Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Teach your children well

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 04, 2024

Back in 1970 when I was just old enough to consider myself an adult without precipitating loud guffaws, I was nonetheless in the process of accepting a free ride to graduate school—which, as I realize now, is not quite the same thing as entering the adult world. In many ways for me, then, it was a good time for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to release their Déjà Vu album, featuring the hit song “Teach your children well”. It’s a catchy tune with fairly stupid lyrics, but it does accentuate the need for love between parents and children even when mutual understanding may be lacking.

There are of course growing pains for both children and their parents, but too much of the growing generational gap in 1970 was the gap between a traditional way of approaching reality, still rooted to a considerable extent in Christian beliefs, and the neo-hedonism of the next generation under the influence of a culture which had lost its bearings. Actually, I should say that there was a growing gap between the acceptance of reality and its denial. The collapse of Christian values in both public education and allegedly Catholic education was already well-advanced, and was rapidly to get far worse—in the schools controlled by the State, in many schools established by various branches of the Church herself, and in colleges and universities throughout the West.

Fortunately, over the next generation, new private Catholic high schools and colleges were founded, operating completely without benefit of public funds, to provide a sound education and formation to the children of parents who understood the problem and cared enough to make significant material sacrifices to educate their sons and daughters while also forming them in Christ.

One of the first of the new independent Catholic high schools was Seton School, founded by Anne Carroll in 1975 in Manassas, Virginia. It was not too many years after this foundation that the late Fr. John Hardon, SJ would say, “If you want to raise your kids Catholic, move to Manassas.” Since then, the number of Catholic independent schools has grown dramatically, so that parents can find good schools for their children in a wide variety of places, and many (though hardly all) diocesan schools have been reformed and renewed as well. Home study has become another option, often in combination with some years in the classroom prior to college.

Teach your children well: One of the gravest of parental responsibilities is the education and formation of their children. I reflected again on this deep responsibility yesterday when I attended my oldest grandson’s graduation ceremony at Seton. Two of my Seton-educated daughters and their husbands have moved back into this area of Virginia so that their high-schoolers could be educated at Seton School, just as they were. There are, of course, other ways to accomplish this same goal, and indeed I have other grandchildren whose “Seton” parents have found excellent home study programs, Montessori schools, and upper schools elsewhere.

But to teach your children well, you absolutely must step out of the public mainstream, and sometimes even out of the diocesan mini-stream. You must also become intimately involved in both their spiritual formation and their education at least until they go off to college—and even then, you must be sure to send them to college in a setting where their faith will not be snatched away from them before they are mature enough to go against the worldly tide.

Bittersweet graduation

Yesterday, my oldest male grandchild graduated from Seton. Now, for me to attend any graduation ceremony is a bit of a psychological hurdle. I was not old enough to give my public high school graduation a miss, though I would have happily done so. But I had no trouble missing my college graduation (I was already away doing military training for the National Guard, since I was number 4 out of 365 in the draft lottery that year). In fact, I took my final college exams “by mail” in the last semester of my senior year at Rutgers, since I was in Basic Training at the time. Later I learned that I was the only student at Rutgers who had taken final exams that year, since there had been a student revolt over some hair-brained socio-political issue, followed by a sit-in, followed by the cancellation of exams without penalty. It is hard to take such academic situations seriously.

When I finished graduate school six months early, it would never have occurred to me to drive the fifty or so miles back to Princeton just in order to receive my Ph.D. publicly when they could mail me the document. Whatever case may be made for honoring graduates after they have (successfully) put in their time, it has always seemed to me to be the height of silliness to honor people ceremoniously for something which, in so many cases, they had no choice about doing (or at least little merit in doing), and—far worse—something that had contributed to their indoctrination in the modern ideological and secularist prejudices against Christ and His Church.

Indeed, the more the values and commitments of Western education have declined into the absurd, the more stupid I have found commencement exercises to be. By now I am a seasoned cynic—but then I never emerged from a school that really cared two hoots about the state of my soul, or that I cared about in any positive spiritual way. Besides, an aversion to ceremony is truly one of my many psychological shortcomings. The aversion is not fair to those who wish to establish perfectly reasonable and fondly congratulatory rites of passage, so I generally let my wife decide which ceremonies I should be pleased and proud to attend. I mean apart from daily Mass, which I actually figured out for myself.

The real thing

As absurd as my own prejudices may be, at least a graduation from high school is the first graduation in which a student can participate without being forced all the way through his program of studies by law. In most places, there is a thin sliver of time between the end of compulsory education and high school graduation, even if a student sees it through primarily as a matter of parental guidance. Had I ever attended a school that really tried to form me as a Catholic man, with teachers who actually cared about the state of my soul, I might feel very differently about graduation ceremonies today. In any case, I am happy to report that Seton’s graduation ceremony, which began with a solemn Mass, was everything an authentically Catholic graduation ceremony should be.

The first thing one noticed was that there were nine priests concelebrating the graduation Mass, each of whom had spent time over the past six years (7th through 12th grade) helping to form the graduating students in their Faith. For the students, this was a leave-taking from a spiritually formative school environment, and at least to some extent a parting from close friends who had played their own role in that formation. This in itself goes a long way toward explaining why so many graduates eventually return to send their children to this same school—a school of genuine instruction, significant thought, moral reflection, and prayer. Even the best formation doesn’t “take” with everybody, of course, but the parents who have sent their children to Seton owe the school an immense debt, and that debt is tested and proven by the tendency of the graduates not only to grow in faith beyond graduation day but also to return to the local area so that their own children can reap the same spiritual and intellectual benefits. This is something that often happens with colleges, of course, and most often for the wrong reasons—but seldom with high schools, or for the right reasons.

The homily by Fr. Noah Morey and the commencement address by the principal celebrant, Fr. Paul Scalia, were models of what should be emphasized on the occasion of graduation from a Catholic school—and of the joy and humor which should mark such an occasion. The student speeches were upbeat and deeply spiritual at the same time, as was the charge to graduates by Mrs. Carroll. There was the school choir to enhance the occasion, with the director also serving as organist. The congregation for Mass (and audience for the commencement ceremony) was full of joyfully dedicated Catholic families, often including three generations and many siblings of the graduates—whose parents care more deeply than they could express on that day about God, their Church, and the eternal lives of their children.

Because Christ Jesus has made me his own

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul wrote something that could have been an address to high school graduates:

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [3:8-14]

It is precisely this sort of preparation that we should want our children to receive as they are educated in every good thing. And it is only this that justifies our sacrifices to give them a good education. It is true that high school graduates often have youthful enthusiasm, but they seldom have St. Paul’s brand of enthusiasm. Yet as with all the truly great schools around the world, Seton graduates, along with their teachers and their families, give strong evidence of precisely this sort of enthusiasm. Perhaps most of the students have not yet felt they were being crucified with Christ. But their preparation is right, their hope is infectious, and—in a great many cases, at least—their enduring courage has already begun to show.

As I have written in the past, so here again do I emphasize that parents are called by God to sacrifice precisely for this, and grandparents and other relations are called by God to help financially if they can. Indeed, if we have not yet formed and educated our own children with attachment to Christ as our first priority, we have not fully understood the meaning of marriage. Yet even if it is now too late to educate, it is still not too late to pray.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Jun. 05, 2024 6:34 PM ET USA

    If I were so fortunate to live in the area, I would have tried by hook or by crook to have heard Fr. Scalia speak. Aside from owning his books, I never fail to learn from his occasional contributions at The Catholic Thing. I can imagine in a distant future that people might be surprised to learn that his father was once a Supreme Court Justice.