SERMON XXXVI. SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. – ON THE EDUCATION OF CHILDREN
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.”
MATT. vii. 18.
THEN the gospel of this day tells us, that a good plant cannot produce bad fruit, and that a bad one cannot produce good fruit. Learn from this, brethren, that a good father brings up good children. But, if parents be wicked, how can the children be virtuous? Have you ever, says the Redeemer, in the same gospel, seen grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? “Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles ?” (v. 16.) And, in like manner, 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 of life. If you wish to marry, learn this day the obligations which you can contract with regard to the education of your children; and learn also that, if you do not fulfil them, you shall bring yourselves and all your children to damnation. I shall divide this sermon 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 labour to bring them up well.
First Point. How very important it is to bring up children in habits of virtue.
1. A father owes two obligations to his children; he is bound to provide for their corporal wants, and to educate them in habits of virtue. It is not necessary at present to say more on the first obligation, than that there are some fathers more cruel than the most ferocious of wild beasts; for these do not forget to nourish their offspring; but certain parents squander away in eating and drinking, and gaming, all their property, or all the fruits of their industry, and allow their children to die of hunger. But let us come to the education, which is the subject of my discourse.
2. It is certain that a child’s future good or ill conduct depends on his being brought up well or ill. Nature itself teaches every parent to attend to the education of his offspring. He who has given them being ought to endeavour to make life useful to them. 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 St. Chrysostom, ”a great deposit in children; let us attend to them with great care.” (Hom, ix., in 1 ad Tit.) 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. The Scripture tells us, that when a father observes the divine law, both he and his children shall prosper. “That it may be well with thee and thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is pleasing in the sight of God.” (Deut. xii. 25.) The good or ill conduct of a parent may be known, by those who have not witnessed it, from the life which his children lead. “For by the fruit the tree is known.” (Matt. xii. 33.)”A father,” says Ecclcsiasticus, “leaves a family, when he departs this life, is as if he had not died; because his sons remain, and exhibit his habits and character. His father is dead, and he is as if he were not dead; for he hath left one behind him that is like himself.” (Eccl. xxx. 4.) When we find a son addicted to blasphemies, to obscenities, and to theft, we have reason to suspect that such too was the character of the father. ”For a man is known by his children.” (Eccl. xi. 30.)
3. Hence Origen says, that on the day of judgment parents shall have to render an account for all the sins of their children. “Omnia quæcumque delinquerint filii, a parentibus requiruntur. ” (Grig., Lib. 2, in Job.) Hence, he who teaches his son to live well, shall die a happy and tranquil death. ”He that teacheth his son …when he died he was not sorrowful, neither was he confounded.” (Eccl. xxx. 3, 5.) 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.” (1 Tim. ii. 15.) But, on the other hand, a very uneasy and unhappy death shall be the lot of those who have laboured only to increase the possessions, or to multiply the honours 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. St. 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 hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. v. 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.” Would to God 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 the children.” (Hom, x., in Matt.)
4. If all fathers fulfilled their duty of watching over the education of their children, we should have but few crimes and few executions. By the bad education which parents give to their offspring, they cause their children, says St. Chrysostom, to rush into many grievous vices; and thus they deliver them up to the hands of the executioner. ”Majoribus illos malis involvimus, et carnificum manibus damus.” (Serin, xx., de divers.) Hence, in Lacedemon, a parent, as being the cause of all the irregularities of his children, was justly punished for their 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 engaged in dangerous friendships and in quarrels, instead of correcting and chastising them, rather take compassion on them, and say: “What can be done? They are young; they must take their course.” Oh! what wicked maxims! what a cruel education! Do you hope that when your children grow up they shall 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.” (Prov. xxii. 6.) A young man who has contracted a habit of sin will not abandon it even in his old age. ”His bones,” says Job, “shall be filled with the vices of his youth, and they shall sleep with him in the dust.” (Job xx. 11.)
