Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

19. On the Way

by Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty

Descriptive Title

On the Way


Chapter Nineteen of Cardinal Mindszenty's book, The Mother.

Larger Work

The Mother



Publisher & Date

Radio Replies Press, 1949

Man is the great wanderer between two worlds. Man has hardly seen the light of day when he must enroll himself among the innumerable host of pilgrims and wanderers who are on the way to their goal. There is no standstill. Always forward, always on the way. Throngs of nameless, unknown people are crowding you, for they too wish to come into existence.

The Divine Will is not satisfied that a mother should merely place her child on the great road of life. She should take it by the hand, lead and guide it, until it can go on by itself. In his usually terse manner, St. Thomas says the same thing: "Nature does not merely desire that the mother give birth to the child, but that it be educated by its parents." The law of the church says that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation, and almost in the same breath she speaks about education. This is designated as the most difficult task of parents. If a child is a priceless treasure, and at the same time a fragile treasure, then it is evident what a great grace God has granted anyone to whom God has entrusted the education of a child. A woman becomes a mother, not only by giving birth, but also by a correct education. Education is really the crowning-work of motherhood.

The School Before School

The family, and especially, the mother, is the foundation and groundwork of education, and all later development of the child. It is here really that the decision is made as to what use the child will make of its inherent talents and abilities. The father is away from home most of the day; so the greater part of the burden of educating the child rests upon the mother. In its early years, the child is almost exclusively dependent upon the mother for its bodily care and formation; even its spiritual development is in the hands of the mother. In fact she is everything to the small child. "She is the Rector Magnificus, the whole university, she is the Socrates of the little child's first ideas. She is the John Baptist leading the child to the Savior. She is the Mother of the Lord, teaching the child about Our Father in heaven." These comparisons of Bishop Michael Sailer (1751-1832) could be carried on even further. St. John Chrysostom expresses this thought when he writes: "There is no greater work than the formation of the souls of youth and establishing them in virtue."

The education of the child begins immediately after its birth. To start later would mean that some things would be neglected. For even the suckling child has its character. It is born into the world with its mental, spiritual, and bodily talents, which make their appearance after the manner of wild shoots. Like a capable gardener, the wise mother must know how to prune the false growths from the very beginning. The first years of life are of extraordinary importance for the future. Culture, knowledge, and foreign languages can be learned later on, but the child will never have a warm heart and a solid background in life, unless they are implanted in childhood.

A foundation of Christian education really makes for the development of the whole man, body and soul. These considerations must be kept in mind in educating the child in the home. Body and soul should mature in harmony for the glory of God and the happiness of man.

Hardened From Childhood

Rearing the body even before self-consciousness begins consists in preserving and protecting the health and life of the child. The mother should gradually train the child to keep order, and to subordinate its bodily necessities to the spiritual. There is no need to make the child a buddhistic ascetic who despises his body, nor a materialist who denies the existence of his soul. She should train the child to become a mature Christian who endeavors to harmonize body and soul, for both are gifts of God.

The human body has great dignity. The mother should be mindful of this from the very beginning of its development. She is the representative of Divine Providence. She should treat and touch the body of the child as something sacred. When it is put to bed, nursed, bathed or clothed, the mother should sense some of that great reverence which is unwittingly felt by the child. The child senses, even if it cannot judge, how it is touched or handled. From early childhood it should be taught self-discipline and sacrifice. Too much pampering of a child is the result of vanity, not of a real love for the child.

Training of the body is at the same time training of the soul. In early childhood the mother should begin to observe the spiritual emotions of her child, encourage and fashion them. Between the ages of three and six, the child's consciousness of its own personality is awakened. It seeks truth with elementary energy. By continual and almost uninterrupted questions it tries to acquire the knowledge of adults. It is rather difficult for the tired parents always to give the correct answers to its endless questions. A real mother will forget her fatigue. She will make use of these never ending questions as part of the mental and spiritual education of her child. She should be a servant of truth for the little questioner. No question should go unanswered, yet in such a way that the child can understand. It is no answer merely to throw out some superior adult knowledge. The answer should be formulated according to the mental capacity of the child. And who understands this better than the mother? So these questions may serve as part of its education.

