in one sentence: “He was subject to them,” — to Mary and Joseph. Of course, the child wants to be like Him Who has captured his heart, and here is the obvious way.
And why did Jesus obey!
Because the commands which fell from the lips of Mary and Joseph were what His
heavenly Father wanted Him to do. Mary and Joseph took His place. He had given
them His own authority. Just as you ‘tune in’ in order to hear the voice at the
microphone, so when anyone with authority tells you what to do or not to do,
you recognise in the voice, the ‘voice of God’. All authority is from Him. Here
is a motive indeed for an obedience that will be cheerful, constant,
unquestioning. The child loves Jesus and wants to be like Him. The child learns
that father and mother take God’s place.
Given the religious background,
I doubt if there is any child who will fail to respond to such motives. How
poor by contrast is the motive of fear or threat! “Wait till I catch you! You’re
going to pay for this!” No. Take the child in time and I have every hope that
the results will be gratifying beyond your fondest and wildest expectations.
If the child’s heart is early
won to this personal love for Jesus and Mary, there will be another very happy
development. In every child, there is a desire to do things that cost, by way
of giving proof of one’s love. This trait too has to be seized upon and
developed by the parents before the world and its agencies get in. Now if there
is an understanding of the reality of Our Lord and His love, if the little mind
has grasped in some measure the message of Calvary, there will arise, almost spontaneously,
a desire to imitate. And so even little children can early be taught to say
“no” to themselves.
I know an ideal family in
which prevails, among other excellent practices, the custom of making an hour’s
nocturnal prayer each month. Each member counts the months and the years that
separate him or her from the coveted age of fourteen. Why? Because at fourteen
he or she will be allowed to make this vigil. Not so long ago a member of the
family, a boy, came home in the middle of a children’s party, — leaving all the
good things that delight a child’s heart. And what brought him back so early?
It was his night to undertake the hour of prayer! This came entirely from
himself. Yes, there is much generosity in the young heart. Fathers and mothers,
will you please develop it?
Up to this point, we have kept
in mind, for the most part, the child in the earliest stages of its life. We
have indicated ways to be avoided in the exercise of authority and we have set
forth one suggestion, which we believe to be all-sufficient, by way of securing
a right attitude towards authority on the part of the child. And we have
appealed to you, dear parents, to realise what a magnificent opportunity you
have and to seize upon it. Before we leave this section of our booklet, let me
add one word about the importance of repetition. The lessons about God’s
Presence, or the love of Jesus and Mary, or the meaning of prayer, won’t sink
in all at once. The little mind is unstable and it is only by dint of saying
the same thing many times that the idea gets home and stays.
As the child grows up new
problems arise for the parents. Growing-up people have their problems, and
often problems of a very agonising sort. There is nothing more natural than
that an adolescent should find himself or herself one day asking how
they came into the world, and it is the parents’ duty to tell them. Now there
are good parents, parents excellent indeed in most respects, but they shirk
this weighty responsibility. They have been known to allow the child they loved
to leave home and face the world without any definite knowledge of the facts
of life. Let me quote from an experienced teacher: “I knew at least two
such girls who had a positive grievance against their mothers for neglecting
them in this way. And small wonder for things might have turned out otherwise
than they did had they not fallen into good hands.”
The growing boy or girl should
be told very definitely not to be afraid to ask mother or father any questions
they might want answered. And if after, say fourteen or fifteen, no question is
forthcoming, father or mother should take the initiative. I say nothing here
about the parent who turns the child’s question into ridicule and regards it as
matter for a whispered joke with one of the elders. Do that and your child will
never ask again. Do that and your action is little short of criminal.
But, as we were saying, if no
question is forthcoming, take the initiative yourself. You may assume that your
child wants to know, and, nowadays especially, the danger of picking up the
desired information from polluted sources is terrifyingly prevalent. And once more,
it is here that the early training already outlined is going to prove an
enormous help. All during the early years, the child has been taught a deep
reverence for God and the things of God. It is not going to be difficult now to
get him to look upon these God-given functions with the same reverence.
Hence, our first hint for the
imparting of this knowledge is a reverential approach. In another place, we
have tried to show the sublimity of God’s plan in allowing men and women to
share with Him a most sacred power, and perhaps what we said there may serve as
an outline of what to tell your child.
