Catholic Activity: On Parental Duty and How Parents Let Their Children Risk Chastity
This is a wonderful story to help parents illustrate the importance of chastity, and to not let their children be guided by popularity or vanity.
Blessed Claude de la Colombière and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque were the two souls God chose in the seventeenth century to make His message of the Sacred Heart known to the world. Claude was born in a very small town in the diocese of Grenoble in 1641. Little is known of his childhood beyond the fact that his family was well born, his parents devout, and his upbringing very Catholic at a time when the churches were in decay in France, the clergy reduced in numbers and many of the faithful fallen away. After a brilliant career as a young cleric, he was professed in the Society of Jesus following a retreat during which he was inspired to consecrate himself to the Sacred Heart in a special way. Two months after profession, he was made superior at the Jesuit house at Paray-le-Monial, a rather unusual thing for a man only thirty-four.
Unknown to him at that time, there was also in Paray a young nun to whom the Sacred Heart had been making remarkable revelations and who was in dire need of help. Under obedience Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque had been confiding all that occurred to a confessor who, while an upright man, understood little of the extraordinary things that were happening to her and dismissed them as delusions. God sent Father de la Colombière to preach at the Visitation convent and St. Margaret Mary heard in her soul the words: "He it is I send you." Blessed Claude heard her confession, recognized the hand of God in the young nun's experiences, counseled her, and did much to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Church.
Not long after his appointment to Paray, he was transferred to London as preacher to the Duchess of York, sister-in-law of King Charles II. Mary Beatrice D'Este was a beautiful and devout Italian princess who at fifteen, sacrificed her desire for a life in religion to marry James, heir to the English crown. Chaste and lovely as she was, and as she remained, she nevertheless was living in a whirlpool of worldliness and it was not only for her soul but for the souls of the others at the court that Blessed Claude worked, prayed, preached, and bore in himself the most severe deprivations.
After a little over two years in England, during which he converted many Protestants and brought many lapsed Catholics back to the Church, Blessed Claude was accused of these "crimes," falsely implicated in the infamous Titus Oates plot, and thrown into prison. Suffering from tuberculosis and hemorrhaging heavily, he was finally released through the intervention of Louis XIV and left England "at the height of the storm," arriving in Paris in January 1679. The harvest of martyrs in England that year "would result for the Jesuits alone in 'twenty-three condemnations to death by torture and one hundred and forty-seven deaths in the filth and squalor of the prisons.'" Blessed Claude wrote: "It was very hard for me to leave. . . ." Back in Paray-le-Monial, he lived three years, invalided, known to all but a very few of his brothers in religion as merely a brilliant, hard-working and now worn-out priest. He died on the first Sunday of Lent, 1862, "carried off by a torrent of blood." The morning after his death, St. Margaret Mary understood by a revelation that he was already in heaven and needed no prayers.
It is from Blessed Claude's sermons and notes that the following passages are taken. The worldliness of the English and French courts in the seventeenth century was little, if any, different from worldliness in our own time. It would be hard to find even among contemporary writers the case against parents put more accurately, more bluntly, than in these words of Blessed Claude de la Colombière. His words are brutally appropriate.
"Is it not surprising that Christian parents place before their children only human motives to encourage them to do what is asked of them, and that everything tends to nourish the love of comfort and ambition: 'This man,' they tell them, 'who was of low birth, has made himself important by his eloquence, and has been promoted to the most illustrious offices, has acquired great wealth, married a very rich wife, has built a superb mansion. He has made himself feared, he is in the limelight of renown. . . .' They never think of giving them for models any but those who have made their way in the world. They never speak to them about those who are reigning in heaven."
He goes on: "What are you doing at home if you do not busy yourselves in the upbringing of your children? It is the only thing you have to do. It is in this that God wishes you to serve Him. It is for this that He has established Christian marriage. It is of this that He will demand an account of you. You have amassed property for them. Is this what God expects of you? 'Come now,' He will say to you on the day of judgment, 'give me an account of that soul that I have confided to you. What has become of it? That was your field, the vineyard which the Lord had given you to cultivate;' To what degree of holiness have you led them? With what principles have you inspired them? Are they good? Do they fear God? Are they instructed in our mysteries? Some will have no answer to make, for they will not know what to make of these questions."
