The Education of Children
In Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis considers the difference between parents obsessing about their children (i.e., helicopter parenting) and allowing children to mature and experience life within the parameters of clear moral boundaries. As a parent, I sympathize with other dads and moms that want to do everything for their child, who want to spare their child every disappointment and pain. I really wish I could do all that for my kids. But Amoris Laetitia reminds me that freedom, and our experience of it, is essential to maturing in a healthy and holy manner. God is a parent. He is a Father. And God gives us the freedom to do good and bad things, smart and not-so-smart things, selfish and incredibly generous things. And it is precisely the freedom God gives us that allows us to do all these things.
God as the Measuring Stick
Part of being a child’s primary educator on matters of faith—a role to which all Catholic parents are called—means preparing our children to be disciples who live in the world and love the world because they love God.
Modeling Goodness and Dignity
This includes educating our kids about the goodness and dignity of the human person. Beginning with the truth that everyone is made in God’s image and likeness, parents have the challenge of helping children understand the goodness of themselves, their bodies, and their minds and hearts. Part of this education is helping children to respect the bodies, minds, and hearts of others. As parents, we do this mostly by example. We watch the words we use, trying to avoid sarcasm and other hurtful speech. But we also help our children grow in the faith when we spend time reading Scripture with them, reflecting together on the word proclaimed every Sunday at Mass. We also help our children grow to become disciples committed to living and sharing the Gospel message with others when we do the same for them. Moms and dads all have something to say about faith. How comfortable they might feel doing so is another matter.
Sharing the Journey
Being honest about one’s own faith journey, in an appropriate and authentic way, is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.
Living life as a family presents its own kind of spirituality. Like so many other pursuits, spiritualities can be modified, improved, or abandoned. Amoris Laetitia reminds us that togetherness, unity, and the daily experience of human relationships within a family can provide a rich spirituality that can prepare people well for life as a disciple. In families we have the opportunity to learn about sharing, forgiveness, and any number of virtues—with patience being the most premium, I think! But these we only have the opportunity to learn. We also, unfortunately, can learn to be selfish, prejudiced, and unmerciful. What is most important is that we leave the door open to mercy and reconciliation. Mercy is the supernatural balm that can heal even the most seemingly incurable of wounds.
Mercy keeps the family moving forward and together. Mercy is neither superfluous nor cheap. Mercy is about wanting the best for the other. Mercy offers new life, opportunity, and blessing. It has nothing to do with enablement. In fact, sometimes, mercy requires confrontation to take effect. Interventions of one kind or another are necessary vehicles of mercy. Being merciful begins when we are honest about our own need for God’s mercy. Knowing better who “I am” helps me to better know who “we are” as a couple and a family.
Consider an open door as an image of what it means to be merciful. Doors are neutral. They can be unlocked, locked, entrances, and exits. Download a Becoming a More Merciful Family Activity and use the prompts it contains as a reflection and conversation starter to build mercy in your family.