Catholic Activity: What Truths to Teach
Mary Reed Newland discusses the essential truths to teach children, as well as the importance of exemplifying these truths in word and deed.
We must teach who God is; why He made the child; why He made the world and what it is for, and how the child must live in it. The truths that concern good and evil must be taught, the Fall, the Redemption, Christ, His 'love, His mother, the saints, the Church, the Mass, the sacraments. In short, the whole scheme must — and can — be taught in words and ways small children will understand, with the expectation that the child's knowledge of the scheme will continue to expand until the day he dies. On the one hand, such a list of truths seems formidable enough to occupy all the theologians all of their lives; on the other hand, a certain knowledge of these truths is necessary for the simplest of Catholics if he is to save his soul. It is the first simple but basic knowledge that is meant to be given by the parents at home. This will be the foundation on which the child will build his life.
An unfortunate attitude found among many parents of children who attend parochial schools is that since sisters are trained to teach these truths, parents must not try nor expect, if they try, to teach them half as well. This is not true. These truths, or substitutes for them, are the matter of all first learning, whether taught by intention, example, or accident. They are the means of forming what we call values and there is no one, good or bad, who does not have a set of values, good or bad. There is no such thing as failing to teach a child about God, really — something true or something false. To fail to teach him about God is to teach him something false: that God does not matter. To postpone teaching until the child enters the parochial school does not mean the sister will at last begin to fill the vacuum. No child, untaught, remains a vacuum. He is formed by what haphazard knowledge and impressions his mind and heart will gather up lacking careful teaching.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux writes of being at Mass with her father: "If ever St. Teresa [of Avila] was mentioned, Father used to bend down toward me and whisper: `Listen, my little queen, he is talking about your patron saint' Then I would really listen but I am afraid I kept my eyes on Father far more than on the preacher because I could read such a lot in his noble face." She described evenings at home when they said their night prayers together: She had only "to look at him to know how saints must pray." He hardly guessed that the look on his face was forming the mind and soul of his child in the knowledge of God.
A child is also taught by the failure to teach. A Religious of the Cenacle charged with instructing a first Communion class told recently of a lesson on the all-powerfulness of God. God is the greatest of all beings, she said. He can do all things. No one is greater than He. A little girl raised her hand and, quite serious, asked: "Is God as great as Superman?"
This child was not left untaught. She was taught by what happened along to best satisfy her need. The hunger of the soul is not debatable. "Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord . . . ." It is not too much to say that such a child, filled with the indwelling presence of the Trinity, already furnished faith, is seeking God even when she does not know it. No knowledge of God filling her need, she instinctively put in that high place a being who, curiously, is rather godlike — in the comic strips. This is not funny, but heartbreaking.
Why did God make the child?
Because He wants him. This is the only security there is. In the earliest years, it is quite enough to know just this. (There will be later years when nothing else will make sense and it will be crucially necessary to know this.) One teaches it word for word. "God made you, dear, because He wants you. Always He knew you, always He wanted you. There was never a time when God did not love you and want you." This is confirmed over and over again in many ways and circumstances. Has he enjoyed a bath, a meal, a ride, a little swim? God knew, before He made the world, that this day this little one would have this happy time. He planned it for him. How good of God. We should say, "Thank You." It becomes a kind of secret game for parent and child. Who made you? God! Why? Because He wants me!
Who else but parents can teach like this? Who else has the time? Who else is there? Who else cares so much about so many insignificant events as they touch the life of one seemingly insignificant child? Such simple business as this is the slow sure work of building on the faith that is in little children. That it forms the mind of the child is indisputable. Recently a ten-year-old was heard putting it in his own words for the benefit of an inquiring neighbor child. "God never takes His mind off you," he said.
Activity Source: Teaching Religion at Home by Mary Reed Newland, B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis, Missouri, 1963