When a young person has lived in evil habits, his bones shall be filled with the vices of his youth, so that he will carry them with him to death; and the impurities, blasphemies, and hatred to which he was accustomed in his youth, shall accompany him to the grave, and shall sleep -with him after his bones shall be reduced to dust and ashes. It is very easy, when they are small, to train up 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. But, let us come to the second point that is, to the means of bringing up children in the practice of virtue. I entreat you, fathers and mothers, to remember what I now say to you; for on it depends the eternal salvation of your own souls, and of the souls of your children.
Second Point. On the care and diligence with which parents ought to endeavour to bring up their children in habits of virtue.
5. St. 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. vi. 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 instil 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 his infancy he taught him to fear God and to abstain from sin.” (Tob. i. 10.) The Wise Man says that a well educated son is the support and consolation of his father. “Instruct thy son, and he shall refresh thee, and shall give delight to thy soul.” (Prov. xxix. J7.) 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. Cantipratensis relates (lib. 1, cap. 20) that, in the year 1248, an ignorant priest was commanded, in a certain synod, to make a discourse. But while he was greatly agitated by the command, the devil appeared to him, and 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 proceed 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 faith, and particularly in the four principal 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, 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 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 a mother say: I myself do not know these mysteries, can such an excuse be admitted? that is, can one sin excuse another? If you are ignorant of these mysteries you are obliged to learn them, and afterwards teach them to your children. At least, send your children to the catechism. Oh! what a misery to see so many fathers and mothers who are unable to instruct their children in the most necessary truths of faith, and who, instead of sending their sons and daughters to the Christian doctrine on festivals, employ them in messages, or other occupations of little moment; and when grown up they know not what is meant by mortal sin, by hell, or eternity. They do not even know the Creed, the Pater Noster, or the Hail Mary, which every Christian is bound to learn under pain of mortal sin.
6. 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 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 most holy Mary to preserve them from all sin during the day. They teach them to make every evening an examen 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 read, and to have mental prayer in common for half an hour every day. This is what the Holy Ghost exhorts you to practise. “Hast thou children? Instruct them and bow down their neck from their childhood.” (Eccl. vii. 25.) Endeavour to train them from their infancy to these religious habits, and when they grow up they shall persevere in them. Accustom them also to go to confession and communion every week. Be careful to make them go to confession when they arrive at the age of seven, and to communion at the age of ten. This is the advice of St. Charles Borromeo. As soon as they attain the use of reason make them receive the sacrament of confirmation.
7. It is also very useful to infuse good maxims into the infant minds of children. Oh! what ruin is brought upon his children by the father who teaches them worldly maxims! ”You must,” some people say to their children, “seek the esteem and applause of the world. God is merciful; he takes compassion on certain sins.” Miserable the young man who sins in obedience to such maxims. Good parents teach very different maxims to their children. Queen Blanche, the mother of St. 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.” Oh! brethren, 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? Every thing 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.
8. 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 a good life? 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. xli. 10.) How is it possible for a son to be moral and religious, when he has had the example of a father who was accustomed to utter blasphemies and obscenities; who spent the entire day in the tavern, in gaming and drunkenness; who was in the habit of frequenting houses of bad fame, and of defrauding his neighbour? Do you expect that your son will go frequently to confession, when you yourself approach the tribunal of penance scarcely once a year? Children are like apes; they do what they see their parents do. It is related in the fables, that a crab-fish 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.
