Friday, May 26, 2017

Advice to parents on how to have holy children

It’s a fact of history and tradition that holy parents often raise pious and holy children. The reasons behind this is that the children of holy and devout parents often imitate the good and righteous deeds of their parents as much as they are able. In contrast, according to numerous saints and spiritual revelations, sinful and lustful parents influence and affect their children by their bad life and example, inflicting sinful thoughts, impulses and temptations upon their children. Thus, every parent who love their children and their future children should do their utmost to live in holiness, knowing that every act they will ever do can have an effect on their children – for better or for worse. Only in Hell will bad parents understand how their deeds effected their children in a negative way, but then it is sadly too late for them. In St. Bridget’s Revelations, it is described how such evil parents will be damned for their sinful lives.

The Son of God speaks: “Sometimes I let evil parents give birth to good children, but more often, evil children are born of evil parents, since these children imitate the evil and unrighteous deeds of their parents as much as they are able and would imitate it even more if my patience allowed them. Such a married couple will never see my face unless they repent. For there is no sin so heavy or grave that penitence and repentance does not wash it away.” (St. Bridget’s Revelations, Book 1, Chapter 26)

St. Francis de Sales, in his book Introduction to the Devout Life, in the chapter Instructions For Married Persons, gives parents important information about how they are to raise and care for their children:

“St. Monica, being pregnant of the great St. Augustine, dedicated him by frequent oblations to the Christian religion, and to the service and glory of God, as he himself testifies, saying, that "he had already tasted the salt of God in his mother’s womb." This is a great lesson for Christian women, to offer up to his divine Majesty the fruit of their wombs, even before they come into the world; for God, who accepts the offerings of an humble and willing heart, commonly at that time seconds the affections of mothers; witness Samuel, St. Thomas of Aquinas, St. Andrew of Fiesola, and many others. The mother of St. Bernard, a mother worthy of such a son, as soon as her children were born, took them in her arms, and offered them up to Jesus Christ; and, from that moment, she loved them with respect as things consecrated to God and entrusted by him to her care. This pious custom was so pleasing to God that her seven children became afterwards eminent for sanctity. But when children begin to have the use of reason, both their fathers and mothers ought to take great care to imprint the fear of God in their hearts.
“The devout queen Blanche performed this duty most fervently with regard to St. Lewis [King St. Louis IX], her son. She often said to him, "I would much rather, my dear child, see you die before my eyes, than see you commit only one mortal sin." This caution remained so deeply engraved in his soul that, as he himself related, not one day of his life passed in which be did not remember it, and take all possible care to observe it faithfully. Families and generations are, in our language, called houses; and even the Hebrews called the generations of children the building up of a house; for, in this sense, it is said that God built houses for the midwives of Egypt. Now, this is to show that the raising of a house, or family, consists not in storing up a quantity of worldly possessions, but in the good education of children in the fear of God, and in virtue, in which no pains or labor ought to be spared; for children are the crown of their parents. Thus, St. Monica fought with so much fervor and constancy against the evil inclination of her son St. Augustine, that, having followed him by sea and land, she made him more happily the child of her tears, by the conversion of his soul, than he had been of her blood, by the generation of his body.”


by Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)

Saint Alphonsus, founder of the Redemptorist Order, Bishop and Doctor of the Church expounds on the privilege and responsibilities of parenthood as a special vocation from God. The wisdom of this holy man has guided and fortified Catholics for over two hundred years.

The gospel tells us, that a good plant cannot produce bad fruit, and that a bad one cannot produce good fruit. We learn from this, that a good father brings up good children. But, if the parents are wicked, how can the children be virtuous? Our Lord says, in the same gospel, "Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?" (Matt. 7:16). So, it is impossible, or rather very difficult, to find children virtuous, who are brought up by immoral parents. Fathers and mothers, be attentive to this sermon, which is of great importance to the eternal salvation of yourselves and of your children. Be attentive, young men and young women, who have not as yet chosen a state in life. If you wish to marry, learn the obligations which you contract with regard to the education of your children, and learn also, that if you do not fulfill them, you shall bring yourselves and all your children to damnation. I shall divide this into two points. In the first, I shall show how important it is to bring up children in habits of virtue; and, in the second, I shall show with what care and diligence a parent ought to labor to bring them up well.

