Catholic Activity: Miniature Mystical Body -- Raising Children to Be Adults
An explanation of the plan of the Mystical Body. Parents must teach justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude to children from an early age so that they may use these qualities to make responsible choices for the rest of their lives.
"Where did Our Lord speak of His Mystical Body?" This question was asked at the meeting of a parish discussion group which had gathered to study the family as a miniature of the Mystical Body.
Our Lord never did define the Church as His Mystical Body. Saint Paul (I Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:1-6; 5:21-30) wrote of it this way in order to explain to his fellow Christians the nobility of their role as members of Christ's Church and sharers of His work. His explanation is a masterpiece of simplicity and it serves us as well today as it served the Christians of Corinth and Ephesus.
The head, St. Paul pointed out, is the noblest part of the body and the source of its wisdom and direction. In this way, Christ is the head of the Church. But since a body is not a body without its other parts, the Church is not the Church without its members—and we are the members.
Now suppose the head of a body conceived a plan for caring for the needy. It could not put the plan into action without legs to carry it where it wanted to go, without ears to listen to the cries of the suffering, without eyes to see their wounds without hands to bind them. Each member is called to do its part, and together with the head the work is accomplished. Thus, in a most familiar analogy, the family is able to explore its relation to Christ in His Church and to discover how He depends upon each member. Since the members are one with Him now, sharing His life and identified with His work and His person, they are "other Christs," and in them Christ goes into the world to gather to Himself all men.
This is a pattern God has used everywhere as children are quick to point out. A boy discovered it while exploring the woods with the forester.
"Do you know why the ant mounds in the woods are always in a clearing?" he said. "Because the colony needs the sun to survive, and whenever a tree begins to shade the mound, the whole colony marches up the tree and stings it to death. The queen couldn't possibly do it alone even though she is head of the colony. Each one has to do its own job."
When we reflect that God could do it alone, but chose to let men share His work, we see the value He has put on each man's effort. Each is indispensable to the work of His Church.
But first, men must be formed as members of this community. Their formation takes place in the family — a miniature of the Mystical Body. And its model for forming these other Christs is the Holy Family, which formed Christ Himself.
The most important lesson the Holy Family teaches is easily overlooked — that growth in grace, whether our child's or theirs, takes place within the ordinary events of daily life, and that natural goodness is the foundation on which supernatural goodness is built.
For example, it was as necessary for Our Lady to know how to cook, weave, garden, to bathe and dress a baby, to shop and clean her house, as it was for her to know how to say formal prayer, because Jesus was a human child and He needed care.
And it was necessary for Joseph to know about wood and carpentry, about raising animals, about the soil and the weather, because he alone was responsible for Mary and Jesus. Indeed, Mary and Joseph were two busy people, and their devotion to these tasks was part of their great holiness.
But they were contemplatives as well. Perhaps we have thought of contemplation as something only for monks and nuns, or something to be put off until the days of the active life are over and there is time and peace and quiet.
One can hardly imagine Mary and Joseph going off to a life of prayer and leaving the Child behind, and yet they lived lives of unending prayer. Nor can we picture them kneeling in perpetual adoration before Him all day long, though He was God in their midst. What was the secret of their life of contemplation in the midst of activity?
It was their awareness of God's plan as they undertook each task. They knew that every duty they performed had its part in the redeeming of not only the sons of God lost to Him by Adam's sin, but the very earth itself.
As a mother, Our Lady cared for her child's body because He was to use it in His work for God. She taught Him about it so He would use it intelligently and as God wished. Surely her prayer rose up from the act of bathing Christ, or feeding Him or teaching Him, to praise God for giving her this share in the restoration of all things.
Joseph worked to feed the child's body so He would grow straight and strong, to shelter it so He would be safe from harm. And he offered to God the prayers of work and fatigue, of uncertainty and insecurity, of the craftsmanship of his hands and the things he made that they might serve men in their unending search for God.
Christ, the child, was really human — not an imitation of a human being. He had to be taught the same things we teach our own children — to eat nicely, to help with chores, to overcome His fears. He had to be helped to think and to make His own decisions, even to be taught how to pray. Not that as God He needed the training, but as Man He did. Thus, Mary and Joseph helped form the Son of God.
In our families we too are forming the sons of God. We begin with ordinary goodness, and with the ordinary chores of family living.
Children like to learn to do things — especially the things they see grown-ups doing. With a little encouragement, children enjoy these tasks. And as they learn new things, take on more "grownup" duties around the house, they can begin to learn that these little tasks are part of their love for their family. Each child will see, too, that the family could not get along as well if he did not help as he does.
The lesson can be taught again and again in terms of doing dishes, making beds, carrying out trash, raking the yard, feeding the pets, mowing the lawn, and all the many things children not only can do, but can enjoy as well.
