Chapter eight of Keeping Your Kids Catholic by Bert Ghezzi is subtitled Training Kids in Catholic Morality. This begs the question, “What is Catholic morality?” Do you know what the Church teaches on morality? Does it matter in your life? The answer to these last two questions should be an emphatic “Yes!” Unfortunately, many Catholics have never really learned what the Church teaches or why it teaches what it does. Without that knowledge it is very difficult to pass on truly Catholic morality to one’s children.
This is not a do-it-yourself project. The teaching office of the Catholic Church, the Magisterium. leads the Catholic flock down the path of authentically Catholic faith and morals. Ideally, Magisterial teachings would be clearly proclaimed by our bishops and priests from the pulpit and in pastoral writings. Sometimes this happens effectively and sometimes it does not. Every home should have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I also recommend a copy of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read these. My favorite cardinal, Francis Cardinal Arinze, reads the Catechism every evening as part of his spiritual exercises. There is no better source for practical Catholic answers to specific moral questions.
When our behavior does not conform to Church teachings we should feel uncomfortable. This is what is often derisively referred to as “Catholic Gult”. Yet guilt is not something to be avoided. John C. Blattner writes in the first essay of chapter eight:
We are born with an innate sense that some things are right to do and other things are wrong, and with the faculty for feeling guilt when we’ve done wrong. I mean healthy guilt: the kind that alerts us to moral danger the way our physical senses alert us to physical danger.
Even kids have this faculty. They don’t quite understand it, and they don’t know what to call it (conscience, in case you’ve forgotten), but they know it’s there. And their little world makes more sense when we help them understand it, and teach them what to call it. It’s the well-intentioned grown-ups who tell them to disregard this inborn spiritual sensing device, and who teach them that there is no such thing as sin, who are really the misguided ones.
Now following one’s conscience has been used to justify all kinds of behavior that is contrary to Church teaching. While Mr. Blattner may be correct that there is an inborn ability to sense right and wrong, the conscience must be formed and nurtured. The Church does say one must follow his conscience, but it is the well-formed Catholic conscience to which it refers. Take out your trusty Catechism and read paragraphs 1783-1795. Of special note are:
1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.
1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.
The bottom line is do not be afraid to talk about sin with your children. Let them know that sin is real. Let them know sin has both earthly and eternal consequences. Then share with them the joy of God’s mercy and our salvation by Christ. Just as we apologize to each other and try to make amends when our relationships are ruptured, so to do we turn to God for forgiveness when we disrupt our relationships with Him through sin. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation we heal that relationship and start again. There is no sin that is to big for God’s mercy. Be an example to your children and make use of the Sacrament of Confession frequently and help them to do the same.
Of course no discussion of teaching children about Catholic morality is complete without discussing Catholic sexual morality. I really appreciate that this chapter echoes my own belief that it should be parents who are the primary teachers of their children on matters of faith and morals, including sexual morals. I am just going to refer you to this blog post for my detailed opinion on this matter.
It was difficult for me to summarize this chapter because the topic of Catholic morality is so broad. Yet Catholic morality must permeate every aspect of our lives. Our family relationships, our social relationships, our spiritual lives, our jobs, our duties as citizens and even our leisure activities must conform to Catholic morality. Modeling this concept is the most effective way for parents to imbue the lives of their children with Catholic morals.