A father owes two obligations to his children; he is bound to provide for their corporal wants, and to educate them in the habits of virtue. It is not necessary to say anything else about the first obligation, than, there are some fathers more cruel than the most ferocious of wild beasts, for these squander away in eating, drinking, and pleasure, all their property, or all the fruits of their industry, and allow their children to die of hunger. Let us discuss education, which is the subject of this article.

It is certain that a child's future good or bad conduct depends on his being brought up well or poorly. Nature itself teaches every parent to attend to the education of his offspring. God gives children to parents, not that they may assist the family, but that they may be brought up in the fear of God, and be directed in the way of eternal salvation. "We have," says Saint John Chrysostom, "a great deposit in children, let us attend to them with great care." Children have not been given to parents as a present, which they may dispose of as they please, but as a trust, for which, if lost through their negligence; they must render an account to God.

One of the great Fathers says that on the day of judgment, parents will have to render an account for all the sins of their children. So, he who teaches his son to live well, shall die a happy and tranquil death. "He that teaches his son...when he died, he was not sorrowful, neither was he confounded before his enemies" (Eccl. 30: 3,5). And he will save his soul by means of his children, that is, by the virtuous education which he has given them. "She shall be saved through childbearing" (I Tim. 2:15).

But, on the other hand, a very uneasy and unhappy death will be the lot of those who have labored only to increase the possessions, or to multiply the honors of their family, or who have sought only to lead a life of ease and pleasure, but have not watched over the morals of their children. Saint Paul says that such parents are worse than infidels. "But if any man have not care of his own, and especially of those of his house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (I Tim. 5:8).

Were fathers or mothers to lead a life of piety and continual prayer, and to communicate every day, they should be damned if they neglected the care of their children.

If all fathers fulfilled their duty of watching over the education of their children, we should have but few crimes. By the bad education which parents give to their offspring, they cause their children, says Saint John Chrysostom, to rush into many grievous vices; and thus they deliver them up to the hands of the executioner. So it was, in one town, a parent, who was the cause of all the irregularities of his children, was justly punished for his crimes with greater severity than the children themselves. Great indeed is the misfortune of the child that has vicious parents, who are incapable of bringing up their children in the fear of God, and who, when they see their children engage in dangerous friendships and in quarrels, instead of correcting and chastising them, they take compassion on them, and say, "What can I do? They are young; hopefully they will grow out of it." What wicked words, what a cruel education! Do you hope that when your children grow up, they will become saints? Listen to what Solomon says, "A young man, according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). A young man who has contracted a habit of sin, will not abandon it even in his old age. "His bones," says holy Job, "will be filled with the vices of his youth, and they will sleep with him in the dust" (Job 20:11). When a young person has lived in evil habits, his bones will be filled with the vices of his youth, so that he will carry them to the grave, and the impurities, blasphemies, and hatred to which he was accustomed in his youth, will accompany him to the grave, and will sleep with him after his bones are reduced to dust and ashes. It is very easy, when they are small, to train children to habits of virtue, but, when they have come to manhood, it is equally difficult to correct them, if they have learned habits of vice.

Let us come to the second point, that is, to the means of bringing up children in the practice of virtue. I beg you, fathers and mothers, to remember what I now say to you, from on it depends the eternal salvation of your own souls, and of the souls of your children.

Saint Paul teaches sufficiently, in a few words, in what the proper education of children consists. He says that it consists in discipline and correction. "And you, fathers, provoke not your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord" (Ephes. 5:4). Discipline, which is the same as the religious regulation of the morals of children, implies an obligation of educating them in habits of virtue by word and example. First, by words: a good father should often assemble his children, and instill into them the holy fear of God. It was in this manner that Tobias brought up his little son. The father taught him from his childhood to fear the Lord and to fly from sin. "And from infancy he taught him to fear God and abstain from sin" (Tobias 1:10). The wise man says, that a well educated son is the support and consolation of his father. "Instruct your son, and he will refresh you, and will give delight to your soul" (Prov. 29:17). But, as a well instructed son is the delight of his father's soul, so an ignorant child is a source of sorrow to a father's heart, for the ignorance of his obligations as a Christian is always accompanied with a bad life.