(See Can I Keep Pure? by Father Nash, S.J.)
[This available at:
Again, it is highly recommended.]
But if reverence is essential,
nervousness or “hush-hush” is fatal. If you are going to be in a panic of
excitement and tension while telling your child, I honestly think you had
better leave the task to someone else. But anyhow, what is the reason for
making all this mystery? Can’t you speak in a very natural, almost off-hand
way, about the beauty of God’s design? I believe that the more casual you are
the more effectively you will discharge your duty. I have known young people to
come out from such an interview with father or mother infinitely relieved to
have their questions correctly answered and delighted with the assurance, given
without the least indication of mystery, that son or daughter can drop in again
“any old time” if there is anything further they want to discuss.
Indeed often the best way of
imparting this knowledge may be when your young son and yourself are mending a
puncture together, or putting up those shelves for mother, or when little Miss
Fifteen is learning a new stitch from mother or is being initiated into the
mysteries of making pastry. Anyhow, the point is that you should certainly give
the facts when asked, but with reverence and without any sign of panic. And you
needn’t give all at once. Often the child will want to ask just a question or
two and then will trot off quite satisfied. In such a case leave things alone,
but impress on the child that he will probably be wanting to learn more and
that you are there to tell him.
In connection with the
sacredness of what you have to say, it is wise to tell him or her to avoid
discussing these matters indiscriminately. Sacred things may not be lightly
used. We keep the sacred vessels under lock and key in a safe. So sacred are
these things that it would be wrong to speak of them, except to yourself or a teacher
or confessor. Sometimes companions will laugh about these things but the child
with the right religious background will readily understand that such
companions are to be shunned.
Beware too of showing
surprise, no matter what your boy or girl tells you in this matter. Be very
wary of saying that what has happened is a sin. That is for his confessor to
decide, and if you jump to a rash conclusion. you may very well crush the child
under a load of depression which he may not succeed in shaking off for many a
day or week. Finally and above all, do not wriggle out of your responsibility
by inventing a story, or, to put it bluntly, by telling a lie. Your child is
sure to find out what he wants to know, and probably very soon, and he is not
going to thank you for deceiving him or trying to deceive him, nor is your lie
going to engender confidence in you for the future.
And what about your child’s
career? Let me here say that generally speaking our Catholic Irish parents
show a wonderful generosity when there is question of their sons or daughters
embracing the priesthood or the religious state. We could, I’m sure, between
us, count such noble-hearted parents by the score, possibly by hundreds, if we
sat back and began to think. You have known a father to yield to the entreaties
of the little girl whom he worshipped when she whispered to him that she wanted
to be a Carmelite or a Poor Clare, or to go out as a missionary nun to nurse
lepers. I have known brave mothers to stand on the railway platform watching
the departing train which bore away the boy they loved that he might spend
himself for God as priest or brother. Their hearts were torn with sorrow, but
would they have him back if they got a chance? Not they! Was it to forego the
privilege of having their boy consecrated irrevocably to the service of God?
Yes, thank God, that is the ordinary attitude of our Irish parents when there
is question of the child who has, or gives hopes of having, a divine vocation.
And what of our Catholic families, Irish and otherwise, in Australia and the
other lands of emigration, like America and New Zealand?
But there is, unfortunately,
another side to the picture.
Did you ever hear of Irish
Catholic fathers and mothers opposing by every means the children’s vocation?
Or refusing to speak to them or write to them, when, despite the opposition,
they had followed what was clearly God’s call? Or insisting that, before they
give their consent the child must “see the world?” By which they mean that the
vocation must be subjected to a well-nigh impossible test. The chilling blasts
of worldliness must first be given every chance of extinguishing the flicker
enkindled by the hand of a loving Christ. I admit it is hard to understand that
mentality from Catholic fathers and mothers. Yet all of us have seen it in
Wouldn’t you be inclined to
believe that any sane parents would be overjoyed to think that their child was
God’s special choice, that He had special work for that child to do, that He
wanted to save through that child’s instrumentality perhaps thousands of souls?
