The Catholic Church is perhaps the most misunderstood parent in the history of parenting. Many walk away from her because they see her as too demanding, too controlling, and too restrictive in her messages. Those who get to know her, though, understand that rather than trying to oppress her children or to restrict their freedom, the goal of the Catholic Church as with any good parent is to not to restrict their freedom but to help them find it. The rules of the Catholic Church are not designed to control her children, but to teach them and guide them in the ability to control themselves. That begins with teaching her children to own their mistakes and accept responsibility for the damage that is done when they fail.
Man is built for love, and part of being built for love is being built with empathy for the plight of others (http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/28/science/researchers-trace-empathy-s-roots-to-infancy.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm). Place a happy, content infant in a room with a crying infant and you will soon find that you have two crying infants. This is a good thing, a healthy thing, because it is designed to ensure that we are driven to respond to the needs of others as if they were our own. When we make a choice that violates that in-born empathy by causing another to get hurt, we have very few possible responses available to us: lie to ourselves about the damage that was done, accept responsibility for our actions and make amends, or go crazy. Only the middle response is healthy and leads us to a better life. The Catholic Church knows this, and therefore this is what she expects of us.
Life, Freedom, and Personal Responsibility“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” – Genesis 2:15-17
The very first gift that God gave to mankind was life. The second gift, related to the first, was free will. Free will was necessary if human beings were to be able to love. After all, if one does not have the ability to choose to reject love, then one is not able to choose to love. However, with this gift of free will came the responsibility for the consequences of making that choice not to love.
Freedom always carries with it responsibility because our choices always have consequences. The choice to lie is a choice to destroy someone else’s trust. The choice to steal is a choice to deprive someone else of something. Teaching our children to respect the consequences and to understand those consequences fully is part of being a good parent. Even more important than respecting and understanding the consequences, though, is accepting the responsibility for the consequences when they happen.
A child who never learns to accept personal responsibility for the consequences that result from the decisions they make is a child who never learns to see their ability to make positive changes in their own lives and the lives of those around them simply by making different choices. That child, the one who never learns to accept responsibility for the consequences, is a child who is easily manipulated into giving away their freedom to others and is therefore doomed to slavery unless they receive help.
Making Responsible DecisionsGuns are tools. Guns can help protect and defend lives when put in the hands of someone who is aware of the power represented by the gun, but put that same gun in the hands of someone who is unaware of or who abuses that power and the results can be devastating. Freedom is a lot like that gun. Put in the hands of someone who knows the power of free will and who has a commitment to use their free will for the good of others and everyone benefits. Put that free will in the hands of someone who is unaware of or abuses its power and the results can be devastating.
As a parent, the Catholic Church understands the potential dangers inherent in the abuse of free will. She prepares her children for the responsibilities of using their free will by helping them to connect the dots between the choices they make and the consequences that follow. In this way, she helps them to avoid doing harm to others and to see how their gift of free will is a gift that allows them to truly make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.
Acknowledging Failures and Mistakes“O Lord, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you” – Psalm 41:4
Acknowledging failures and mistakes requires us to humble ourselves, to admit our imperfections, and to seek the help and guidance of others in improving. It is never easy to do because it also requires us to admit that we have been the cause of someone else’s pain, suffering, and grief. However, the first step to preventing those same mistakes or failures to happen in the future is to admit that they have happened and to acknowledge the damage that was done as a result of them.
The Catholic Church knows this, and encourages her children not only to routinely examine their conscience to see where they have failed to live up to the expectations she has for them, but to acknowledge the mistakes and failures and accept the consequences by first going to their Father and seeking his forgiveness through confession, and then by going to the person who has been injured, seeking their forgiveness, and accepting the penance that may be required of them.
Facing the Consequences
Even when we have been forgiven for our sins, the Catholic Church still expects us to do our best to repair the damage caused by the sins we commit. This is why she requires us to do work, or perform an act of penance, in order to set things right between us and our neighbor. As parents, we must not shield our children from facing the consequences of their choices. We may choose, if we feel they have sincerely repented, to help them in their efforts to repair the damage they have caused just as the Church may lighten the penance of one of her children who has sincerely repented of a sin. However, they must not be allowed to avoid it altogether nor must another be allowed to bear the full weight of their mistake.
Facing the consequences for our decisions is good for the same reason it is always better to show someone something than to tell them about it. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding and there is no stronger proof for the consequences of irresponsible decisions than to see the harm done to someone else’s life.
Avoiding the Blame Game“He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” – Genesis 3:11-12
Blaming others is a defense mechanism used to deflect responsibility for our choices onto someone or something else. It also robs us of our ability to use free will to its greatest effect because if we play this game long enough, we become blind to our own ability to affect the world around us by the choices that we make.
A woman I worked with was constantly late to work. Her answer, when questioned about why she was late, was always the same: traffic. She was blaming her problems on traffic and, as a result, was unable to see how she could change her situation by simply changing the choices she made. For instance, she could have left earlier or tried taking a different route. In denying her own responsibility for her tardiness she was also denying her ability to improve her life. The Catholic Church wants to help her children avoid the blame game. This is part of the reason she requires them to confess their sins to a priest, so that they must take responsibility for their actions and cannot deflect that responsibility onto someone else’s shoulders. In the confessional, there is no escaping the truth that it was your choice that caused the problem. As parents, we must strive to follow the model of the Church and refuse to allow our children to blame others for the consequences of the choices they have personally made.
Thank you for joining me for this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. If you are just joining us and would like to catch up, you can find the introduction and the earlier chapters by following the link above. I hope you will join us tomorrow for Chapter 11: Showing Mercy.
If you have read this and enjoyed it, found it interesting, agreed, disagreed, hated it, want to add to it, or just want to expand on it, please leave a comment below and let me know. I really appreciate hearing from my readers. Thanks again, and have a great day!