It was related that, in the year 1248, an ignorant priest was commanded, in a certain synod, to make a discourse. He was greatly agitated by the command and the Devil appearing to him, instructed him to say, "The rectors of infernal darkness salute the rectors of parishes, and thank them for their negligence in instructing the people; because from ignorance proceeds the misconduct and the damnation of many."

The same is true of negligent parents. In the first place, a parent ought to instruct his children in the truths of the Faith, and particularly in the four principle mysteries. First, that there is but One God, the Creator and Lord of all things; secondly, that this God is a remunerator, Who, in the next life, will reward the good with the eternal glory of Paradise, and will punish the wicked with the everlasting torments of Hell; thirdly, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, that is, that in God there are Three Persons, Who are only One God, because They have but One Essence; fourthly, the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word, the Son of God, and True God, Who became man in the womb of Mary, and suffered and died for our salvation.

Should a father or mother say, "I myself do not know these mysteries," can such an excuse be admitted? Can one sin excuse another? If you are ignorant of these mysteries, you are obliged to learn them, and afterwards to teach them to your children. At least, send your children to a worthy catechist. What a miserable thing to see so many fathers and mothers, who are unable to instruct their children in the most necessary truths of the Faith, and who, instead of sending their sons and daughters to Christian doctrine, employ them in occupations of little account, and when they are grown up, they do not know what is meant by mortal sin, by Hell, or eternity. They do not even know the Creed, the Our Father, or the Hail Mary, which every Christian is bound to learn under pain of mortal sin.

Religious parents not only instruct their children in these things, which are the most important, but they also teach them the acts which ought to be made every morning after rising. They teach them first, to thank God for having preserved their life during the night, secondly to offer to God all their good actions which they will perform, and all the pains which they will suffer during the day, thirdly, to implore of Jesus Christ and Our Most Holy Mother Mary to preserve them from all sin during the day. They teach them to make, every evening, an examination of conscience and an act of contrition. They also teach them to make every day, the acts of Faith, Hope and Charity, to recite the Rosary, and to visit the Blessed Sacrament. Some good fathers of families are careful to get a book of meditations to read, and to have mental prayer in common for half an hour every day. This is what the Holy Ghost exhorts you to practice. "Do you have children? Instruct them and bow down their neck from their childhood" (Eccl. 7:25). Endeavor to train them from their infancy to these religious habits, and when they grow up, they will persevere in them. Accustom them also to go to confession and communion every week.

It is also very useful to infuse good maxims into the infant minds of children. What ruin is brought upon children by their father who teaches them worldly maxims! "You must," some parents say to their children, "seek the esteem and applause of the world. God is merciful; He takes compassion on certain sins." How miserable the young man is who sins in obedience to such maxims. Good parents teach very different maxims to their children. Queen Blanche, the mother of Saint Louis, King of France, used to say to him, "My son, I would rather see you dead in my arms, than in the state of sin." So then, let it be your practice also to infuse into your children certain maxims of salvation, such as, What will it profit us to gain the whole world, if we lose our own souls? Everything on this earth has an end, but eternity never ends. Let all be lost, provided God is not lost. One of these maxims well impressed on the mind of a young person, will preserve him always in the grace of God.

But parents are obliged to instruct their children in the practice of virtue, not only by words, but still more by example. If you give your children bad example, how can you expect that they will lead good lives? When a dissolute young man is corrected for a fault, he answers, "Why do you censure me, when my father does worse?" "The children will complain of an ungodly father, because for his sake they are in reproach" (Eccl. 41:10). How is it possible for a son to be moral and religious, when he has had the example of a father who uttered blasphemies and obscenities, who spent the entire day in the tavern, in games and drunkenness, who was in the habit of frequenting houses of bad fame, and of defrauding his neighbor? Do you expect your son to go frequently to confession, when you yourself approach the confessional scarcely once a year?

