by LTC John Bauer, US Military Academy at West Point
Marriage is meant to be fertile and welcome new life. Children shape the future, just as they themselves are shaped in their families. Without children, there can be no future. Children reared with love and guidance are the foundation for a loving future. Wounded children portend a wounded future. Families are the bedrock for all larger communities. Families are domestic churches, places where parents help children discover that God loves them and has a plan for each child’s life. (Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, Chapter 5)
The fifth theme we are asked to ponder in preparation for the upcoming World Meeting of Families is entitled Creating the Future. Through the union of man and woman, God allows human beings to participate in His creative power by helping to bring new human life into the world. In Christian marriage, this union imprints an indelible spiritual mark on the souls of both spouses. Drawing strength from this sacramental bond, parents fulfill their responsibility to build their family into a “school of deeper humanity” (Gaudium et Spes, 52). Their mission, most fundamentally, is to teach their children how to love. The best way to accomplish this task is for the parents to present a good example to their children. In presenting a model of how to love, parents should seek to nurture and patiently shape their children while realizing that their own children also face a significant challenge: navigating the difficult road of human growth and maturity.
Through the sacrament of marriage, each new instance of this union of man and woman establishes in some sense a domestic church. In the words of the Vatican II documentLumen Gentium, “The Family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it, parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of faith to their children” (Lumen Gentium, 11). Just as the Church prays, so also must families pray. For this reason, one effective way for parents to build up their own families is for spouses to pray together and with their children regularly. This habit of prayer, beyond fostering an interior spirituality and a love for God, teaches a vocational approach to life, one that discerns God’s call through daily conversation with Him.
Parents should also do everything in their power to be present for their children. This is critical in today’s world which is filled with a wide range of distractions, temptations, and demands upon one’s time. Unfortunately, popular culture can sometimes steer our children away from pleasing God and pull them in a direction that is neither compatible with their individual calling nor consistent with a life lived out of reverence and love for God. Yet by being present for their children, parents can teach them through their daily example how to live in a way that is holy and pleasing to God.
Parents are the ones ultimately responsible for the formation of their children, a responsibility that they accept each time a new life comes into the world. As the Vatican II document Gravissimum Educationis states, “Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have the most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children” (Gravissimum Educationis, 3). This process of education, which is rightly calledformation, should challenge children to grow in both their natural abilities and their love for God while respecting their freedom and human dignity. Yet first and foremost, Catholic parents are ultimately called to help their children become saints. This is because God desires that all children learn to live in His likeness and thereby become witnesses of Christ’s love to the world.