Editor’s note: This address was delivered by His Excellency Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana in Kazakhstan, on 19 May 2017 at the fourth annual Rome Life Forum, which is organised by Voice of the Family.
May 19, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The family has been created immediately by God, so the Magisterium of the Church teaches us. Pope Leo XIII says in his magisterial encyclical on marriage and family: “Marriage has God for its Author, and was from the very beginning a kind of foreshadowing of the Incarnation of His Son; and therefore there abides in it something holy and religious; not extraneous, but innate; not derived from men, but implanted by nature. Innocent III, therefore, and Honorius III, our predecessors, affirmed not falsely nor rashly that a sacrament of marriage existed ever amongst the faithful and unbelievers.”
“The family therefore holds directly from the Creator the mission and hence the right to educate the offspring, a right inalienable because inseparably joined to the strict obligation, a right anterior to any right whatever of civil society and of the State, and therefore inviolable on the part of any power on earth.” Parents are therefore under a grave obligation to see to the religious and moral education of their children.
Pope Leo XIII gave us a very concise explanation about the original and first duty of parents concerning the education of their children, and in the first place concerning the education in the Catholic faith. This duty has its foundation in the natural order of the Divine creation: “The common sense of mankind is in such complete accord, that they would be in open contradiction with it who dared maintain that the children belong to the State before they belong to the family, and that the State has an absolute right over their education. Untenable is the reason they adduce, namely that man is born a citizen and hence belongs primarily to the State, not bearing in mind that before being a citizen man must exist; and existence does not come from the State, but from the parents. The children are something of the father, and as it were an extension of the person of the father; and, to be perfectly accurate, they enter into and become part of civil society, not directly by themselves, but through the family in which they were born.” “And therefore,” says the same Pope Leo XIII, “the father’s power is of such a nature that it cannot be destroyed or absorbed by the State; for it has the same origin as human life itself.” Pope Leo XIII declares in another memorable encyclical, where he thus sums up the rights and duties of parents: “By nature parents have a right to the education of their children, but with this added duty that the education and instruction of the child be in accord with the end for which by God’s blessing it was begotten. Therefore it is the duty of parents to make every effort to prevent any invasion of their rights in this matter, and to make absolutely sure that the education of their children remain under their own control in keeping with their Christian duty, and above all to refuse to send them to those schools in which there is danger of imbibing the deadly poison of impiety.”
Already more than seventy years ago Pope Pius XII made an appeal to the Christian families to be new crusaders in spreading and defending the true Catholic faith in midst of the general and heavy torpor into which the drugs of false ideas, widely diffused, have sunk the human family in the twentieth century. This diagnosis, which Pius XII made about the spiritual health of his time, is fully applicable to our times and it became even much worse. Pius XII said: “It is for the best and most distinguished members of the Christian family, filled with the enthusiasm of Crusaders, to unite in the spirit of truth, justice and love to the call; God wills it, ready to serve, to sacrifice themselves, like the Crusaders of old. If the issue was then the liberation of the land hallowed by the life of the Incarnate Word of God, the call today is, if We may so express Ourselves, to traverse the sea of errors of our day and to march on to free the holy land of the spirit, which is destined to sustain in its foundations the unchangeable norms and laws on which will rise a social construction of solid internal consistency.”
The first and most holy goal and end of matrimony and family consists in giving birth to new citizens of heaven. Pope Leo XIII said: “By the command of Christ, it not only looks to the propagation of the human race, but to the bringing forth of children for the Church, ‘fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God’;(Eph. 2:19) so that ‘a people might be born and brought up for the worship and religion of the true God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Catechismus Romanus, cap. 8).” The family is therefore the first and original place, where the integrity and the beauty of the Catholic faith should be taught to the children, and by this way handed over to the future generations. Indeed from this transmission of the faith depends the spiritual health of a nation as taught Pope Pius XII: “The family is holy. It is the cradle not only for the children, but the entire nations. Man and woman should pass on the torch of the physical and also spiritual, of the moral and of the Christian life to the future generations.”
From the early centuries of Christianity the family was seen as the Church “in miniature,” and the Church itself was called the “family of God”, especially the Christian community gathered for the celebration of the sacred liturgy was called the “family of God”, as we can often read in the liturgical texts, so for example in the Canon of the Mass. It was especially the Second Vatican Council, which reminded us of this ancient truth. In the Dogmatic Constitution “Lumen gentium” the Council teaches: “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care a vocation to a sacred state.” Pope John Paul II, the Pope of the family, made this famous affirmation: “In the future, evangelization will depend largely on the domestic church.” The same Pope said: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.”