He directs a passionate tirade at the conduct of Christians during the time of carnival — the equivalent of our "holidays" at Christmas time. It was the custom in London to masquerade for many of these parties; with a few variations the spirit still reigns.
"What! dear ladies, spend five or six hours of your time in dressing and painting your faces only to go into a group to lay snares against the chastity of men and to serve as a torch for the demon to enkindle everywhere the fires of lust; to remain whole nights exposed to the eyes and coaxing of young fools and a whole regiment of the city's rakes; to use all that is most dangerous in art and nature to attract their looks and vanquish their spirit, to disguise your person, your sex, so as to be ashamed of nothing . . . to join excess of food and drink to the excesses of lust and wantonness; not to be satisfied with talk that blackens the name of the neighbor, but to go so far as to speak words that scandalize him; in a word, to add to the vices of women all the vices and disorders of men. Can these in truth be the amusements of Christians?"
He does not ignore nor is he fooled by the excuses parents make to authorize such "fun." "Our children have to find a way to get established," they told him then. "We want our children to be popular," is what they say now. He asks, is this the way they would do it?
"Unhappy mothers, mothers less than human . . . have you desired them only to corrupt them? Have you brought them into the world only to damn them? 'Who would think of them?' you ask. God, in any case, will think of them, if men do not. But is it possible that the designs which God may have on your family can be achieved only by such abominable means? . . . I do not blame you for wishing to make your daughter happy in this life. But you are indeed to be pitied, if you think that you must endanger her salvation, and your own, your eternity and hers, for so empty, so absurd a happiness, a happiness which must last but a moment. . . .
"O but this vain and coquettish girl will pay dearly by a long and cruel servitude for the faults which she is now committing and which she makes others commit! She thinks that by dint of dressing, of exhibiting herself, or parading her beauty, of appearing to be agreeable, being sweet-tempered, she will the sooner find a home. I am of the opposite opinion. These are the means, if I am not mistaken, to find ready lovers — but a husband, only very late and perhaps never. . . . It is certain that this is not the way to find a good one.
"This man who allows himself to be dazzled by this or that beauty, and who without examining her character, her education, her personal morals, wishes to marry her absolutely, and often against the advice of his friends, this man does not reflect that this beauty is not immortal, that nevertheless, he is binding himself until death. Let us suppose that her beauty lasts for ten years; you will perhaps have forty or fifty to live with her. So that if she hasn't something in her mind, or her soul, to hold you after the loss of her looks, you will have to suffer for the space of thirty or forty years. It will be like keeping a corpse in your home."
He rages on: "Do you want to know what it is really to love purity? Represent to yourself a woman in love with her own charms and infatuated with her own beauty. . . . Not only does she see with self-complacence that nature on this point has distinguished her from the common run of women, but she bestows cares beyond our power of expression for the preservation of the graces she has received. What does she not do to protect this complexion, now from sunburn, now from extremes of cold? What does she not do to maintain it, to keep it in its bloom, to make it if possible immortal? . . . One hair out of place, a little more pallor than usual, a little less luster and plumpness, a pimple, a swelling, throws her into despair.
"It is the same almost with a person who is truly chaste. It is not enough for her to avoid guilt and the last stages of disorder. She would never forgive herself for a word or a look that was even slightly free. The least voluntary thoughts, the most transient, cause her horror. In this matter everything seems essential to her. This fashionable gossip, these scandalous stories which are today the ordinary subjects of conversation, are enough to drive her from such gatherings, and if she had no other subject to talk about, her mind would find delight in solitude.
"Oh how far removed is she from the vanity of those whose headdress and attire seem to be made only to light the fires of impurity!"
Activity Source: Saints and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York; reprinted by TAN Publishers, 1958