Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As the academic year draws to a close, we see many milestones for our young people. This weekend and next, children in our parish will receive the Eucharist for the first time in Holy Communion. College and high school graduations are taking place. In a few weeks, our Confirmation candidates will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through this important sacrament of initiation. And after a brief respite in summer, we will begin the process all over again. Registration for religious education here at St. Pius for children in grades 1 – 6 will begin soon. Before we end the academic year and start looking too much into the next, I would like to share with you the Church’s teaching on the role and rights of parents in the education of their children. When the Church speaks to parents on this matter, the word “education” refers both to their formation in the Catholic faith and to their overall academic formation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2223) says: “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.” Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them.”
The Catechism continues at 2225: “Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church.34 A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.”
And at paragraph 2229, the Catechism teaches: “As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.”
This teaching flows from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. In a little known (but still very important) document, Gravissimum Educationis, the fathers of the Council taught: “Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools. Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.”
The document continues, saying: “Feeling very keenly the weighty responsibility of diligently caring for the moral and religious education of all her children, the Church must be present with her own special affection and help for the great number who are being trained in schools that are not Catholic. This is possible by the witness of the lives of those who teach and direct them, by the apostolic action of their fellow-students, but especially by the ministry of priests and laymen who give them the doctrine of salvation in a way suited to their age and circumstances and provide spiritual aid in every way the times and conditions allow.
The Church reminds parents of the duty that is theirs to arrange and even demand that their children be able to enjoy these aids and advance in their Christian formation to a degree that is abreast of their development in secular subjects. Therefore the Church esteems highly those civil authorities and societies which, bearing in mind the pluralism of contemporary society and respecting religious freedom, assist families so that the education of their children can be imparted in all schools according to the individual moral and religious principles of the families.”
The education of children is no small task. Parents, please know that the Church supports you as you teach your children in the faith, as you accompany them in their academic formation, and shares your concern for what is taught in their schools.