It is related in a fable, that a crab one day rebuked its young for walking crookedly. They replied, "Father, let us see you walk." The father walked before them more crookedly than they did. This is what happens to the parent who gives bad example. Hence, he has not even courage to correct his children for the sins which he himself commits.

According to Saint Thomas, scandalous parents compel, in a certain manner, their children to lead a bad life. "They are not," says Saint Bernard, "fathers, but murderers, they kill, not the bodies, but the souls of their children." It is useless for parents to say: "My children have been born with bad dispositions." This is not true, for, Seneca says, "You err, if you think that vices are born with us; they have been engrafted." Vices are not born with your children, but have been communicated to them by the bad example of the parents. If you had given good example to your sons, they would not be so vicious as they are. So parents, frequent the Sacraments, learn from the sermons, recite the Rosary every day, abstain from all obscene language, from detraction, and from quarrels, and you will see that your children follow your example. It is particularly necessary to train children to virtue in their infancy, Bow down their neck from their childhood, for when they have grown up, and contracted bad habits, it will be very difficult for you to produce, by words, any amendment in their lives.

To bring up children in the discipline of the Lord, it is also necessary to take away from them the occasion of doing evil. A father must forbid his children to go out at night, or to go to a house in which their virtue might be exposed to danger, or to keep bad company. "Cast out," said Sarah to Abraham, "this bondswoman and her son" (Gen. 21:10). She wished to have Ismael, the son of Agar the bondswoman, banished from her house, that her son Isaac might not learn his vicious habits. Bad companions are the ruin of young persons. A father should not only remove the evil which he witnesses, but he is also bound to inquire after the conduct of his children, and to seek information from family and from outsiders regarding the places which his children frequent when they leave home, regarding their occupations and companions. A father ought to forbid his children ever to bring into his house stolen goods. When Tobias heard the bleating of a goat in his house, he said, "Take care, perhaps it is stolen, go, restore it to its owners" (Tobias 2:21).

Parents should prohibit their children from all games, which bring destruction on their families and on their own souls, and also dances, suggestive entertainment, and certain dangerous conversations and parties of pleasures. A father should remove from his house [all media and] books of romances, which pervert young persons, and all bad books which contain pernicious maxims, tales of obscenity, or of profane love. [and neither should you let your children surf the internet ungoverned or without ad blockers or image blockers.] He should not permit his daughters to be alone with men, whether young or old. But some will say, "But this man tutors my daughter; he is a saint." The saints are in Heaven, but the saints that are on earth are flesh, and by proximate occasions, they may become devils.

Another obligation of parents is to correct the faults of the family. "Bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord." There are fathers and mothers who witness faults in the family and remain silent. Through fear of displeasing their children, some fathers neglect to correct them, but if you saw your child falling into a pool of water, and in danger of being drowned, would it not be savage cruelty not to catch him by the hair, and save his life? "He that spares the rod hates his son" (Prov. 13:24). If you love your children, correct them, and while they are growing up, chastise them, even with the rod, as often as it may be necessary.

I say, with the rod, but not with a stick; for you must correct them like a father, and not like a prison guard. You must be careful not to beat them when you are in a passion, for you will then be in danger of beating them with too much severity, and the correction will be without fruit, for then they believe that the chastisement is the effect of anger, and not of a desire on your part to see them amend their lives. I have also said, that you should correct them while they are growing up, for when they arrive at manhood, your correction will be of little use. You must then abstain from correcting them with the hand; otherwise, they will become more perverse, and will lose their respect for you. What use is it to correct children with injurious words and with imprecations? Deprive them of some part of their meals, of certain articles of dress, or shut them up in their room. I have said enough. Draw from this discourse the conclusion, that he who has brought up his children badly, will be severely punished, and that he who has trained them in the habits of virtue, will receive a great reward.


