Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Teaching of the Catholic Church on Home Schooling - Parents for Eternal Life

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Why should we ask the question, “What is the teaching of the Catholic Church on Home Schooling?”

The reason is obvious: Because we are Roman Catholics!

We know how much emphasis the Church had placed for generations on Catholic education, and for generations people came to practically equate Catholic education with institutional education. Home schooling as home education had not been the focus of the Church’s magisterial teaching until fairly recent times. We might say it was taken for granted.

But no more. The rise of global secularism on every level of modern life has placed the Church on guard. Her authoritative stress is now more than ever on the role of parents as the primary teachers of their children.

The most recent and authoritative ecclesiastical documentation on this subject is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, issued by Pope John Paul II on the very day of the five hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus.

The key word that stands out in the Church’s teaching on home schooling is the word “primary”.

Parents’ responsibility to educate their children is primary. This means, it is their first responsibility. It is primordial; it is inalienable; it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.

It is critically important to understand what the Church means when she says that parents have the primary right and duty to teach their children.

After all, there is a primacy in what the children are being taught.
  • They can be taught how to walk and how to talk.

  • They can be taught how to read and write.

  • They can be taught arithmetic, and spelling and history and geography.
All of these things they can be taught and should be taught. But what they mainly need is to know why God made them; why they are on earth at all; why they are in this world; that they are here in this life in order to prepare and train themselves for the world to come. 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 is why the subtitle of my talk to you is, “Parents for Eternal Life”.

Having said this, we are now in a position to get into the principal message I wish to share with you. It can be stated in a single declarative, or shall I say imperative statement: The Church teaches that, “Under God, parents are the first in time, first in authority, first in responsibility, first in supernatural ability, and first in dignity to educate their children for eternal life.”

Parents as Primary Educators
Even a generation ago, most people assumed that parents are the primary educators. Certainly over the centuries the primacy of parents as educators of their children was taken for granted. But then a number of things occurred which have put parents on the defensive as the main teachers of their children.

Nothing could be plainer than the directive of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, stating that parents must “teach their children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies” (2224).

In one country after another, the State came to monopolize education from pre-school kindergarten through childhood and adolescence and young adulthood. In materially affluent societies like the United States and Canada, compulsory education by agencies controlled by the State became the law of the land.

Those in control of the government began to dictate what should be taught to the children, who should do the teaching, how the teachers are themselves to be trained. And unless the teachers were approved by the government, they were forbidden to teach.

But that was not all. Teachers’ associations were formed, which have become dictators in the education of our children. These associations are supported by political power, which makes parents second citizens. Either parents conform to this dictatorship or they are forbidden to teach their children.

The phenomenon of day-care-centers that have spanned throughout North America is only a symptom of this State dictatorship in the education of children from their tenderest years in infancy.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. For over two centuries in our country dedicated and consecrated men and women - priest, religious and the laity - operated our Catholic school systems. It became the envy of other nations. I remember a bishop friend of mine telling me about his audience with Pope Paul VI in Rome. 

The Holy Father asked the bishop, “What has happened to your thousands of Sisters in America who have been doing such wonderful work in Catholic schools teaching tens of thousands of children their faith and preparing them for a good moral life here on earth and for heaven in eternity?” At this point, the bishop told me, the Pope broke down in tears; he wept over the breakdown of so many once-flourishing teaching orders of men and women who sustained, what had been a Catholic, Catholic school system in North America.

We go on. We are asking ourselves what happened. What is it that now, more than ever before in the history of our country, makes it absolutely necessary, under God, for parents to realize that they, they are the primary teachers of their children?

What has happened? Beyond all that we have so far said, in nominally Catholic circles, there has grown an avalanche of ideas that are contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Church.

We now have professed Catholics in positions of great influence who are teaching that:
  • Christ was a human person like the rest of us, subject to the same passions as we. When the movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ” was to be released, I spoke by telephone to the producer in Hollywood. I pleaded with him not to release this blasphemous film. He told me the film was produced under the guidance of a priest theologian, whom I know personally. He was one of the leading “dissenters” from the Church’s teaching authority.

  • Catholics are now being taught that the Pope is not the supreme teacher of faith and morals in the Catholic Church. Bishops, either individually or in their national conferences have the right to reinterpret papal teaching. They did this in 1968, when the same Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, in which he declared that contraception is a grave sin against God.

  • Catholics are now being taught that homosexuality is a natural inclination that some people have; therefore, we are to recognize that sodomy is normal for some people. Homosexuals, actively practicing sodomy are provided with parishes and pastoral care - under the guise of Dignity, in open defiance to Catholic morality as taught since the dawn of Christianity.
Pope John Paul II could not be plainer in his masterful Catechesi Tradendae (Catechesis in Our Time). He says two things:
  • First, “I cannot insist too strongly on the early initiation by Christian parents in which the child’s faculties are integrated into a living relationship with God” (36).

