by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
(original article here)
What do we mean when we say that parents are the primary educators of their children? We mean everything.
- We mean that parents begin to teach their children from the moment their children are conceived and born.
- We mean that parents teach their children during the children’s infancy and childhood.
- We mean that parents are the first, and most important and indispensable teachers of their children.
- We mean that unless the children are taught by the parents, the children will be getting only a substitute education.
All of this we mean when we say that parents are the primary educators. But we mean much more. After all, there is a primacy in what the children are taught. They can be taught how to walk and to talk. They can be taught how to read and write. They can be taught how to eat and drink and take care of their things. They can be taught arithmetic and spelling, and history and geography. All of those things they can be taught and should be taught. But what they mainly need is to know why God made them; why they are on earth at all; why they are in this world; that they are here in this life in order to prepare and train themselves for the world to come.
In a word, children are to be taught that their short stay here in time is only a preparation for the world that will never end. They are to be trained for heaven. That is why the subtitle of my article to you is: “Parents for Eternal Life”.
Having said this, we are now in a position to get into the principal message I wish to share with you. It can be stated in a single all important statement: “Under God, parents are the first in time, first in authority, first in responsibility, first in ability, and first in dignity to educate their children for eternal life.”
Parents as Primary Educators
Even a generation ago, most people assumed that parents are the primary educators. Certainly over the centuries the primacy of parents as educators of their children was taken for granted. But then a number of things occurred which have put parents on the defensive as the main teachers of their children.
In one country after another, the State came to monopolize education from pre-school kindergarten through childhood and adolescence and young adulthood. In materially affluent societies like the United States, compulsory education by agencies controlled by the State became the law of the land.
Those in control of the government began to dictate what should be taught to the children, who should do the teaching, how the teachers are themselves to be trained. And unless the teachers were approved by the government, they were forbidden to teach.
But that was not all. Teachers Associations were formed, notably in our country the NEA, the National Education Association, which have become dictators in the education of our children. These associations are supported by political power, which makes parents second class citizens. Either parents conform to this dictatorship or they are forbidden to teach their children.
The phenomenon of Daycare Centers that have spawned throughout America is only a symptom of this State dictatorship in the education of children from their tenderest years in infancy. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. For over two centuries in our country, dedicated and consecrated men and women — priests, religious and the laity — operated our Catholic school systems. It became the envy of other nations.
I remember a bishop friend of mine telling me about his audience with Pope Paul VI in Rome. The Holy Father asked the bishop, “What has happened to your thousands of Sisters in America who have been doing such wonderful work in Catholic schools, teaching tens of thousands of children their faith and preparing them for a good moral life here on earth and for heaven in eternity?” At this point, the bishop told me, the pope broke down in tears, he wept over the breakdown of so many once flourishing teaching orders of men and women who sustained what had been a Catholic school system in the United States.
We go on. We are asking ourselves what happened. What is it that now, more than ever before in the history of our country, makes it absolutely necessary, under God, for parents to realize that they, Isaid they — are the primary teachers of their children?
What has happened? Beyond all that we have so far said, in [now] nominally Catholic circles, there has grown an avalanche of ideas that are contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Church.
We now have professed Catholics in positions of great influence who are teaching that Christ was a human person like the rest of us, subject to the same passions as we are. When the movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ” was to be released, I spoke by telephone to the producer in Hollywood. I pleaded with him not to release this blasphemous film. He told me the film was produced under the guidance of a priest-theologian, whom I know personally. He was one of the leading “dissenters” from the Church’s teaching authority.
Catholics are now being taught that the Pope is not the supreme teacher of faith and morals in the Catholic Church. Bishops, either individually or in their national conferences, have the right to reinterpret papal teaching. They, “some”, did this in 1968, when the same Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, in which he declared that contraception is a grave sin against God.
Catholics are now being wrongfully taught that homosexuality is a natural inclination that some people have. Therefore, we are to recognize that sodomy is normal for some people. Homosexuals, actively practicing sodomy are provided with parishes and pastoral care — under the guise of “Dignity,” in open defiance to Catholic morality as taught since the dawn of Christianity.
Parents for Eternal Life
So the litany of secularism goes on. Its most principal target is our children. This then brings us face to face with the gravest duty of believing Catholic parents. They must be convinced that their primary responsibility as parents is to prepare the children that God gave them for eternal life.
