Friday, March 16, 2007

Parental Authority - Bishop John Vaughan

Feast of Saint Julian of Anazarbus

I found this at Natural Catholic

Parental Authority - Bishop John Vaughan

The following was written in 1913 by Bishop John S. Vaughan of Sebastolis, and published in Time or Eternity? - and Other Preachable Sermons. It gives expression to so many sound Catholic principles for parenting that we decided to reproduce it on our website.

"He that shall scandalise one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better that a millstone should be hanged about his neck and that he should be drowned in the depths of the sea."-Matt. xviii. 6.

THIS world would be an exceedingly dull, dreary, solemn place if there were no children and young people to enliven it with their mirth and laughter and joyous prattle. Children are, unquestionably, a great blessing to those who possess them, and one of God's noblest gifts to men. "Unblown flowers" Shakespeare calls them, and "new appearing sweets." Moreover, they are a source of perpetual entertainment and interest, and awaken endless feelings of sympathy, affection, and delight in the hearts of their elders. They are rightly reckoned on as a solace in our old age, and as a prop and a support in our declining years. We rely upon them to carry on our name and to hand on our family traditions to future generations, and finally we love to picture them to ourselves as thinking of us, and as praying for us long after we have been laid to rest under the green turf in the quiet churchyard. But if they are a source of great happiness, they are likewise a source of very great responsibility, for one day we shall have to render a rigorous account to God of the manner in which we have watched over and cared for them. We call them our children, but, as a matter of fact, they belong to God far more truly and far more completely than they belong to their earthly parents. God alone is their true Father. That is to say, He alone is their Father in the fullest and most perfect sense of the word, and the earthly father is, after all, merely God's representative, one to whom God has delegated a part of His authority. Hence parents are under the strictest obligation to recognise God's claim, and to regard themselves as entrusted by God with the careful and religious bringing-up of His children.

This is a most serious obligation, to be carefully considered and loyally carried out. For it is a mistake to suppose that a child is virtuous by nature. If left to himself and to his natural inclinations and passions, he will certainly go astray, and wander far from the path of virtue. He will grow self-willed, disobedient, proud, independent, and greedy and self-indulgent. In short, he stands in absolute need of the training, and moulding, and forming hands of a wise and watchful parent. The first years of a child's life are among the most critical, because on them his future largely depends. As has been said so truly and so tersely, "The child is father to the man." What he is in after life depends on his early education. The mind of a child is not only a tabula rasa, so that you can write anything on it, but it is extremely sensitive. Hence a child readily receives every impression, whether good or bad, and is strongly influenced by all he hears, and sees, and notices around him. He is aroused and attracted by the least thing, imitates, almost instinctively, whatever others say or do, and is ready to follow almost any lead, so that parents should be extremely careful to give their children good example, and never, under any pretext, to misconduct themselves or to give way to passion in their presence. They should have a great reverence and esteem of their innocence, which is so easily sullied. They should shield it as far as possible from all scandal. To scandalise the young and innocent is especially hateful in the sight of God, and will be most severely punished by Him. "He that shall scandalise one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matt. xviii. 6). Just kneel down, in spirit, at the foot of a child's cradle and contemplate the newly born infant lying there in all the unconsciousness of placid sleep. What a picture of innocence! Its soul has come straight from the hands of God. How pure and spotless it is! For over it the cleansing waters of baptism have only just been poured. It is all aglow with divine grace. So beautiful and so priceless is it, that God Himself looks down from heaven upon it with ineffable love, and contemplates His own divine image reflected in it, as we might contemplate our own countenance in some crystal lake. So exquisite a being is ripe for heaven, and we may be excused if we feel a desire to send it there at once, to take its place among the very angels of God. But no. God has other designs upon it. That pure and sinless child must be left to grow up and develop. Before being admitted into the heavenly courts, it must be tested and proved. God has decreed that it should be exposed to all the dangers and perils of the world.