  • Second, “The person who becomes a disciple of Christ has the right to receive ‘the word of faith’ not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form, but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor” (30).

Parents for Eternal Life

So the litany of secularism goes on. Its most principal target is our children.

This then brings us face to face with the gravest duty of believing Catholic parents. They must be convinced that their primary responsibility as parents is to prepare the children that God gave them - for eternal life.

Yes, parents are the primary teachers of their children in all that pertains to the children’s lives here on earth. 
But that is not all. That is not primary!

What is primary? The parents’ most fundamental duty is to prepare their children for eternity.

Pope John Paul again is blunt in his insistence that children be taught the fullness of God’s revealed truth. There is no valid reason for refusing Christ any part of that knowledge. “What kind of catechesis would it be,” he asks, “if it (that) failed to give their full place:
  • to man’s creation and sin;

  • to God’s plan of redemption and its long, loving preparation and realization;

  • to the Incarnation of the Son of God;

  • to Mary, the Immaculate One, the Mother of God, ever Virgin, raised body and soul to the glory of heaven and to her role in the mystery of salvation;

  • to the mystery of lawlessness at work in our lives and the power of God freeing us from it;

  • to the need for penance and asceticism;

  • to the sacramental and liturgical actions;

  • to the reality of the Eucharistic Presence;

  • to participation in the divine life here and hereafter.”
No wonder, Pope John Paul II, in the same document makes the historic statement, which I quote verbatim:
“In places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, ‘the church of the home’ remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. Thus there cannot be too great an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their own children’s catechists and to carry it out with tireless zeal” (68).
Words could not be plainer, nor the Church’s authorization of home schooling more supportive.

Grace of Matrimony

Back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We are told the one reason; I should say the main reason, why Catholic parents are the primary teachers of their children is because they have the supernatural grace to do so. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children” (2225).

What does this mean? It means that parents, more than anyone else, have the supernatural light to know and the strength to choose what, before God, the children need in this life as a prelude for the life to come.

After all, the only purpose that God has in having parents here on earth, is that they might raise families for everlasting life in heaven.

As Christ made so plain, after the last day there will be no marriage, or giving in marriage after the last day of what we call this world. Why not? Because the quota of those who are destined for eternal happiness will be complete.

Parents must always keep this vision clearly in their minds: we are fathers and mothers of children for heaven. Our one hope is to be reunited in heaven with our families, and children and grandchildren and great, great grandchildren, in the everlasting City of Jerusalem which is our heavenly home.

How are Parents to Become Primary Educators

Needless to say, the vision we are describing can remain just that: a vision. It can be an ideal or even a dream.
But God wants it to be a reality. This, I am convinced, is the providential reason that God has allowed so many forces of error and evil to plague the modern world: and, with emphasis, on our American society.

Where sin abounds, St. Paul tells us, there grace even more abounds. In His providence, God wants to wake parents up from their lethargy. He wants them to open the eyes of their faith and see what is going on. He wants them to come out of the dream that so many parents are still sleeping in - and arouse them to the gravest, and I mean gravest, duty they have before God. What is that - to pay whatever price they have to, in order to educate their children for eternal life.

Of course this will not be easy. Of course parents with this faith vision will be criticized, even ostracized. Of course parents will have to give up many things that the modern world has provided in such profusion for their own and their families’ enjoyment here on earth.

But the price is worth it. When Christ told us, “Take up your cross daily and follow me,” He was speaking not only to individuals in general, but especially to parents.

To be the primary educators of their children for eternal life is not easy for parents. It never has been since the dawn of Christianity.

But in today’s world: intoxicated with its own pride, addicted to its own pleasures, indoctrinated in its own faith – that only temporal life exists and eternal life is a mirage - to become parents of eternal life demands heroism.

Only heroic parents can be parents for eternal life. But let us not be afraid. Christ told us, “Have confidence, I have overcome the world.” So can we parents, provided we believe that the Son of Mary is the Son of the Eternal God; provided we trust that His promises to us will certainly be fulfilled; and provided we love God so much that no sacrifice is too great to bring our families, with us, to that everlasting home for which we were made.


Mary, Mother of the Holy Family, obtain for all Catholic parents the grace to raise their children for a heavenly eternity.

Teach us parents to do everything which your Divine Son tells us to do. If we do, we shall be reunited, not only as families; we shall join the Family of the Most Holy Trinity.

Make us parents courageous and firm and clear: that we are the primary teachers of our children to prepare them for that final graduation and the first day of a heavenly eternity. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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