Could you imagine a source of greater consolation to a dying Catholic parent
than the knowledge that their boy or girl was shielded from much of the
scorching fires of temptation and spending himself or herself unstintedly for
Of course, there is no blame
to you to insist that your child considers every side of the question before
taking the step. Of course, you want to be morally certain that this is not
just a passing emotion: Of course, the human nature in you will cry out that
the separation is cruel. All this is admitted. But does all this justify you in
thwarting a genuine vocation? The child is God’s you know, as well as yours, and
whose claim is the stronger?
Unless your child is blessed
with this singular blessing of a religious vocation, it is likely that he or
she will settle down in married life. Happy the parent who shares the
confidence of the boy or girl when the attraction of the opposite sex begins to
make itself felt. The wise father or mother will show real sympathy and genuine
anxiety to advise. It is fatal to refuse to entertain the idea that your child
is ever going to leave your side. There are parents who are ready to pull the
house down if the child dares to suggest that he or she is interested in a
possible suitable life partner. The result often is that secret sin is indulged
in which would never happen if the child knew that father and mother would
listen with sympathy. It is the parents’ right to be acquainted with the
associates of your child and how can that be, if the boy or girl knows that the
mention of such things is anathema?
So, let it be understood that
you are prepared to consider any likely partner and let him be invited to your
home where you, with your riper experience, may be able to judge for yourself
and advise accordingly.
Moreover, you know that a good
deal is written about love at first sight and it is beyond question that two
young people can be powerfully attracted at their very first meeting. Now
concerning this impulse there are two very important truths to be kept well in
mind, namely, it can be prevented from going any farther, and often it must be
Much nonsense is written on
the assumption that the impulse is, in its incipient stages, beyond control.
The assumption is quite false. Granted that the boy or girl may have a
struggle, even a very fierce struggle, in the effort to prevent themselves from
seeing or meeting that person again. There are times when such a struggle is
imperative, and with a cast-iron resolution and the never failing grace of God,
the day can be won.
And secondly, the impulse may
not be allowed to develop unless there is a reasonable hope that it is going,
within a fair period, to culminate in a happy marriage. Suppose a girl feels
this incipient attraction for a young man who is a slave to drink. Let her but
keep on meeting him and presently she becomes deaf and blind, — deaf to the
pleadings of the father and mother who have her best interest at heart, and
blind to the unfortunate boy’s repeated lapses. What has happened? The girl has
allowed herself to become infatuated with the wrong man. As well at this stage
may you try to make the Shannon flow back to Cavan (or the Mississippi back to
the Rockies) as secure that now she will give him up. Too late. The spark
should have been jumped upon with both feet long ago. Now the flame is beyond
Because the impulse can be
controlled and often must be controlled, it is of the first importance, dear
fathers and mothers, that your child should be trained to share all secrets
with you. Let him or her know that you will be reasonable and sympathetic, that
you won’t fly off the handle if the boy or girl hints they are interested in
someone. Young folk are often blamed for not taking or seeking advice. Perhaps
the blame is too often to be laid at your own door. Parents can often be very
selfish. Mother likes the company and attention of Mary who is advancing
perilously near to thirty, or has even waved a farewell some two or three years
ago to that date. But mother doesn’t want to lose her and so she stands in her
way and makes Mary miss her chances. Father finds young Tom a great help on the
farm or behind the counter and woe betide his silvering head if he suggest
And there is also the other
extreme. Parents, so far from directing the choice of the child and checking it
if necessary in good time, will show even less sense than the infatuated boy or
girl. They will smile good-naturedly and tell you that youth must have its
These ideas, dear fathers and mothers, may suggest practical lines upon which to work when the vocation to marriage begins to loom in sight for your child. I am painfully conscious that what we have written may make very dull reading about such a thrilling subject as love and marriage.
But I feel sure that you at least won’t blame me, for you will admit that marriage is not a perpetual honeymoon. It was Saint Francis de Sales who, abounding as he did in common sense and good humour, declared that marriage is a state of life in which the novitiate comes after the Profession!
The printer is insisting that
I put down a big full-stop and place your Letter in its envelope. Paper
rationing compels him. However, I am going to have a final word, — if your
family and home are not consecrated to the Sacred Heart call round to the
priest today and arrange for that Consecration. And on the morning of your son’s
or daughter’s marriage make sure of the Nuptial Mass, and let the first Guest
to all present be the Christ of the Eucharist. May He and Mary bless you and