It is a terrible thought, yet a very true one, that there are a thousand fierce and unscrupulous enemies already lying in wait for it, to sully its purity and to destroy its spiritual life. The devil and the world and the flesh, that have robbed many a soul such as this of its innocence, await but the dawn of reason and consciousness to declare a bitter and implacable war against this one also. What will be its fate? Who can look into the future? How will it conduct itself when at last it is launched into the midst of the wicked, pleasure-loving, godless world, as some frail boat is launched upon the waters of a dangerous, tempest-tossed, rock-bound sea?

Call to mind, my brethren, that the vilest sinner, and the worst criminal, and the most blood-stained murderer and blasphemer that the world has ever known was once a pure, lovable, innocent child even as this and as ripe for heaven as this. The most diabolical wretch now writhing amid the eternal fires of hell, and paying the penalty of his infamy, was at one period of his life a simple, guileless, innocent child, without an evil thought lurking in its heart, or an angry word forming upon its lips. How comes it that one child develops in one direction and another in another? How can we explain that startling paradox, that, starting, as it were, from the self-same goal, one will develop into a great saint, like a St. Thomas or a St. Francis, while the other will become a Nero, a Caligula, or a Judas? Other influences no doubt have their share, and must be reckoned with, but the after career of a child, speaking generally, depends mainly upon the way it is brought up; on the nature of the first seeds, whether of vice or of virtue, that are dropped into the virginal soil of its heart; on its earliest impressions and experiences; on the good or evil example which it witnesses around it; on the true or false ideals which are set before it, and, in a word, on the greater or less purity of its environment, and of the moral atmosphere that it breathes. A child, in its early years, is tender, plastic, ductile, and easily moved in one direction or another. Like a young tree, it can be bent and trained and shaped, but this is no longer possible when once it has grown up. If a child is left to itself, and allowed to run about the streets, and to romp and play with evil companions, and to indulge without let or hindrance all its wayward inclinations, propensities, and passions, and to associate with whom it likes, to listen to what it likes, and to see what it likes, what possible chance has it of developing into a good, upright, honest Christian, loyal to God and Church, to country and to king?

