The third vow of consent in the Sacrament of Marriage asks, “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” Often the first half of this vow of consent is used to help engaged couples understand that they are to be open to having children, which is true, but the second part of the vow seems to disappear. The Church asks couples not only to be open to children, but to raise them in the faith. What exactly does this mean and how does this look in our society today?
We recently heard a priest give an amazing homily regarding education in our country. He laid out the path that we all travel. You go to school for twelve years. Then many head off to college or a trade school to earn a degree or certificate so they can get a job. Then we work for 40 +/- years to be able to retire, at which time we get old and die. Is that the goal of our lives? Is that what we want our children to believe is the most important thing in life? Are we teaching them this is all they are created for? In our country, many parents seem to be more concerned with their children’s preparation for a future occupation than for anything else. But does the second part of the vow made on our wedding day say anything about making sure our kids are raised to earn a living? Inadvertently, that might apply, but there are a couple of other areas of concern that should come first. Let’s look at what the Church asks of parents in the raising of their children.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2222 states, “Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they [parents]educate their children to fulfill God’s law.” Why? Why do any of us work to fulfill God’s law? We do so because we are created for heaven. Following God’s law keeps us on the path to heaven. The salvation of our children is the first and most important priority we should have for their lives. Father John Hardon says it this way, “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 number one priority is the litmus test for just about every decision we make for our children. Is this or that activity going to lead them closer to heaven or detour their journey? Is this music, movie, book, sport, goal, school, etc. going to help them along their journey to heaven or hinder it? Many of these decisions can be much easier when gauged in relation to our child’s salvation. We have to ask ourselves if this is best for my child or is it for my own convenience or glory? Ouch! That may seem sharp, but the competition to have the best ________ (you fill in the blank; athlete, dancer, student, piano player) can lead parents to make unhealthy decisions for the salvation of their children. Keeping the salvation of our children as the first priority as their parents can help guide us in the many decisions we make for their lives.
While we are living on this earth we are given a mission. It is what we were created to do while journeying toward heaven. That mission is called our vocation. This is a word that has different meanings. It can mean an occupation or job. But it has a bigger purpose when viewed through the eyes or our faith. Again quoting the Catechism, “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude,” (1700). In other words, we become the person we were created to be within the vocation God calls us to live. The Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Sacrament of Matrimony are both the sacraments to the service of salvation. In Holy Orders, the service is to the people of the Church. In Marriage, the service is to the family. Even within a vocation we can see the first purpose is salvation. Are we directing our children to first discern their vocation before their occupation or profession? How is this done? Familiaris Consortio (11) explains perfectly, “Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” We are all called to love. We were created by love, for love, to love. Our children have to understand what love really is. It is the giving of ourselves for the good of another. It is always about someone else. Where does your child tend to give of himself/herself more? Ask them why they do the kind acts that they do. Is it to please God alone or through pleasing another? Either answer is good because it is giving of self for another. These can be clues to help your child discern the vocation God is calling them to live. The key word is “discern.” Beginning in the junior high years, we should be praying with our children, asking God to show them what His plan for their life is. So often we decide what the plan should be without ever asking God. We can teach our children early in life that God’s plan is always going to be the best and most rewarding plan. We just have to ask for Him to reveal it to us. As parents, it is our second priority to help our children discern their vocation and not just fall into it.
Finally we come to the priority of occupation or profession. We as parents should help our children find their strengths and talents that God has given them so that they can serve Him daily in an occupation, remembering their duty to love. In the Valedictorian address at the Benedictine College graduation, the nursing student of the first graduating class of the nursing department gave a beautiful message stating that among the biology, anatomy and nursing practices learned, the most wonderful lesson her class learned was to serve each and every patient with love. The hands of each of the graduating nurses were blessed by the Archbishop of that diocese so that they would continue to always serve their patients with love. That was proper educational training because it encompasses first our calling along the path to salvation and our call to love. We have to help our children learn trust in God. If they serve him, first by following his laws that they learned throughout their childhood from us, and then truly find the vocation He asks of them; religious life or marriage, then He will reward and take care of their earthly needs in an occupation or profession. Of course, we as parents have to believe that first!
Copyright 2012 Diane Schwind