By Cardinal Justin Rigali
As we are surrounded with thoughts of our children and young people returning to school, it gives me the opportunity to reflect on the role of parents and teachers in transmitting the Faith.
“First and best of teachers”
During the blessing given to the mother and father of a newly baptized child at the end of the Baptismal Liturgy, we hear these words: “These parents will be the first teachers of their children in the faith, may they be also the best of teachers by what they say and do.” Even a moment’s reflection upon these challenging words will impress us with the tremendous responsibility that parents take upon themselves when they present their child for Baptism. The child is brought from the home to the church and then returns to the home after being made a member of Christ’s Body, the Church. That home will be the first “school” that the child will attend. Certainly, it is a school in which the child will learn how to walk, talk and generally mature as time passes during the period of natural growth and maturity. However, in that school of the home the child should also find the first lessons in the faith, which the parents have promised to transmit at Baptism.
The Second Vatican Council refers to the home and the family as the “domestic church.” For a moment, let us consider what we expect to find in the church and how this is mirrored in the home, when parents fulfill the responsibility they freely took upon themselves when their child was baptized.
One of our priests shared the following story with me. In a parish in which he had been stationed for a number of years, he met a woman between Masses on Easter Sunday. Not recognizing her, he introduced himself and asked her name. She related that she had grown up in that particular parish and had then married and moved away. With great sadness, she related that she had not led a very good or happy life and so on this Easter Sunday, she wanted to come back to the church where she had received such peace and joy in her youth. Perhaps the woman couldn’t explain it in this way, but she was returning to find those elements we expect to find in our church: truth, peace and security. Using that same reasoning, we are reminded of what a child should find in a Christian home: truth, peace and security. Nothing can take the place of this and children who are surrounded with these elements in the domestic church of the home receive a blessing that can last a lifetime. When they are deprived of these elements, the ill-effects can also last for a lifetime.
At the beginning of another school year, I take this opportunity to thank and commend so many faithful parents! So many of you have brought your children from your domestic church to your parish church so that they may become children of God. Remember to continue your great role of responsibility so that you will not only fulfill your vocation as a parent but also bring to your children and yourselves many blessings in the years to come. Always remember that the order of nature, which God has made a part of our very creation in His image, and the order of grace, by which we share in the very life of God, make for a wonderful combination that can bring us such happiness even in this life and then eternal happiness in the life to come.
I know that in our modern world, grandparents have often taken on a greater role than ever in the rearing of children. Perhaps you are a grandparent reading this message and you would like to share it with your children. Be sure to do so in order to fulfill your role in the work of evangelization. Grandparents know that they have to give gentle reminders and you may do that by sharing this message with the parents of your grandchildren.
The beginning of the school year is always a wonderful time to show gratitude to teachers, especially those who teach in our Catholic schools, in the PREP programs throughout the Archdiocese and in home schooling programs. Only we, as human beings made in God’s image and likeness, possess the ability to know and to reason. Therefore, when teachers transmit knowledge to us they are taking part in a noble profession and they are assisting parents and the Church in fulfilling the role of teacher.
The late Pope John Paul II reminded us of our dignity, which stems from our place in God’s order of creation. He said: “The human person is the only being on earth that God willed for his own sake and he has a dignity stemming from his spiritual nature which bears the mark of the Creator, for he was created in his image and likeness (cf. Genesis 1:26) and endowed with the highest faculties a creature can possess: reason and will” (Address to the Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 27 October 1980).
I know that our Religious and dedicated lay teachers, along with those who educate their children at home, build upon this marvelous capacity which human reason and will give us. They often do so at great sacrifice and this is why I attempt to be present at events which celebrate and honor their commitment. Rightfully has teaching always been considered such a noble profession because it builds upon what makes the human person unique in all of God’s creation. Rightfully also do we pay grateful tribute to this noble profession.
In the role which both parents and teachers are called to fulfill in transmitting knowledge and guidance to the young, there can be a certain discouragement at times. It is certainly true that our young people are surrounded with so many forces that seem to contradict what loving parents, dedicated teachers and the Church, our loving Mother, are trying to communicate. It is important not to become discouraged in this task. Truth always has its own power and it is, ultimately, always victorious.
In a recent message, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the role of parents and the Christian education of children. He recalled that we recently celebrated the feast of Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine, whose persevering prayers brought about the eventual conversion of her son.
The writings of Saint Augustine are a rich part of the treasury of the Church and, although he lived 1,500 years ago, what he wrote continues to nourish us. He writes at great length, in his “Confessions,” of the role his mother played in his conversion to a life of virtue. He was fond of saying that she had “conceived him twice,” both by giving him birth and then by leading him to Christ through her prayers and example.
Pope Benedict said: “His mother brought him up in the Christian religion whose principles remained impressed upon him even in his years of spiritual and moral dissipation. Monica never ceased to pray for him and for his conversion and she had the consolation of seeing him return to the faith and receive Baptism. God heard the prayers of this holy mother, of whom the Bishop of Tagaste had said: ‘the son of so many tears could not perish.’ In fact, Saint Augustine not only converted but decided to embrace the monastic life and, having returned to Africa, founded a community of monks” (Angelus, 30 August 2009).
Saint Monica is a timely patroness for parents and teachers when they become discouraged. She gave her son the faith, good example and her perseverance in prayer for him. You, loving parents and teachers, are called upon to do the same. Then your own children and those entrusted to your care, always acting freely, can cooperate with what they have been given and, hopefully, respond in a faithful and generous manner. You can then appear before God with a clear conscience, having done all you can in order to fulfill your responsibilities in handing on the faith. And what a magnificent mission this is!
10 September 2009