Catholic Activity: Forming the Habit of Holiness
Ways to cultivate within your child a deep and abiding love for God. St. Maria Goretti is an example of raising your child to be a saint.
It is not difficult to find opportunities for this. For all it may sound affected when reduced to words on paper, it is easy to find times when a child is alone with you, perhaps drying the dishes, making the beds, out in the garden with you planting the beans, when you can kneel down to his size and whisper: "Let's be very still for a minute and think about the Holy Trinity in our souls, and let us love God very much." This is a very reasonable suggestion to a child, and if he has been taught he will kneel and without any affectation say: "Holy Trinity, living in my soul, I love you very much. Please help me to love you more." And he will return to planting his beans. It is such a little act, hardly enough to stir the surface of a minute, but it is the one thing the Trinity awaits. God is bound by our own free wills: we must permit Him to move us, or He cannot.
But like the more mundane things — washing hands, brushing teeth, learning to say "please" and "thank you" — this will become a habit only if there is constant repetition. And there must be constant repetition, because the spiritual life is built upon this silent love of God. This is the beginning of silence, and simplicity, and contemplation. This is the first tiny step towards union. This must be if there is to be any spiritual life at all. God does the work, but He must have the opportunity. We cannot possibly reveal all His secrets to our children. We cannot illuminate their souls beyond the point of a kind of charting. Grace does the illuminating, and through grace they will discover the joy of a life lived in union with Him. We are working with grace towards this union when we teach our children to be still, to listen, to wait, to love.
We are living at a time when love has been so defiled that to use it in its Christian sense is to invite misunderstanding. People don't get what we are driving at when we talk of loving one another: it sounds much too unrestrained and, frankly, rather queer. It has one meaning only, for most of the world, and that is physical passion, with no understanding whatsoever that physical love is beautiful only when it imitates God's love. So it is terribly urgent that we reveal to our children what love really is, Who love is, because they must love Him wildly if they are to protect themselves against the time when passion moves in and masquerades as beauty. Physical passion is only one small fragment reflecting God's love; and unless children recognize love as the source of serenity and peace and grace, they are quite defenseless before the fragment that pretends to be the whole.
God will be loved by our children as much as we have permitted Him to be loved. In a strange way, He is at our mercy and so are they. In His love He has brought them forth out of us, but He must wait for us to make Him known to them. And it is God's love — not brains, or brawn, or talent — that is the common denominator for all men. A man is wise or a fool, safe or in danger, in proportion to his response to God's love. If we are tempted to doubt this, the lives of the child saints prove it over and over again. Maria Goretti was poor, uneducated, the essence of simplicity. Heroic virtue, for her, was born of the love of God taught to her by a tired, overburdened mother to whom the intricacies of theological argument were as much a mystery as the geography of the moon. But God and His love were not. They were as daily bread. Guided by the graces He sends to all mothers, she fed her child the best way she knew how. Obviously it could not have been better.
When they questioned her at her daughter's canonization: "How does one go about raising a child who will be a saint?" her answer was simple. There was no secret available to her, she said, that is not available to all mothers. She merely taught her all she knew about God and His love, and His delight in a soul untouched by sin. If an uneducated peasant woman can do it in the middle of a world reeking with hideous sin, we have little excuse for not doing it ourselves.
Simplicity of soul is one of the prerequisites of sanctity, and it is one of the things our children already possess. We must be very careful not to contribute to the great cluttering-up. We must make a heroic effort to rid our lives of all but one motive, that "impractical" spirituality of the saints, a life in union with God. If this is the undercurrent of our existence, then we can expect the spiritual training of our children to bear fruit. Without it, what they learn of God as children will be easily shoved aside when the world begins to make its noise in their ears. We inherited Heaven at the Cross, and a way of life that should lead us all to sublime heights. Our obligation as parents is heavy: we must raise children who are in love with God.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961