“Bring to life in the hearts of the children a generous interest in their fellows; awaken in them, by conversation and example, a profound sympathy for the poor and ignorant, and prepare them to be the benefactors of their race. That’s Christian education. While approving science, I find that such an education is worth all the sciences” (St. Pius X).
We already know that the child is not born naturally good. We must be convinced that this little blond or brown-haired tot bears in its soul the troublesome consequences of original sin: ignorance, weakness, a disordered love of pleasure, and malice. It was by love that the child was created, and it is to love God and men, our brothers, that it is on earth. That is why it is by spreading good all round that the child will most perfectly fulfill the mission the good God has entrusted it.
Christian parents need to make the education of their children in goodness an essential part of their vocation as educators. Unfortunately, too few really think about it, perhaps because they are exclusively occupied by the details of education and lack a comprehensive view. And yet, a person’s goodness must be the inseparable companion of the charity by which we shall be judged on the last day of our life. “It is by this sign that they will know that you are my disciples.” “Charity is good, is kind, thinks of others,” as St. Paul teaches us in his first Epistle to the Corinthians (Cor. 13).
The Mainspring of Courtesy
True goodness is not improvised. One may experience bouts of goodness, and that can also depend on temperament. The important thing is to cultivate the virtue so as to possess it habitually and supernaturally. The benevolence of a good man has as its principle the goodness of his heart. It is even the hidden spring of the Christian courtesy that should be an expression of our genuine sentiments.
We stress goodness. One may, and it often happens, find real charity, the proverbial “heart of gold,” beneath a brusque, or even disagreeable, demeanor. But this person with a “heart of gold” will not be able to do all the good God expects of him if he persists in keeping the roughness of his character.
Goodness attracts, reassures, facilitates conversation. It presupposes the possession of several virtues: a peaceable spirit, a serenity of heart that is reflected on the countenance, gentleness, patience, even-temperedness grounded in an unshakeable confidence in God, self-forgetfulness and attention to others, modesty, prudence, etc. It calls for a well-tempered character, capable of making the right decisions in order to do good. For it takes strength to be gentle, patient, and good.
“Prepare your children,” said St. Pius X, “to be the benefactors of their race.”
This education in goodness must start early for a charitable bent of mind and kind reflexes to suffuse an entire life. It is all the more necessary in that the little child, absolutely dependent for everything upon its parents, is naturally egocentric. Everything turns around its little self so that it lacks nothing. It sees the adults take care of it with a devotion it cannot comprehend because, for it, this solicitude is normal. It is loved and its parents feel compensated by the least little smile. However, God has placed in its little heart astonishing aptitudes for goodness and generosity. The whole art of education is to know how to awaken and develop these hidden energies with the help of grace.
First of all, nothing works like the example of the parents, for example serves both as a model and support. Be yourselves what you want your children to be. Show yourselves good, kind in words as in deeds, kind and generous toward the poor, those who suffer, all those whom one calls neighbor. If someone requests a service, render it every time you can, even showing that you are happy to do so. Let you affectionate solicitude foresee the needs of those around you. If you are unable to do all or part of what is asked, show that it truly pains you not to be able to help as much as you would like. Speak with your children about what one could do to help a poor old man who has no one to take him to a doctor’s appointment, or a little old lady who has so much trouble doing her errands, etc.
The Absent Are Always Right
Insofar as he is able, associate your child in your works of mercy. And in his regard, always welcome with goodness and serenity all his little worries, his little confidences. Make it easy for him to come and tell you when he’s done something wrong, and make him understand that good can still come from something bad. That is how God is with us. He allows evil in order to draw forth a greater good. Let your home be truly a loving place. At table, never speak ill of anyone not present. After a boring visit, during which you made an especial effort at kindness, don’t allow yourself to make any disparaging remarks, even if they may seem innocuous. “Charity does not think ill.” In the same line of thought, never allow your children to make unkind remarks, which they may do more or less publicly. Be just in your correction. Accustom your children to discover the good in those around them, to make excuses for blunders, and to banish right away, by a positive act of charity, any malevolent feeling (jealousy, pride, etc.) which might well up in their heart.