Saints Suffer

Though he does not counsel marriage except for the case of need, and while he does allow licit contraction of marriage for reasons extrinsic to the sacrament itself, Alphonsus nonetheless is optimistic about the ultimate end of married Christians. He finds reason to think that saints may be made of all spouses: “God wants all of us to be saints, and each one according to his or her state of life: the religious as a religious, laypeople as laypeople, the priest as a priest, the married person as married, the merchant as merchant, the soldier as a soldier, and so on, in every other state of life.” (Liguori, The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, trans. Peter Heinegg, intro. J. Robert Fenili, C.Ss.R. (Liguori, Mo.: Liguori, 1997), 76)

For Alphonsus, this holiness is a life of virtue and prayer, but also a life that nonetheless grows amidst the worldly demands of marriage. Obedience to life’s duties themselves does not determine salvation; whether the events and duties of life are born in virtue or vice marks the difference between a saint’s life and a sinner’s. Chief among the virtues and the source of holiness for all people is love, the love of Jesus Christ given by grace and manifested by the imitation of his life. This excerpt from a letter to Father Tannoia on January 28, 1762, summarizes his notion of the love of Jesus that brings people to salvation:

“Bind yourselves, then, ever more and more with love to Jesus Christ. Love is that golden chain which attaches souls to God and binds them so closely that it appears they are no longer able to separate themselves from Him. Always, therefore, I pray you, make acts of love in your meditations, Communions, in the visits to the Blessed Sacrament, during reading, in your cells, in the refectory, in the wood, in all places at all times. He who loves Jesus Christ from his heart has no fear of losing Him, and is content to suffer every pain, all contempt and all poverty for His love.” (A portion of the letter is transcribed in D.F. Miller, Saint Alphonsus, 225-26)

Although this letter explicitly treats the holiness of Alphonsus’ confreres, the sufferings of “pain, all contempt and all poverty for His love” link the passage directly to the kind of sufferings we have seen Alphonsus describe in the married life. Recall that the wife’s lot is more difficult than that of the religious on account of the “throes of childbirth,” the abuses, insults, and illtreatment of husbands and relatives, and the wants of the household (poverty) that continual toil never seems to assuage (Liguori, “Discourse to Pious Maidens,” 478). It seems, then, that — given recourse to the love of Christ — spouses stand to become as great of saints as any.

We learn of parents’ responsibilities to their children in Alphonsus’s exposition of the fourth commandment in his Theologia Moralis, his Istruzione al popolo, and also in a sermon composed for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost. This sermon, “On the Education of Children,” is preached for the Gospel of Matthew, 7:18, “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.” The mission of parenthood is to produce good fruit, that is, saints. Nowhere does Liguori make this more explicit than when he says parents, with Queen Blanche, the mother of St. Louis, ought to teach their children this maxim: “My son, I would rather see you dead in my arms, than in a state of sin.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 275) Fathers who neglect their children’s souls “are not, says St. Bernard, fathers, but murderers; they kill, not the bodies, but the souls of their children.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 276) Alphonsus notes, though, that the task of raising Christian children depends first and foremost on the parents’ holiness (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 269). In order to have zeal for the souls of their children, spouses must energetically pursue the salvation of their own souls. “But if parents be wicked, how can the children be virtuous?” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 269, 275-76) “Children are like apes; they do what they see their parents do… scandalous parents compel, in a certain manner, their children to lead a bad life.”

As I said above, parents can only lead their children to Christ in as much as they have solicitude for their own souls; at the same time, though, responsible parenthood itself constitutes a path to sanctification for Liguori. Liguori relies on Sirach 30:5 and 1 Timothy 2:15 for this conclusion. “Hence, he who teaches his son to live well, shall die a happy and tranquil death… And he shall save his soul by means of his children; that is, by the virtuous education which he has given them. ‘She shall be saved through child-bearing.’” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 271)

Commitment to a child’s education in virtue and faith also comes from a proper understanding the child’s place in the family and the nature of the parents’ relationship to the child. Spouses must know that “God gives children to parents, not that they may assist the family, but that they may be brought up in the fear of God, and be directed in the way of eternal salvation.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 270) “‘We have’, says St. Chrysostom, ‘a great deposit in children; let us attend to them with great care’ hom. ix., in I. ad Tit. Children have not been given to parents as a present or possession, which they may dispose of as they please, but as a trust, for which, if lost through their negligence, they must render an account to God.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 270) What a stirring critique of modern commodification of children in marriage, and, as we see below, the attendant personification of pets and property. “Would to God,” Alphonsus writes, “that certain parents paid as much attention to their children as they do to their horses! How careful are they to see that their horses are fed and well trained! And they take no pains to make their children attend at catechism, hear mass, or go to confession. ‘We take more care’, says St. Chrysostom, ‘of our asses and horses, than of our children’ hom. x., in Matt.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 271) It seems that love of things and animals more than children is as old a phenomenon as parenting itself.

