Chapter eight is here.
Chapter nine of Keeping Your Kids Catholic by Bert Ghezzi is subtitled Communicating a Catholic Approach to the World. It is very appropriate that this falls near the end of the book. Through the first eight chapters we have talked about why we teach our children about the Faith, how we teach our children about the Faith, and what we teach our children about the Faith. Now we take this Faith and put it into action. I am going to divide this chapter into two posts. The first will deal with instilling Catholic social principles. Tomorrow I will address keeping Catholic values in the youth culture.
I have to admit the title of the first essay in this chapter, Raising Kids with Concern for Social Justice by James D. Manney, is one that I approached with trepidation. Unfortunately, the term “social justice” has been hijacked by those within the Church who wish to downplay any concern for the liturgy. “Why are you worried about the vessels used at Mass or adherence to the liturgical norms? There are social justice issues that need addressing.” Yet this essay did a very good job of depoliticizing the term. Social justice is not a new idea. The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are very old precepts of the Faith.
How do we teach our children to view the world within the framework of these Works of Mercy?
As this first essay points out, we must not be overwhelmed by the big picture. World hunger, substance abuse, homelessness, domestic violence, etc. are huge problems. No one individual, no one family, no one community is going to resolve these issues. Yet each of us is called to address his own little corner of the world and make it better.
I live in the second most affluent county in the nation. It is commonplace for the children in this community to have expensive cars, expensive clothes, attend expensive schools, and have lots of discretionary spending money. We live in a very nice house and can afford for our children to participate in a variety of activities. We eat out occasionally. Yet in this community we appear almost counter cultural. Even though I could be practicing medicine, I have elected to manage our household and be the primary parent at home. I am probably the only person on the block that does her own housework. (I am afraid it shows sometimes, too) We drive practical cars. None of my teens has his own car. My older boys did have access to a 1992 minivan with 189,000 miles on it. We have no gaming systems. Up until two years ago we had no cable television. We now subscribe to the smallest cable package available just so that we can get a cable internet connection. Last year we replaced the television that had been purchased in 1988 because the plastic knobs and buttons were starting to fall off. No plasma screen. No HD. No big screen. Yet my children are not rebelling at our modest lifestyle. Why?
I believe because of the foundation we established with our children early on, we have not had to struggle to explain to our children why we don’t have all the toys and gadgets their peers do. This begins first by acknowledging every thing we have is a gift from God. We must humbly give God credit for our blessings. Once we release our “ownership” of the blessings it is much easier to share them. People may laugh at the cliché “Clean your plate. There are starving children in Armenia!” Yet that is exactly the sentiment that we must convey to our children. We have many blessings by the grace of God. There are many less fortunate than we are. Our Faith demands that we share our bounty. This needs to be done in very concrete ways from the time children are very young. It is not enough to write a check to the parish or to your favorite charity. Kids don’t connect with that. Instead, try eating a “meager meal” such as rice and beans or vegetable soup once in a while. Donate what you would have spent on a more elaborate meal to the local food bank. Our parish in Florida invited children to bring canned goods up to the altar at every Mass. I noticed that my four-year-old always managed to pick out a food that was not high on his favorites list. One Sunday I grabbed a can of tuna—one of his favorite foods. He had tears in his eyes as he gave away this delicacy. He learned we are called to sacrifice.
We moved to Virginia from Florida so falling leaves followed by falling snow was a new experience. Our neighbors were elderly. It became a ritual that if school was canceled all four children donned their snow gear and cleared the neighbors’ driveways and walks before they began their own activities of sledding and snowball fights. I know our neighbors were very grateful for the service. I don’t think they ever realized how grateful I was for the opportunity to teach my children to think of the needs of others first.
The children see both my husband and I giving of our time and talents. Even when I worked outside of the home I taught CCD and was a Cub Scout Leader. My husband is a Boy Scout leader. They see me making casseroles for families dealing with an illness or death. We have participated as a family in numerous service projects for the church, school or community. Giving is a way of life.
How do we raise pro-life children?
This question gets its own answer separate from the general charitable virtues. If we can truly imbue our children with an appreciation of God’s great gift of life, so many other issues become clear. For example, even chastity is a pro-life issue. When we teach our children that our sexuality is God’s way of giving us the privilege of participating in the creation of new life, then it follows that sexual relations belong within marriage. When we respect every human life as being made in God’s image then we afford each person the intrinsic dignity he deserves. We do not measure the worthiness of a life by earthly accomplishments.
As with every other aspect of raising Catholic children, the best way to teach these values is to model these values. We must rejoice in the gift of children. We must practice kindness and patience with the elderly. And our children need to see us make choices that reflect our pro-life views.
Over the years, we have participated in many other projects for crisis pregnancy centers, made signs for the March for Life, and had long discussions about bioethical issues. As a physician, I share with my children the dilemmas I faced at work as I tried to practice medicine and stay true to my pro-life principles. The foundation for these pro-life activities began when the children were young. In those days Cheerios were a favorite breakfast cereal. However, we learned General Mills was donating to Planned Parenthood. We stopped buying General Mills products, including Cheerios. This simple sacrifice made an indelible impression on my children. They became keenly aware of the abortion issue and its seriousness.
Kids need to see that respect for all life is not just something we trot out in January every year for Respect Life Sunday. It has to be a principle we life every day.