(cf. Exodus 20: 12 & Deut. 5: 16)
Published in Church & Life (1825) 11.11.2011 – 30.11.2011 No 17 Pg2
by Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
Ancient Greek civilization gave the saying: “the crab walks sideways because of the example set by his father”. Parental example is by far the most powerful influence that a child receives. Fed and nurtured by their mother and the father, the child absorbs an enormous variety of likes and dislikes by being intimately exposed to the lifestyle of their parents.
The mother chooses to dress the daughter in a certain colour – and so the daughter grows to like this colour and style; the father plays cricket with his son – and so the son grows up to enjoy cricket; the parents speak more than one language in the house – and so the child becomes multi-lingual; the parents cook a variety of international meals – and the child’s palette adjusts accordingly. In terms of behaviour, if bad manners are accepted in the house, the child will most likely grow up with poor manners not only within the confines of the home, but also to take this lack of manners into the public forum. If no discipline exists at home, if there is no respect taught at home, if there are no setting of goals and boundaries by parents; all this adds up to a dangerous cocktail by which to feed a child. In addition psychologists also tell us, that the bond between mother and son, and father and daughter, are the key determinants for the individual being able to have a fulfilling relationship with members of the opposite sex. We are also told that interaction between parent and the child is not as great a socialization tool, as the way by which the parents interact between one another – in full-view of their child. Centuries of insightful observations give us such adages as: the greatest lesson a father can teach his son about loving a woman – is that the father shows love for the son’s mother; and that a woman loves her son with great tenderness, but not as great as she loved her own father.
This said, few who have attempted parenting would doubt that parenting is the most difficult task on earth. No child is ever born with a ‘How To’ instruction manual. Parents have to do the seemingly impossible, for they must endeavour to: teach, placate, negotiate and discipline a little human being, who for much of the early years, cannot communicate by spoken language. In fact due to this lack of common language the task of parenting becomes in the earliest years one of instruction via charades, and facial expressions. Moreover parental responsibility never ends. Certainly when a child reaches maturity, the child is then held legally responsible for their decisions; but the emotional bond that a parent feels for their child can never be severed – that is, in loving circumstances.
In a 2006 research paper, Intergenerational Transmission of ‘Religious Capital’: Evidence from Spain, Pablo Brañas-Garza (University of Granada) and Shoshana Neuman (IZA Bonn), concluded that parental example has a powerful effect on whether children attend weekly Liturgy. The research of Brañas-Garza & Neuman building on the findings of other papers (cf. Hoge et.al (1982), Clark and Worthington (1987), Ozorak (1989), Thomson et.al (1992)), highlighted that an individual’s ‘religious capital’ begins during infancy, and early childhood, where the child is ‘actively’ watching their parents participating in religious practices. The research concluded that: “The more intensive is the parents’ practice, the more religious the person will be when he grows up. The investment of the parents in their offspring’s religious capital forms the solid basis that might be subsequently extended by a spouse when the person gets married to a practicing spouse”. (Brañas-Garza, 2006, p. 3).
The most sacred responsibility set before a parent is not selecting the choice of clothing, food or music, for their child – but that they introduce their child to the notion of God and of the Church. If God exists, then the abrogation of such a duty condemns the child to the worst kind of possible ignorance; ignorance of the whole purpose of being. If this God is Christ who founded a Church by way of the promised descent of the Holy Spirit, then knowledge of such a Church is paramount, and living within this Church becomes an essential part of life and living.
Within this intricate paradigm of parental example and religious instruction, what many parents fail to understand is that the introduction of the child to the Church through the Sacraments/ Holy Mysteries of Initiation, is not an end in itself – but a beginning, a process of becoming for the child. So often these Sacraments/Holy Mysteries are misused inasmuch as the parents believe that they have fulfilled a familial requirement by organizing and ‘going through the motions’ of a Liturgy. This is far from the Truth. The promises made on behalf of the child, are meant to be kept, and are not to be merely words spoken in air – scoffing at the God in whose House one finds themselves standing. The choice by the parent to Initiate the child into the Catholic Church, demands that up until maturity (cf. John9: 20 – 22), the parent does their utmost, by example, to bring their child up in the Church. Such modelling requires, of course, weekly attendance at the Liturgy – but more than this, it requires a decision that a Christian lifestyle is established in the home. Children are the best judges of authenticity and hypocrisy, and they know if God and Church are respected and revered by their parents. With such low rates of regular church attendance, it goes without saying that the child learns from parents who choose not to attend a weekly Liturgy, that the Church holds little or no priority in their life. If the father chooses to watch sport on television on a Sunday morning – the son and daughter come to appreciate that sport holds a higher degree of value to the life of their father, then not only God, but also the promises that their father made on the day he had his children baptized. When the mother chooses to sit in a café with her friends early on a Sunday morning, leaving her son to play X-box at home, or her daughter to Facebook and Twitter friends, what lesson can her children garner, but that the mother has chosen some Playstation or some stranger in cyberspace to inculcate in the spirits of her children, values that are meant to guide them through this life to eternal life? True, the father may have enjoyed three hours of football; true, the mother may have imbibed in two hours of pleasant conversation; but what is the price of such personal enjoyment, and for how long will the satisfaction of such a Sunday morning last? Longer than the need for a child’s moral and spiritual education?
The supreme irony of parents not vigilantly attending to their children’s Faith development, by failing to prioritize the Church in family life, is that the Supreme Being, clearly empowered in the Decalogue, that after God, the individual must give honour to their parents. Such a Commandment was purposefully given in order for children to hear through the voice of their parents – the voice of God. That parents have ceased to speak of God in the home, has not made God cease to exist – but it has gone a long way to making their children deaf and blind, to anything but the material; and as we all know, that which is material eventually turns to dust and ash. What parent would like to leave this to their children as a legacy?