Freedom, Education, and Faith

Freedom, Education, and Faith

Today I found a good blog post on the subject of education and freedom. Love2Learn Mom quotes a recent address by Pope Benedict and makes some great points.

My favorite part of the pope’s quote was this:

“A true education must awaken the courage to make definitive decisions, which today are considered a mortifying bind to our freedom. In reality, they are indispensable for growth and in order to achieve something great in life, in particular, to cause love to mature in all its beauty: therefore, to give consistency and meaning to freedom itself” (Address, 19 October 2006; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 25 October 2006, p. 9).

In a funny sort of synchronicity, Radical Catholic Mom also posted about education and freedom. One thing she said struck me as very sad:

On the right, I see large traditional Catholic families. At first glance the families look like the model family of Catholic piety, but on closer inspection there are some serious problems. Usually these parents have so closely monitored and controlled what their children are exposed to that at the first hint of freedom their kids go crazy. How many of these kids have gotten pregnant and had rushed weddings? How many of these kids never grace a Church entrance again because they had their fill of religiosity and want nothing more of it. And before I get criticized, I lived with these people in college. I saw it up close and personal.

Yesterday our pastor preached a homily about true freedom being the freedom not to do anything we want but to live as children of God. If we are doing whatever we want, paying no attention to the Truth, to Love, to God, then we aren’t really free. We’re slaves to sin, to our own desires. True freedom is walking freely in the path God has ordained for us.

Therefore, the biggest problem facing us as parents is learning again and again that faith, like love, cannot be coerced. As parents we need to learn to follow the example of Our Father in heaven who gives us our freedom, even though we constantly abuse it. And who lets us experience the consequences of our actions, and who always welcomes us back when we repent.

I think the best, and only way, to raise children with strong faith is to have a strong faith yourself. They can only learn to love God if you love God and share that love with them not so much in what you say as in what you do. And they can only learn the value of repentance if you practice it. Not only frequently going to confession and taking the kids with you; but also apologizing to your children when you have wronged them, asking their forgiveness. Let me tell you, that takes some humility!

The families who seem so “traditional” Catholic may indeed have the outward trappings of faith; but I suspect that if all the children are falling away, true love is missing. Piety does not necessarily equal faith. And going to church on Sunday, having lots of kids and homeschooling do not in and of themselves guarantee a living faith. (Though as RCM points out, free will does mean that even parents who do all the right things can still raise kids who turn away from the faith.)

Real parental love is modeled on the love that God has for us, which respects us an individuals, which always invites but never coerces. Which, however, doesn’t mean a lack of discipline!

So what’s the answer? Cultivate the domestic church. Live the sacraments: frequent confession, daily mass, praying together as a family every day, and above all really living the gospel. That’s the only way to raise Catholic kids. That’s the only way to really live.

Sadly, I think many people see homeschooling as some sort of magical cure-all and are shocked, shocked when it doesn’t solve all their kids’ problems. It reminds me of the movie, The Village, where a group of people who’ve been hurt and damaged try to go to the woods to found a new society. But what happens is they can’t form a perfect society. Because sin resides in the heart of man, not in society. And no matter what we do to seal our families off from the world, we will still have to battle the problem of our fallen human nature.

I can already see it in Bella. Innocent she may be as far as moral culpability goes. She is not yet old enough to understand right from wrong. But already I am starting the long process of training her, teaching her that some behaviors are acceptable and some are not. That some actions are dangerous, that there are limits to her freedom, boundaries she may not cross. This process of taming the will, recognizing the limits of our freedom, is life-long. I still struggle daily with my own weak will, my own sinful tendencies. I’m no saint. Yet if I want to raise her to be good, to be holy, I must also strive toward personal holiness. I must make the hard choices, deny myself, follow Him.

Every night when I put her to bed I pray that she and I will both one day meet in Heaven. And it’s going to take lots of praying to get us there.

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  • Well, as one who did not fall into the stupidity of adolescence, I can say that the family does have an impact on this behavior.  I was the oldest, frequently responsible for 5 siblings, and certainly responsible for myself.  I wrote poetry, read classics, and listened to a lot of rock music from the 60s to the 90s—including the offending song by Nirvana, which I plan to get on my iTunes.  I was not homeschooled, participated in Speech & Debate in high school, and started college when I was 16.  My childhood was not particularly blissful—we struggled a lot financially and otherwise.  But it’s just like with smaller children: if you expect them to listen and be intelligent, they will.  If you buy them cell phones & cars and expect them to act irresponsibly and take everything for granted. . .  Well. . .

    Unfortunately, my siblings fell more into the stupidity of it all than I did.  And they were homeschooled.  And as far as the rebellion being specifically against the parents, two of my sisters lived with me when they were 18, and I can tell you that the rebellion can be against anyone who represents any kind of authority.  But I was not supported in keeping my own house rules by my mother, and so the adolescent things played out rather badly.

    Anyway, I hope that my theory plays out when my son turns 13 or so…  In 2 1/2 years (scary!  I’m too young to have a teenager!!).

    Sorry this is so long & rambling!

  • I just wanted to thank you for your supportive comments.  Unfortunately, I agree with you that parents are limited in what they can do about this enormous problem.  In a way, that makes the problems all the more frustrating, since we can see the solution but can do relatively little to act on it.  You can find more info about the new book at  Cordially, /re