The child is learning to work, but more than that, he is acquiring a sense of justice, the virtue which sees that everyone receives his due, that we don't lie, cheat, do dishonest things. A sense of justice is taught not with catechism definitions but with real life situations in the miniature world of childhood with its backyard, playground and schoolroom crises.
Unless a sense of justice is developed in the child, the man will not be able to meet the severe problems of the adult world — problems like segregation, exploitation of the poor, political dishonesty. Nor will the man be ready for that moment of grace when Christ reveals to him that in all justice he owes God unending service and in all justice he must make his vocation, whatever it may be, a truly dedicated apostolate. If we are to enjoy the fruits of redemption, we must be dedicated servants of God.
Justice is only one of the four basic habits of goodness that make a good man. The others — fortitude, temperance and prudence — are just as important, and they are taught in much the same way.
For example, from the start we teach our children to be brave about shots at the doctor's, visits to the dentist, the many bumps and scrapes of life We tell them to "offer it up" if it hurts. We don't stop to explain it at the moment — we may not even think of it at the time — but when we say "offer it up" we are asking them to use the prayer of pain in union with Christ for the work of His Mystical Body. And this goes hand in hand with fortitude — the habit of being brave.
At Confirmation, God will share His own courage with them when He gives the Gift of Fortitude and makes them able to be martyrs. But no man can be heroically brave, even with the help of the Holy Spirit, if he has not learned to be at least ordinarily brave. And in time each of us discovers that it is not easy to be a Christian, martyrdom is called for, probably not the bloody martyrdom of the faraway mission lands, but certainly the dry martyrdom of life in a world which does not always love God's law.
Temperance is the virtue that disciplines our appetites. For small children it has mainly to do with eating and drinking. Later, when they are grown-up, it will help them discipline their sexual life.
"It helps you not to be a pig," one small boy explained. For him, temperance meant: "Don't eat so much that your tummy hurts."
Children can practice little self-denials unobtrusively at mealtimes — perhaps no butter on bread one night, or no salt, or no sugar. These help strengthen the will. Then when the more difficult temptations of later life come along, they will have had some practice saying "No." Such self-denials are valuable as little penances to help overcome certain faults, and. as always, they can be part of the day's prayer for all the souls God loves and wants.
What of prudence, the virtue that helps us to think, and judge, and then act as a Christian should?
Let us say several fourth-graders on a playground suggest doing something mean to another boy. Our boy is tempted; he doesn't even like the other boy, but in justice he knows, "It wouldn't be fair." A small voice whispers, "They'll call you a chicken . . ." Fortitude replies, "Can't help it; let them." The little self-denials of all the lessons in temperance are now working for him and he knows he cannot say "Yes."
Then quietly, without much bravura and with no stomach for it at all, he makes his decision. "No, it wouldn't be right." Prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance have gone into his decision.
Such bread-and-butter stuff. But it makes men; and out of men come saints.
Christ was a perfect child, but He was prepared the same way, and in the mystery of the in-dwelling of Christ in each of our own children we see that it is, in truth, Christ we are forming in them.
1. Who spoke first of the Church as Christ's Mystical Body? To whom did he speak of it" How is the Church like a body and who are its members? — its head? How is the family a miniature of the Mystical Body?
2. How can a father and mother cultivate the habit of recollection which leads to contemplation even in the midst of a busy life? Compare their daily tasks as parents to the tasks of Mary and Joseph. What part does their work as parents play in the continuing redemption of mankind?
3. Since Christ is God, why did He need the formation of parents? Compare the formation required by His human nature to the formation required by our children.
4. Give three or four examples of how a child acquires the sense of justice; the habit of ordinary bravery (fortitude); the habit of temperance. What part does prudence play in the life of the Christian?
5. What is the relation between this ordinary goodness of the child and the potential of the confirmed Christian?
6. How is Christ taught in our home, fed, sheltered? In whom is Christ present?
I will try to recollect myself at least twice a day in the midst of my work and seek out the relation between what I am doing and the task of Christ in the world. How does my particular task contribute to the well-being of men as they search for God? How do the materials and ideas I use reflect truths about God and recall the pattern of divine order which it is Christ's work — and mine — to restore?
I will re-examine the way I am teaching my children to see if I am overlooking obvious opportunities to help them grow strong in habits of goodness. I will explain to them the importance of learning the lessons of childhood in order to be able to use the powers Christ will give them at Confirmation.
I will explain to my family the plan of the Mystical Body and encourage each one to discuss where his particular talents and gifts might fit into the work of Christ as He seeks to gather all men to Him. We will include in our family prayers a petition for the grace to know our vocations and to serve Christ in them fruitfully.
Activity Source: Homemade Christians by Mary Reed Newland, George A. Pflaum, Dayton, Ohio, 1964