This is all fine, some might say, but do parents today not already care about the spiritual wellbeing of their children? What does Alphonsus really add to a Christian understanding of the mission of parenthood? What Alphonsus offers is a complete reprioritization of the tasks of parenthood. Solicitude for the child’s salvation by growth in virtue and knowledge of the faith holds the primary position, far above their education in letters, sciences, and/or trade. Mothers are to teach their children the maxim, “What will it profit us to gain the whole world, if we lose our own souls? Everything on this Earth has an end; but eternity never ends. Let all be lost, provided God is not lost.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 275-76) Liguori is not just emphasizing a focus on salvation, but he is drastically prioritizing it over other ends. “On the day of judgment,” he writes, “parents shall have to render an account for all the sins of their children.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 271) Liguori’s approach serves to remind modern parents that saving their child’s soul is more important than saving for their child’s college education. In a culture where middle-class parents spend more hours at work than at home so that they can afford luxuries for their children, Alphonsus’ vision of parenting as a spiritual, moral mission, rather than as primarily an economic one, offers refreshing and liberating alternatives for spouses bogged down by a society telling parents that what their children have is more important then what they are and what they become. Liguori exhorts parents to be concerned most with what God intends their children to become “saints” and his advice for doing so is not merely to be an eco-friendly consumer or resist materialism by a moderate, generous life, but rather he counsels a life of radical piety (sacrificing the supermarket and the soccer league for the sake of Eucharistic adoration and spiritual reading).

Toward a Livable Christian Family Life for Yesterday and Today

A true missionary and a gentle moral theologian, Liguori does not simply lay these demands on the shoulders of parents and then walk away; he is most interested in giving parents real, bearable solutions to the challenges of the moral life in conjugal life and raising children. His suggestions for how to live the moral life proclaimed in the gospel can be divided into three sections: 1) pious practice; 2) propositional knowledge of the faith; and 3) growth in virtue.

First, he treats the teaching of pious practice. For the gospel to be successfully preached, it must be practicable. It must truly be good news, a truly better way of life. This notion would not be lost on Alphonsus. He does not burden spouses with impossible yokes of odious pious practice in the realm of child-rearing, but offers simple, clear practices that are as relevant today as in the 18th century. Alphonsus gives families a “rule of life” drastically abridged from the rule of the Redemptorists. He includes abridged or revised versions of this rule in many of his spiritual books and in some sermons. (A version of the rule appears also in Liguori, The Way of Salvation and Perfection, 502-510; and The Christian Virtues, 335-371, 392-402.) The rule given in the sermon on parenting is even more abbreviated than those found in spiritual treatises for a more general audience, which suggests a special care that his counsel to families be approachable. The rule typically has two parts: 1) things to be done daily, and 2) general counsels for Christian living. The daily acts frame the day in terms of worship. On rising, members of the family are “first, to thank God for having preserved their life during the night; secondly, to offer to God all the good actions which they will perform, and all the pains which they shall suffer during the day; thirdly, to implore of Jesus Christ and the most holy Mary to preserve them from all sin during the day.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 274. In “Rule of Life,” in The Way of Salvation and of Perfection, vol. 2, 502-10, at 502). Liguori adds the option that a person could also recite the Our Father, a hail Mary, the Creed, and 3 more hail Marys in honor of her purity. At the end of the day, each person should perform an examination of conscience and an act of contrition (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 274. In “Rule of Life,” 505). He adds that a person might perform the “Christian acts” at this time. At some point each day, “good fathers of families are careful to get a book of meditations read, and to have mental prayer in common for half an hour every day. This is what the Holy Ghost exhorts you to practice.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 274. In “Rule of Life,” 505). Another half-hour of spiritual reading is suggested in addition to the half-hour of meditation. Alphonsus also provides detailed description of how to perform these meditations (503-04).
Additionally, “teach them [children] to make, every day, the acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity, to recite the Rosary, and to visit the blessed sacrament.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 274). In “Rule of Life,” Alphonsus describes in greater detail the practice of visiting the blessed sacrament (505). Liguori also wrote a best-selling book to aid people in visits to the blessed sacrament (Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and our Lady). Again, Alphonsus abridges the abridged “rule of life” here, leaving out the visits to our Lady (Liguori, “Rule of Life,” 505). Liguori also leaves out of this double-abridged version the advice to hear as many sermons as possible, to make a one-day retreat once a month, and to make an 8-day retreat annually (508). It also seems that here, unlike in the “rule of life,” the acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity are to be made daily, while the practice of reciting the rosary and visiting the sacrament are to be taught but need not be made every day. [People should definitely pray the Rosary everyday. See How to Pray the Rosary.] Parents ought weekly to avail their children of the sacraments of confession (beginning at 7 years old) and communion (beginning at 10 years old) as well; they should have their children confirmed at the age of reason (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 274). In “Rule of Life,” 504-06, Alphonsus suggests, in consultation with a spiritual director, hearing mass daily and receiving communion multiple times a week. One ought to, if possible, spend a half-hour in preparation to receive communion and a half-hour in thanksgiving after receiving the sacrament as well. He also suggests spending a half an hour visiting our Lady.

