Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives
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Christ Speaks to Us
Words from One of Our Spiritual Fathers
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
I would like to address the subject of Catholic home schooling in the tradition of the Catholic Church, and my plan is to cover three areas of a large subject.
What has the Catholic Church considered as home schooling in the Church's history? Secondly, why is home schooling necessary? And thirdly, how should home schooling be done most effectively?
The focus I would like to take is of home schooling as authentically Catholic. I would like to begin first with a general definition of Catholic home schooling, and then distinguish various kinds of home schooling in the Church's history.
Catholic home schooling is the planned and organized teaching and training of children at home, for their peaceful and effective life in this world, and for their eternal salvation in the world to come.
I distinguish teaching from training, for I say that teaching addresses itself mainly to the mind, and training to the will; indeed, the training of the mind is in order to motivate the will.
We get our principles for authentic Catholic home schooling from Christ's closing directive to His apostles: "To teach all nations" that's the mind "to observe all that I have commanded you" that's with the will. Home schooling, therefore, addresses itself to the mind in order that the will might be motivated to do God's will. It is the teaching and training of children at home that distinguishes it from teaching and training in formal school situations.
Having said that, we must immediately distinguish among the different forms that Catholic home schooling has taken over the centuries, depending on the conditions of the Church at any given time in her history. The conditions are as follows: first in missionary times before the Church had been established in any particular country or locality; second, home schooling once the Church had been firmly established third, home schooling where the Church is strongly opposed; and finally, where the Church has been disestablished, especially by civil authority.
I will identify the Church's condition in our country: the Church under opposition and not yet formally disestablished.
Home schooling in the United States is the necessary concomitant of a culture in which the Church is being opposed on every level of her existence and, as a consequence, given the widespread secularization in our country, home schooling is not only valuable or useful but it is absolutely necessary for the survival of the Catholic church in our country.
Home schooling, in our country, is that form of teaching and training of children at home in order to preserve the Catholic faith in the family, and to preserve the Catholic faith in our country.
Our second reflection is why. There are four principal reasons why Catholic home schooling is necessary... Home schooling has been necessary in the Catholic Church since her foundation. The necessity, therefore, is not the necessity that is the result of an emergency. No, Catholic home schooling is necessary period. And one reason is that it was so widely neglected before. So many parents practically abdicated their own obligation to teach their own children, and then found out, sadly, their children were not being given a Catholic education.
How do we know that home schooling is necessary? First, we know it from divine revelation. The early Church is normative, not only on what we should believe as Catholics but on how we ought to learn our faith... and live it. There were not established Catholic schools in the Roman Empire back in the first 300 years of the Church's history. Except for parents becoming, believing, and being heroic Catholics in the early Church, nothing would have happened. The Church would have died out before the end of the first century.
Church's Teaching and History
There is no single aspect of religious instruction that, over the centuries, the Church has not more frequently, or more insistently, taught the faithful, than of the parents on how to provide for the religious, and, therefore, also human, education and upbringing of their offspring. So true is this that it is the second and co-equal purpose for Christ instituting the Sacrament of Matrimony, for the procreation and the education of children. By whom? By the parents! That is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of Matrimony. So how do we know that home schooling is necessary? Because the Church has always taught it.
Where has the Church survived? Only and wherever and this is historically provable home schooling over the centuries by the Catholic parents has been taken so seriously that they considered it their most sacred duty, after having brought the children into the world physically, to parent them spiritually.
The necessity for home schooling is not only a natural necessity, it is a supernatural necessity. Have parents over the centuries, in all nations, from the dawn of human history, in every culture, had the obligation to teach and train their children? Yes, the same ones who brought the children physically into the world have a natural obligation, binding in the natural law, to provide for the mental, moral, and social upbringing of their offspring. Yet since God became man, the necessity, and therefore the corresponding obligation, becomes supernatural.
What do we mean when we say that Catholic home schooling is a supernatural necessity? We mean that in God's mysterious but infallible providence, He channels His grace from human beings who already possess that grace. It is a platitude to say that we cannot give what we do not have. Nobody would ever learn the alphabet. We would not know how to read or write, or even know how to eat.
We have to be taught everything we know. The real necessity for Catholic home schooling is not because we naturally need someone else to bring us into the world, nor to teach us what we need to know and do as human beings. Since the coming of Christ we are no longer mere human beings.