Nearly all the saints have been blessed with excellent mothers, and their devotion, earnest piety, and genuine holiness have, no doubt, had an extraordinary effect upon their children. And surely this is what anyone with a knowledge of human nature might have been led to expect. What does a little child know or care about the great world at large? How far does it concern itself with the general history of the Church, or with the discussions of the schools, or the teaching of theology? To a child the world is its nursery, the world is its home, its family, its companions. It looks upon its father and its mother as the embodiment of all that is right and true and best. It imitates them without enquiry, it follows them blindly; their views, their conduct, their mode of life are accepted as so many object lessons, to be imitated and practised. Children are far more deeply influenced by what they themselves bserve, and can see with their eyes, than by what they are told. They can understand and appreciate conduct and example far more easily and far more readily than dry precept. How can a child grow up sober if his parents are in a state of frequent intoxication? How can a child remain modest, pure, and respectable if its parents lead loose and dissolute lives? How can he guard his tongue and control his temper if his parents fight and quarrel, and use injurious words? A bad tree will produce bad fruit, just as a good tree will produce good fruit. The reason that so many children turn out badly and irreligious, and grow up a disgrace to their family and their Church, is because parents are not what they ought to be. If they were really practical Catholics, if they esteemed their religion beyond all else, and always put the spiritual above the material, and the eternal above the temporal, and the souls of their children above their bodies, they would take an immeasurably keener interest in training them up in the practice of virtue. Realising the shortness and uncertainty of the present life, and the endless eternity that is to follow it, their ambition would be to instil into their offspring the love of virtue, goodness, and truth. It would be a real joy and delight to them to see their sons and daughters growing and developing in piety, and ripening more and more for heaven. Like the mother of the Machabees, they would exhort and entreat and encourage their children before all else to obey the voice of God, and to endure all things, even torture and death itself, rather than transgress the divine law, so as to be united with them forever in heaven. Like that admirable mother, Queen Blanch of Castile, they would speak with fervour and earnestness to their sons while they are still young enough to be impressed, and give them clearly to understand that, much as they might desire their temporal and earthly happiness, they laid far greater store upon their eternal happiness. Those of you who have read the life of Queen Blanch will remember how she was wont to take her beloved son, when a small boy, and clasp him to her breast, and entreat him with immense fervour to keep himself ever pure and innocent in God's sight. "I love you," she would exclaim with all the passionate devotion of a mother's heart. "I love you more indeed than I can say, yet remember, that in spite of this, or rather, for that very reason, I would rather a hundred times see you lying dead and cold at my feet, than that you should ever live to offend God grievously." Such was the real heroic Christian piety of a mother who knew the true value of things, and who judged as God Himself judges. Is it to be wondered at that her son caught something of her own heroism and saintly spirit? Is it to be wondered at that her son soon learned, like her, to prize goodness and sanctity beyond all else; and that he developed into a great saint, whose feast the entire Church still celebrates each year? And who was her son? Her son was the glorious St. Louis, King of France, and ruler of a mighty people. His mother's words, his mother's example, his mother's prayers, kept him holy and unworldly even on the dizzy eminence of a throne, and amid all the seductions of a court. Where do we find such parents now? Where shall we find such true love, such heroism, such zeal? Alas! some have grown so indifferent and so careless that they will not hesitate to endanger their children's faith by sending them to non-Catholic schools and for the sake of some purely worldly advantage, often more fanciful than real, will calmly place them in the most dangerous occasions of sin. So weak is their faith, that they positively care less for the immortal soul than they do for the perishable body. That this is really so is easily proved from the fact that they would shrink from sending the child they love into a fever den, or into a region where some awful epidemic, such as cholera or the plague, is raging. They would carefully hinder them from wandering through a wood or forest known to be infested with wild beasts or poisonous serpents, lest they lose their corporal life; but they show no such solicitude, no such anxiety when it is the life of the soul that is in danger. What! is the body to be preferred to the soul? that soul redeemed by the blood of God, that soul purchased at an infinite price, and made to the image of God? 0h Catholic fathers and mothers, has the soul of your child no value in your eyes, that you will expose it, without hesitation, to every danger and on the most frivolous pretexts? For the sake of that soul our Divine Lord did not hesitate to die. Look at Him, the infinite and the eternal, clothed in our nature, buffeted and bruised. His sacred body torn with the scourge; His hands and feet pierced with nails; His whole person in torment. Why is this? What is it that He seeks with so much insistence? He seeks to save souls-and we do not care. No, we send our own innocent children into danger, we bring them up in non-Catholic schools, allow them to mix with evil companions, and expose them to contamination and eternal death. Provided their worldly prospects seem improved, many seem to think little and to care less what eternal consequences may await them. Parents are commanded to love their children. The word love, in this connection, must be taken in its true sense. To love a child is to wish it well, to do all in our power to secure its true interests-its eternal interests. We have no real love for a son if we are ready to sacrifice the infinite weight of eternal glory for the empty tinsel of earthly fame, or if we are willing that he should forfeit his eternal happiness for some passing worldly advantage. Let us examine our- selves seriously upon this point to-day, and call to mind the hour, not far distant, when we shall stand trembling before the Sovereign Judge, to give a strict account of the task that He has laid upon us. At that hour we shall realise, if not before, that it were better a thousand times never to have had a child, than to have allowed him to perish from a mistaken kindness, a false ambition, or through an unwillingness to correct and instruct in all patience and gentle firmness.


Resolve to look upon your children as a most sacred trust, of which you will have to render a strict account, and let it be your delight to lead them, by word and example, along the path that leads to eternal life.

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