The Child Requires An Answer

The child requires an answer to questions asked much sooner than one would expect. It requires answers about what is beautiful, good, and true, about God, the soul, death and the hereafter. Mecs relates that "his mother secretly taught him the name of God." Evil awakens in the child even before it is realized. With the first glimmer of reason-in fact, as soon as it begins to lisp, the child should be made acquainted with all that is heavenly. This is the time to relate the story of the Infant Jesus, for the child will sense its sacredness. This is the time to teach it to pray, not so much in words, for that has already been taught, but to pray with its heart. Children understand this well enough. After his father's death St. Clement Hofbauer's mother took and placed him before a large crucifix and said: "From now on. He must be your father." He never forgot these words.

The saints of any age are always models for children. St. Francis de Sales relates, that as a child his mother had frequently read the lives of the saints to him. St. Theresa was filled with such zeal by reading the lives of the saints that she ran away from home to go to the pagans, and die as a martyr. Erna Haider (1916-1924), the child saint, had a special veneration for her Guardian Angel, and confessed her daily faults to him every night. Children are inclined to remember more easily the story of a saint than long and learned exhortations. "As they acted, so I will act, or rather, so I would like to act."

There is so much discussion of education in our day, and yet there was hardly a time when so little is done about it. We are building upon sand, and not upon the rock. Educate your child to be a child of God, to be a Christian, not only in name, but from the heart, and the main part of your duty is done. Nothing can take the place of faith. The mental and spiritual faculties grow in harmony when based on faith. When once we have trained children to avoid sin, to fear God with reverence, and to love virtue, then little remains to be done. True, these words are like a well-worn coin, but we should know how to give them a new and deeper meaning. It is wonderful to know God, to adore Him, and live according to His Holy Will. The words of Holy Writ are here applicable: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you."

The mother must therefore pray for herself and for her child, for the spirit of fortitude, that she may not be dominated by the weakness of her child, but that like a good pilot she may steer clear of the breakers.

A most solid foundation is required for the future. Even though a child may reach old age, it will never lose sight of these first principles. De Maistre expresses it in this manner. "When a mother makes it her foremost duty to sign the child with the sign of the cross, then she can be certain that the hand of sin will never rub it away."

The Strong Hand

We must here express our opinion definitely about discipline and control. St. Paul said: "Bring up your children in the discipline of the Lord." The child that grows up without discipline will bring only shame upon the mother. If you have children, teach them from youth, "Folly is bound up in the heart of the child, and the rod of correction shall drive it away." The Church has always condemned naturalism, which humors the whims of the child, and instead of making it a free child of God, forces it into the slavery of its passions. It is fatal heresy to believe that a child will be good if it is allowed to grow up as it will. Such a child will be like a wild tree or a wild weed.

Baron William Ketteler (1811-1877) relates that his mother clothed him and his brothers, winter and summer, in and out of the house, in coarse woolen suits. After their eighteenth birthday they were allowed to wear overcoats. They were obliged to rise at an early hour. When they missed their lessons, they were deprived of their favorite dish. In spring, although the water was still cold, they were obliged to bathe out in the open. "She disregarded our complaints about not feeling well. Under such discipline we grew up to be men who accomplished something in life." In after years, Ketteler looked back with pride to his youthful days. "What a boy I was!" he exclaimed, after he was Bishop of Mainz and social reformer. The block of marble must be cut with a hard chisel, if it is to be a work of art.

Christopher Schmid (1768-1854) relates that his mother accustomed him and his five brothers, to eat every kind of food. "She told us that some adults would not eat beef, other refused to eat vegetables, although they were healthy food. This is a sign, she said, that such people were poorly trained. Such habits should not be acquired. We had breakfast, dinner, lunch and supper, but not a bite between meals. That was out of the question."

Children have no reason to be out on the streets after the evening Angelus. This time belongs to the powers of evil. If they do not return home immediately, they are in danger of falling into sin.