Parents are not only morally obligated to teach their children authentic practices of piety, but they must also teach and pass on to them the content of the faith. Again, as a missionary to the abandoned rustics, typically uneducated in the faith, Alphonsus is sensitive to parents’ own lack of knowledge in this regard. So, once again, he makes the moral obligation to pass on the faith an easier yoke to bear. Alphonsus simplifies the faith down to four “mysteries” that parents should teach their children:

“First, that there is but one God, the Creator and Lord of all things; secondly, that this God is a remunerator, who, in the next life, shall reward the good with the eternal glory of Paradise, and shall punish the wicked with the everlasting torments of Hell; thirdly, the mystery of the most holy Trinity,—that is, that in God there are Three Persons, who are only one God, because they have but one essence; fourthly, the mystery of the incarnation of the Divine Word—the Son of God, and true God, who became man in the womb of Mary, and suffered and died for our salvation… If you are ignorant of these mysteries, you are obliged to learn them, and afterwards to teach them to your children.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 273-74)

Parents are responsible for the propositional knowledge that there is one God who is of one essence but three persons, who is creator, judge, and redeemer through his incarnate Son, who was born of a virgin and suffered and died for our salvation. Given they have the opportunity to learn these truths, parents are morally culpable for their children’s ignorance of them.

Parents are not only invested teaching piety and the articles of faith to their children, but they “are obliged to instruct their children in the practice of virtue, not only by words, but still more by example.” (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 275). The practices of piety and the propositional knowledge of Christian mysteries are of little good without virtue. There are two pieces to the pedagogy of virtue for Liguori: shunning the occasion for sin, and correcting faults in the progress of virtue. Elsewhere, Liguori states the role of the father in governing the good of the family in general as two-fold: to rid the home of all evil and vice, and to promote the growth of virtue in the home. As to the first, parents must take every caution to spare their children from occasions of sin (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 276). For, as Alphonsus commonly puts it, if one does not avoid voluntary occasions of sin, how can one possibly hope to resist involuntary occasions? (Liguori, “Rule of Life,” 507). The second is to train children in developing the habits of virtue through discipline, actively correcting faults (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 277-78). This discipline will fail if hypocritical or done in anger. It must be gentle, reasonable, and only rarely corporal (Liguori, “Sermon 36,” 275-78). Finally, as they develop in virtue and move toward choosing a state in life, the parents must not interfere with the choice, for more often than not, when they do, they cannot help but seek their own or the family’s interest. “The will of the parents is not a sign of vocation to the priesthood, as parents induce their children to embrace the priesthood are not looking into the good of their children’s souls but only the interest and good of the family.” At the same time, though, Alphonsus warns against the danger of being drawn away from a true vocation to religious or priestly life by parents who desire otherwise (Theologia Moralis I, 603,and II, 496).

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