9. But though he should correct them, by words, of what use is his correction when he sets them a bad ex ample by his acts? It has been said in the council of Bishops, that “men believe the eyes rather than the ears.” And St. Ambrose says: “The eyes convince me of what they see more quickly than the ear can insinuate what is past.” (Serm. xxiii., de S. S.) According to St. Thomas, scandalous parents compel, in a certain manner, their children to lead a bad life. ”Eos ad peccatum, quantum in eis fuit obligaverunt” (in Ps. xvi). They are not, says St. Bernard, fathers, but murderers; they kill, not the bodies, but the souls of their children. “Non parentes, sed peremptores.” It is useless for them to say: “My children have been born with bad dispositions.” This is not true; for, as Seneca says, “you err, if you think that vices are born with us; they have been engrafted.” (Ep. xciv.) 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 should not be so vicious as they are. O brethren, frequent the sacraments, assist at sermons, recite the Rosary every day, abstain from all obscene language, from, detraction, and from quarrels; and you shall see that your sons will go often to confession, will assist at sermons, will say the Rosary, will speak modestly, and will fly from detraction and disputes. It is particularly necessary to train up 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.
10. To bring up children in the discipline of the Lord, it is also necessary to take away from them the occasion of doing evil. Hence a father must, in the first place, 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 bondwoman and her son.” (Gen. xxi. 10.) She wished to have Ishmael, the son of Agar the bondwoman, 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 domestics and from externs regarding the places which his sons frequent when they leave home, regarding their occupations and companions.
Secondly, he should take from them every musical instrument which is to them an occasion of going out at night, and all forbidden weapons which may lead them into quarrels or disputes. Thirdly, he should dismiss all immoral servants; and, if his sons be grown up, he should not keep in his house any young female servant. Some parents pay little attention to this; and when the evil happens they complain of their children, as if they expected that tow thrown into the fire should not burn. Fourthly, a father ought to forbid his children ever to bring into his house stolen goods such as fowl, fruit, and the like. When Tobias heard the bleating of a goat in his house, he said: “Take heed, lest perhaps it be stolen; restore ye it to its owners.” (Tob. li. 21.) How often does it happen that, when a child steals something, the mother says to him: “Bring it to me, my son.” Parents should prohibit to their children all games which bring destruction on their families and on their own souls, and also masks, scandalous comedies, and certain, dangerous conversations and parties of pleasure. Fifthly, a father should remove from his house romances, which pervert young persons, and all bad books which contain pernicious maxims, tales of obscenity, or of profane love. Sixthly, he ought not to allow his children to sleep in his own bed, nor the males and females to sleep together. Seventhly, he should not permit his daughters to be alone with men, whether young or old. But some will say: “Such a man teaches my daughters to read and write, etc.; 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. Eighthly, if he has daughters, he should not permit young men to frequent his house. To get their daughters married, some mothers invite young men to their houses. They are anxious to see their daughters married; but they do not care to see them in sin. These are the mothers who, as David says, immolate their daughters to the devil. ”They sacrifice their sons and their daughters to devils.” (Ps. cv. 37.) And to excuse themselves they will say: “Father, there is no harm in what I do.” There is no harm! Oh! how many mothers shall we see condemned on the day of judgment on account of their daughters! The conduct of such mothers is at least a subject of conversation among their neighbours and equals; and, for all, the parents must render an account to God. O fathers and mothers! confess all the sins you have committed in this respect, before the day on which you shall be judged arrives.
11. 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. A certain mother was in the habit of acting in this manner. Her husband one day took a stick and began to beat her severely. She cried out, and said: “I am doing nothing. Why do you beat me?” “I beat you,” replied the husband, “because you see, and do not correct, the faults of the children because you do nothing.” Through fear of displeasing their children some fathers neglect to correct them; but, if you saw your son 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 spareth the rod hateth his son.” (Prov. xiii. 24.) If you love your sons 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 the stick; for you must correct them like a father, and not like a galley sergeant. You must be careful not to beat them when you are in a passion; for, you shall then be in danger of beating them with too much severity, and the correction will be without fruit; for they then 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 shall become more perverse, and shall lose their respect for you. But of what use is it to correct children by so many injurious words and by so many imprecations? Deprive them of some part of their meals, of certain articles of dress, or shut them up in a room. But I have said enough. Dearly beloved brethren, draw from the discourse which you have heard the conclusion, that he who has brought up his children badly shall be severely punished; and that he who has trained them to habits of virtue shall receive a great reward.