A wise mother will know how to keep order even while they are at play. While they are playing, they may bump their heads against the table, or fall against a chair, and begin to cry, but the mother should not scold the wicked table or chair. The child should learn to endure, and to take more care the next time. Too much sympathy is harmful. "Until you get married, nothing should hurt you."

Purity Of Soul

The mother should be concerned, most of all, about the purity of the soul of her child. She knows well enough that purity and cleanliness are the requirements of a real character. The purity of a child's soul is like a clear crystal. A breath will dull its luster. She must never imagine that a small child does not understand this. Her ear should always be ready to listen when the children are at play. Everything must be avoided, that might arouse the passions of the child, that might make it a weakling or a dreamer. Coffee, tea, wine, beer, condiments, sitting too long, loneliness, warm baths are all questionable for children. Here we should like to say a word about home conditions. Poor people are often forced to permit children to sleep in the same bed. Wherever possible this should never be allowed. According to the opinion of pedagogues, sixty per cent of all children pass through a severe moral crisis between the age of three and six. Children may sin against the sixth commandment without the parents realizing it. Too much embracing and loving among children is often dangerous and harmful. To be a bit harsh in this regard will not be out of place. Would that all mothers had the gift of raising their children with a sense of fine morality and modesty.

Dances And Sports

In keeping with the above, we wish to speak about dances and amusements.

Dancing has been severely criticized by the Fathers of the Church. Tertullian calls dance halls the temples of Venus, while St. Ambrose speaks of them as the coffin of innocence and the grave of modesty. Dancing is also mentioned as dangerous in Holy Scripture. St. John the Baptist was beheaded at the wish of the dancing daughter of Herodias.

What is our opinion about dances in modern times? It is somewhat more lenient. The thoughtful man will realize that dancing at an early age, visiting places of amusement at too early an age, are dangerous to the lilies of modesty and morality. The modern dance is to a great extent silly wantonness, and on the other hand, it has certain hidden moral dangers. Dancing is intended for the amusement of the sexes, it is an erotic intoxication with rhythmic movement. Lady vanity and the desire to please, play a large part in it. The opinion of Rathgeber is correct, when he says: "While the smoking of the men and the perfume of the ladies tire out the dancer, the music arouses him anew. The warm body is further heated by the alcohol, though it should cool him off. The dancer loses his self control, and his rising passion with its wanton desires destroys the lilies." This may happen while waltzing as well as during the more modern dances.

In spite of all this, we do not forbid all dancing. There is such a thing as beautiful, heart warming dancing, in which even the angels in heaven can find pleasure, and which rejoices the heart of God. Scripture tells us that, "King David danced in the joy of his heart, before the ark of the covenant." Dancing is, therefore, an expression of joy. The Middle Ages tell us about a dancer and musician of Our Blessed Lady. The proverb could be well applied here: "To the pure all is pure, to the impure, nothing is sacred."

The Psalmist says: "Blessed is the people that knoweth jubilation." May our young people dance and be happy. It would be a very good thing if the old folk-dances could be revived, where the mothers kept a watchful eye on the dancers. It is not our task to judge the various styles of dance. This is the duty of Christians living in the world. Children well instructed in the faith, who have grown up in the fear of God, will solve this problem after the manner of the children of God. Take Christ along to your amusements and dances. Then there will be no room for the evil spirits, and your joy will be untroubled.

A word on sports is here in place. Reasonable care of the body is not only a question of health, but of duty. If a girl's body is made strong and well developed, it will be easier for her to undergo the pains of motherhood. For this reason our youth should take up sports. But it should be not merely sport, for sport's sake, but always within reason. When sports are carried to excess they only too often leave a void in the soul. After all, the formation of the soul is far more important. Sports should keep the body well disciplined, so that it may serve the soul as it ought.