The child must exercise his goodness towards those who are littler than he, his “inferiors,” and, in order to do so, must know how to go out of his way sometimes to help others. Be sure that he does not consider inferiors the cleaning lady who comes to help mother, or the girl who occasionally babysits, and treat them with insolence. Here again, it is the dignified manner and respect with which the parents act toward their employees or subordinates that will teach the children politeness and respect.
Eliminate any games that may develop in them meanness or even cruelty, or anything that could exacerbate pride or the sense of domineering others. It is also important to watch over children’s behavior towards animals, so as to ban any cruel games involving them. It is ridiculous to console a child by letting him strike the table he bumped into. Allowing such behavior may eventually lead him to revolt against events permitted by God and perhaps even to blaspheme.
On the contrary, profit from the least occasions to encourage any manifestation of true pity. Teach your children to put themselves in the place of others. Compassion is born of the experience more or less felt of suffering, moral or physical. One says willingly: “No one can understand such suffering unless he has experienced something similar.” You desire, of course, to spare your children suffering; educators are there to watch over their existence. But there are many occasions of suffering allowed by Providence to strengthen the soul of a child and to awaken the sentiment of compassion for others. For example, it is winter, big snowflakes are coming down. What fun! Time to go and make some snowballs for a royal battle. But the little scatter-brain forgot his gloves. Of course, he cannot resist playing with this beautiful snow, but soon his little hands will turn blue with cold and he will suffer. So when he comes inside to warm up, don’t let the chance pass to mention the suffering of poor children who don’t have enough warm clothing, or a warm house. And together you’ll see what you can do, for one must not be content with good feelings, but must do something concrete, however minimal it might be.
Know How to Give
A gluttonous, self-centered child was never willing to share a treat he was enjoying. One day a delicious dessert was passed beneath his eyes without him being offered any. When he asked for his share, his parents remarked: “Why do you want done for you what you do not do for others?”
At catechism, a little before Christmas, suggest that the children offer one of their toys for the Christmas of poor children. Help your children, without forcing them, to give a toy in good condition, a doll still pretty, for “giving to the poor is giving to God.” Especially don’t cool their generous enthusiasm by suggesting that they choose something they no longer play with or that is less good...
Anne de Guigné
Tell them stories about the saints, especially when they were their age. There is a particular grace that encourages and renders virtue more amiable, if not easier. Heavenly friendships can be tied between such a saint and your child. Think of the three children of Fatima, St. Dominic Savio, and Anne de Guigné. The latter, a little girl, was naturally bossy, choleric, jealous; in short, not an agreeable sort. When she lost her father, who died on the field of battle in 1915, little Anne, who was just four years old, saw her mother in the grips of a profound sorrow and wanted to console her. Her mother spoke to her these simple words: “If you want to console me, Anne, be good.”
These words provoked in the generous soul of little Anne a veritable conversion, and she never ceased growing in holiness until the day when the Lord came to take her. She was a little more than ten years old. She lived in a constant state of concern for the least needs of those around her. This care for the good of others pushed her constantly to sacrifice herself for them. This perpetual self-forgetfulness had cost her a lot at first, but, moved by the Holy Ghost, she reached the point, towards the end, of tasting the joy of self-giving.
Christian parents, you too, train up your children in goodness without delaying any longer. For if the effort towards goodness and charity is not educated very early, will it ever be possible? Aim at your ideal with perseverance. Pray to the guardian angels of your children. If the fruits of your education are a long time coming, don’t rush anything. Good acts may be helped, but they must be free. For, you must know, if this effort is not rooted in charity, it will lose all meaning. However, sooner or later, you will see the blossoming of the virtues you desire for your children, and then they also will savor this word of our Lord that “there is more joy in giving than receiving.”