Becoming Channels of Grace
At baptism, we receive the life which is the very life of God shared by Him with His creatures. And just as no one gives himself natural life, so no one receives or nurtures or develops or grows in that supernatural life that we receive at baptism.
The main reason for home schooling is that only those who have God's grace are used by Him as channels of grace to others.
Over the centuries, our principal Jesuit apostolate has been teaching. And we are told, in the most uncompromising language, "You will be able to teach others, you will share with them, only what you are yourselves."
No one else can teach the faith... except the person who has it. But possessing divine grace, beginning with the virtue of faith, is not only a condition, it is also the measure for the communication of grace. Weak-believing parents will be weak conduits of the grace of faith to their children. Strong-believing parents will be strong conduits of the grace of faith. This is not good psychology and it is not good example. This is Divine Revelation.
In the mysterious providence of God, this is the law: Only those who possess the supernatural life and the measure of the possession of faith, hope and charity will God use as the channels of His grace to their children.
Live Our Holy Faith
How are parents to provide for the Catholic home schooling for their children? First, the principal and most fundamental way is by living strong Catholic lives. All the academic verbiage and planned pedagogy are useless. Only persons who have God's grace will He use as the channels of His grace to others, and no one, but no one, cheats here.
What then is the first way to be an effective home schooling parent while living a good Catholic life?
For Catholic parents to live good Catholic lives in our day requires heroic virtue. Only heroic parents will survive the massive, demonic secularization of materially super-developed countries like America.
And consequently, far from being surprised, parents should expect that home schooling will not be easy. Any home schooling in the U.S. which is easy today is not authentic Catholic home schooling. If it is easy, there is something wrong.
Today, Catholic parents must not only endure the cross, resign themselves to living the cross, but they are to choose the cross. In case no one has told you, when you chose home schooling, you chose a cross-ridden form of education.
This is the age of martyrs ...and a martyr is one who suffers for the profession of his faith. There is red martyrdom and white martyrdom. There is bloody martyrdom and unbloody martyrdom.
You have to live a heroic Catholic life in America today. God will use you and provide you with the knowledge and the wisdom, providing you are living the authentically heroic Catholic life.
Know and Impart the Faith
Secondly, if you want to teach and train your children, you must know your faith. You must grasp and understand the faith. Read the 14th Chapter of St. Matthew where our Lord tells the parable of the sower sowing seeds. Seeds fell on four kinds of ground. The first three kinds were unfruitful. As Jesus said, birds came along and picked up the seed, and nothing grew. The disciples asked Jesus for the meaning. The Lord explained that the seeds falling on the wayside are those persons who have received the Word of God into their hearts and fail to understand it, and therefore the evil one comes along and steals it from their hearts.
That is why America now has millions of ex-Catholics. They have never understood their faith.
I have strong encouragement from the Holy See to train parents. You are all welcome to learn your faith so that you grasp and understand your faith. Then God will use you to teach your children as a channel of faith. Teach, not only by rote memory, but to grasp the faith.
Many Catholics, before they finish college, discard their faith as a remnant of childhood. They don't understand. I myself had 16 years of Jesuit education, and 15 more years before I started teaching. There are oceanic depths to our faith, and you must learn as much as you can, so that God will use you as an effective channel of grace so you can communicate your faith to your offspring.
True Schooling and the Sacramental Life
Next, Catholic home schooling must be schooling. There must be organization, administration, a pattern, a schedule, and a program. Somebody has to be in charge. Mother and father must cooperate in the home schooling.
Home schooling must be sacramental. In other words, the Church that Christ founded is the Church of the Seven Sacraments, especially the Sacraments of Eucharist and Confession.
You, yourselves, should receive the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession. Train your children to live a sacramental life.
Finally, to be authentically Catholic, home schooling must be prayerful. The single most fundamental thing you can teach your children, bar none, is to know the necessity and method of prayer.
You must pray yourselves. Without prayer, all the schooling in the world will not produce the effect which God wants home schooling to give, because home schooling is a communication of divine grace, from Christ to the parents to the children. And the principle way parents communicate from Christ to their children, the grace upon which those children will be saved, is prayer.
Excerpted from a speech originally given by Fr. John Hardon, S. J. at a home school seminar in Oct. 1991, St. Paul, MN. Reprinted with permission. Fr. John Hardon, S.J., a noted theologian and home school advocate, is also the author of numerous books. He resides at the University of Detroit-Mercy in Detroit, MI.
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