Yes, parents are the primary teachers of their children in all that pertains to the children’s lives here on earth. But that is not all. That is not primary! What is primary and the parent’s most fundamental duty is to prepare their children for eternity. Parents must, and the word is MUST, teach their children from birth on the following:
- God created us to know, love, and serve Him in this life, in order that our souls may reach heaven.
- Parents must teach their children that everything in this life is to be only a means of leading us to our heavenly destiny.
- Parents must teach their children that, while everything in this life is intended by God to lead us to heaven, not everything is to be used in the same way.
- Some of the persons, places, and things in our life are to be enjoyed.
- Other person, places and things are to be endured.
- Other persons, places, and things are to be avoided. Why? Because they can easily lead us to sin.
- And finally, there are persons, places and things that God asks us to surrender. It is an invitation from God to sacrifice what we like in order to express our greater love of God.
- Parents must teach their children that they have a fallen ― I stress the term fallen ― human nature. We are not naturally prone to do what God wants but what we want.
- Parents must teach their children that if they are going to cope with their natural tendencies to pride, lust, anger, envy, greed, avarice, and gluttony they need the constant help of God’s grace.
- Parents must teach their children that to obtain the necessary light to know God’s will and the necessary strength to do it, they need to pray and receive worthily the sacraments of the Church.
All of this is locked up in the simple statement: Parents are parents for eternal life. God gives them children in this world, but not for this world.
Parents, in God’s plan, are to conceive and give birth to, and nurture and educate their children for life after bodily death. After all, the only purpose that God has in having them become parents here on earth, is that they might raise families for everlasting life in heaven.
As Christ made so plain, there will be no marriage or giving in marriage after the last day of what we call this world. Why not? Because the quota of those who are destined for eternal happiness will be complete.
Parents must always keep this vision clearly in their minds. “We are fathers and mothers of children for heaven.” Our one hope is to be at rest in heaven with our families, our children and grand-children and great, great grand-children, in the everlasting City of Jerusalem which is our heavenly home.
How Are Parents to Become Primary Educators
Needless to say, the vision we are describing can remain just that, a vision. It can be an ideal or even only a dream. But God intends it to be a reality. This, I am convinced, is the providential reason that God has allowed so many forces of error and evil to plague the modern world; and with emphasis our own American society.
“Where sin abounds,” St. Paul tells us, “there grace even more abounds.” In His providence, God wants to wake parents up from their lethargy. He wants them to open their eyes up to failures and see what is going on. He wants them to come out of the dream that so many parents are still sleeping in — and arouse them to the gravest, and I mean gravest duty they have before God. What is this? To pay whatever price they have to, in order to educate their children for eternal life.
Of course this will not be easy. Of course parents with this faith-vision will be criticized, even ostracized. Of course parents will have to give up many things that the modern world has provided in such profusion, for their own and their families’ enjoyment here on earth. But the price is worth it. When Christ told us: “Take up your cross daily and follow me,” He was speaking not only to individuals in general, but especially to parents.
To be the primary educators of their children for eternal life is not easy for parents. It never has been since the dawn of Christianity. But in today’s world, intoxicated with its own pride, addicted to its own pleasures, indoctrinated in its own propaganda that only temporal life exists and eternal life is a mirage — to become parents of eternal life demands heroism.
Only Heroic Parents can be Parents for Eternal Life
But let us not be afraid. Christ told us, “Have courage, I have overcome the world.” So can we parents, provided we believe that the Son of Mary is the Son of the Eternal God; provided we trust that His promises to us will certainly be fulfilled; and provided we love God so much that no sacrifice is too great to bring our families with us, to that everlasting home for which we were made.
Jesus, Mary, Mother of the Holy Family, St. Joseph, obtain for all Catholic parents the grace to raise their children for a heavenly eternity.
Mary, teach us parents to do everything which your Divine Son tells us to do. If we do, we shall be united, not only as families. We shall join the Family of the Most Holy Trinity.
Make us parents courageous and firm and clear in understanding — that we are the primary teachers of our children — to prepare them for that final graduation on the first day of a heavenly eternity. Amen
Only Heroic Catholic Families Will Survive
Edited by Fr. Robert J. Fox, pp. 121-126