On the Education of Children
Pope Francis centered this Wednesday’s catechesis on the family’s “natural vocation” to educate children. He began with a passage from St. Paul: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:20-21). The pope told the children in the audience to be obedient and the parents to be fair, particularly by not asking their children to do something they cannot do yet.
The Holy Father said that the fundamental question for families is how to educate their children, and this is a question that he encouraged parents to ask without being silenced by “experts” or “critical intellectuals.” He noted with disappointment the distrust that has developed between the family and society, particularly schools. He says, “The educational alliance of society with the family has entered into crisis because reciprocal trust has been undermined.” In many places, parents and teachers do not trust one another, and children suffer because of it. There is a profusion of “experts” who take on the role of the parents “even in the most intimate aspects,” and parents sometimes surrender their responsibility to others.
The pope told a personal story to illustrate the relationship between parents and the school. In fourth grade, little Jorge Bergoglio said a “bad word” to the teacher, who called his mother in for a meeting. His mother gently made him apologize to the teacher, but the “second chapter” of discipline occurred at home. Pope Francis contrasted this experience with the way that parents today seem to blame teachers for any sort of discipline or problem that the child has at school. This creates conflict rather than harmony.
The Holy Father said, “There is no doubt that parents, or better, certain educational models of the past had some limitations, there’s no doubt. However, it is also true that there are mistakes that only parents are allowed to make, because they can compensate for them in a way that is impossible for anyone else.” In the context of a healthy family life, discipline happens not in a vacuum but in an environment of unconditional love. He noted the lack of time that parents have because they must work and because life has become so complex. He asked parents to try to understand “where the children really are in their journey,” particularly where their hearts are.
Pope Francis said that Christian communities are called to offer support to families in their mission to educate children, and they do this first with God’s Word. He cited Col 3:20-21 (referenced earlier) as well as the famous passage on love in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The Holy Father reminded the audience, “Even in the best families it is necessary to endure one another, and so much patience is needed to endure one another!” and that “Jesus himself went through family education.”
Families who educate their children well are the “spinal cord of humanism,” the pope said. He continued to extol the life of families who become “the resource that makes it possible to compensate for the lacunae, the wounds, the voids of paternity and maternity that touch less fortunate children.” He said that “this radiation can do genuine miracles. And these miracles happen every day in the Church.”
“It is time,” the pope said, “that fathers and mothers return from their exile – because they have exiled themselves from the education of their children –, and reassume fully their educational role.” To do this with tenderness, love and patience, the pope said he hoped families would receive from the Lord faith, freedom and courage.
In a side note in the middle of this general audience, Pope Francis addressed separated spouses who have children in a particular way, saying: “they have separated and so often the child is taken as hostage and the father speaks badly to him of his mother and the mother speaks badly to him of the father, and so much harm is done. But I say to separated parents: never, never, never take the child as hostage! You have separated because of many difficulties and motives, life has given you this trial, but the children must not bear the weight of this separation, they must not be used as hostages against the other spouse. They must grow hearing the mother speak well of the father, even though they are not together, and the father speaking well of the mother. For separated parents this is very important and very difficult, but they can do it.”