So great and splendid is the educational ministry of Christian parents that Saint Thomas has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of priests: “Some only propagate and guard spiritual life by a spiritual ministry: this is the role of the sacrament of Orders; others do this for both corporal and spiritual life, and this is brought about by the sacrament of marriage, by which a man and a woman join in order to beget offspring and bring them up to worship God.”
Pope John Paul II gives to the catechesis in family the priority over all other forms of catechesis, when he says: “Family catechesis, therefore, precedes, accompanies, and enriches all other forms of catechesis. Furthermore, in places where anti-religious legislation endeavors even to prevent education in the faith, and in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, ‘the domestic church’ 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. Encouragement must also be given to the individuals or institutions that, through person-to-person contacts, through meetings, and through all kinds of pedagogical means, help parents to perform their task: the service they are doing to catechesis is beyond price.”
One of the main causes of the moral, spiritual and religious crisis of the current time consists in the religious ignorance, in ignoring the truths of the faith and in an erroneous knowledge of the faith. Pope Pius X very rightly observed this connection, saying: “The enemy has, indeed, long been prowling about the fold and attacking it with such subtle cunning that now, more than ever before, the prediction of the Apostle to the elders of the Church of Ephesus seems to be verified: ‘I know that . . . fierce wolves will get in among you, and will not spare the flock’ (Act 20:29). Those who still are zealous for the glory of God are seeking the causes and reasons for this decline in religion. Coming to a different explanation, each points out, according to his own view, a different plan for the protection and restoration of the kingdom of God on earth. But it seems to Us, that while we should not overlook other considerations. We are forced to agree with those who hold that the chief cause of the present indifference and, as it were, infirmity of soul, and the serious evils that result from it, is to be found above all in ignorance of things divine. This is fully in accord with what God Himself declared through the Prophet Osee: ‘And there is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have overflowed: and blood hath touched blood. Thereafter shall the land mourn, and everyone that dwelleth in it shall languish’ (Osee 4:1-3).” And Pope Benedict XIV wrote: “We declare that a great number of those who are condemned to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because of ignorance of those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect.” For this reason the same Pope Benedict XIV said: “There is nothing more effective than catechetical instruction to spread the glory of God and to secure the salvation of souls.”
The beauty of the Catholic faith manifests itself in a special manner in large families. We possess one of the most striking and illuminating affirmations of the Magisterium on this theme in the following words of Pope Pius XII addressed to the Associations of Large Families: “Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church. […] The brows of the fathers and mothers may be burdened with cares, but there is never a trace of that inner shadow that betrays anxiety of conscience or fear of an irreparable return to loneliness, Their youth never seems to fade away, as long as the sweet fragrance of a crib remains in the home, as long as the walls of the house echo to the silvery voices of children and grandchildren. Their heavy labors multiplied many times over, their redoubled sacrifices and their renunciation of costly amusements are generously rewarded even here below by the inexhaustible treasury of affection and tender hopes that dwell in their hearts without ever tiring them or bothering them. And the hopes soon become a reality when the eldest daughter begins to help her mother to take care of the baby and on the day the oldest son comes home with his face beaming with the first salary he has earned himself. […] Children in large families learn almost automatically to be careful of what they do and to assume responsibility for it, to have a respect for each other and help each other, to be open-hearted and generous. For them, the family is a little proving ground, before they move into the world outside, which will be harder on them and more demanding.”
The beauty of the Catholic faith manifests itself in the fact that it is precisely the family which is the first breeding ground and the first seedbed for the priestly vocations. The Second Vatican Council spoke about the family as the first seminary in the process of fostering and training priestly vocations. History has given proof that the majority of priestly vocations come from large families. Pope Pius XII highlighted this interrelationship saying: “With good reason, it has often been pointed out that large families have been in the forefront as the cradles of saints. We might cite, among others, the family of St. Louis, the King of France, made up of ten children, that of St. Catherine of Siena who came from a family of twenty-five, St. Robert Bellarmine from a family of twelve, and St. Pius X from a family of ten. Every vocation is a secret of Providence; but these cases prove that a large number of children does not prevent parents from giving them an outstanding and perfect upbringing; and they show that the number does not work out to the disadvantage of their quality, with regard to either physical or spiritual values.”
Full address with footnotes at:
CCI Editor’s Note: Bishop Athanasius Schneider will be the featured speaker at the Annual Dinner of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, October 30, 2017. For more information: www.catholiccitizens.org.