The Child Must Obey

In the home where the fear of God and the love of children exist, parental authority reigns as the most solid of all human authority if it is founded, not on severity, but on love, goodness, and mutual confidence. But we cannot conclude from this that parental authority must be without all severity. For Holy Scripture says: "Hast thou children? Instruct them, and bow down their neck from their childhood. Hast thou daughters? Have a care of their bodies." And if you have sons, keep them always in the way of obedience, so that they may be a source of joy to you in your old age; and the same time you will be protecting them against many dangers to the soul. The child raised with strictness will have greater resistance in life. But punishment must always be wise and just. The guilty child must see that it deserves punishment, and that it hurts the parent to inflict it. When your anger is aroused, whether father or mother, do not punish; do not punish beyond measure, and do not lose your self-control. Do not scold intemperately, it will do little or no good. Take the culprit aside, and talk it over with him. Then the child will realize that love and your desire for his welfare causes you to apply the rod occasionally.

There is also a time to reward your children. The renowned historian, J. Janssen, as a child made a pilgrimage with his mother to Kevelaar. While there, his mother presented him with a book, "History of the German People" by Annegarn as a reward for his diligence. Without this gift from his mother, he might never have become so renowned a scholar. But no reward should be offered for tasks which duty obliges them to do. The child should learn to work without selfishness.

It is also part of parental authority that the children never be deceived by their mother. The child expects greatness and purity of heart in the mother. Real authority has no need of paint and powder, special care of fingers and nails. When a child catches the parents in a lie, then its whole world is broken down.

There must be no partiality shown, preferring one child to another. This business of "favoritism" is the ruin of all education and is a sin against God and nature. As a result, some of the children go to the bad and the rest are at least embittered.

Between Childhood And Adolescence

The mother has an important and difficult task during the years of adolescence. During this period there are so many unanswered questions arising in the mind of this young human being. He no longer understands himself. The period between boyhood and manhood, between girlhood and womanhood, resembles an unsettled spring day, which wavers between winter and summer, and is undecided which way to turn. There are two dangerous and critical periods through which the experienced hand of a mother can carry her children. The first is friendship and the second, the awakening of love.

A wise mother knows how to choose companions for her children, preferring those who are religious minded, brave and clean of soul, weeding out and keeping away the spoiled and soiled. How many young people would have been ruined, had not the experienced hand of mother shown them the right path. When once the crystal of the soul is broken then they will sorrowfully exclaim: "O, that I still had a mother . . ."

At the time of adolescence, between twelve and fourteen, children have a natural urge for companionship. It could be said jestingly that, "boys run in herds." At about this time, they lose their childish softness. They are no longer so closely attached to brothers and sisters. The family tie is somewhat relaxed. Stubbornness and wilfulness are more apparent. A word from an understanding mother is sometimes the only thing that makes them pause. A wise mother will also imperceptibly have a helpful influence on the friend of her child.

During this period of adolescence when, according to Shakespeare, the fiery footed steeds snort with impatience, and the passions try to gallop away, then the mother has a hard task before her, whether the child is going to school, or has finished school. Educating a child from the first to the seventh year is not easy, but it is really difficult in the critical years of adolescence. Holy Writ says: "Three things are hard to me, and the fourth I am utterly ignorant of. The way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man in his youth."

From the fourteenth to the sixteenth year, important changes take place in the body and soul of youth. New ideas come into view for him. Desires and yearnings arise within him, of which he had no knowledge before. The must is beginning to ferment, to produce a noble wine. The hot blood of life's springtime is pulsing in his veins. A feverish unrest takes possession of him. It is somewhat like early morning in the mountains, when the nebulous fog floats hither and thither, until it is dispersed by the bright sun.

First Love

The experience of a first love is a positive factor not only in the life of young people, but also for the mother. Her heart beats faster with love and anxiety. She trembles and is in fear at the thought that her child may slip and fall, that bad companions may ruin all that she had built up through the years with such untiring diligence. Mother never for a moment imagines that her son is subject only to the father, for she realizes that just at this time he doubly needs the understanding love of a mother. The interior restlessness of the youth is also manifested outwardly. His mother understands this also, and is not thereby estranged from him.

The best friend of a young man is, and will always be, his own mother. It is one of the most severe tests of maternal strength to relinquish part of her maternal authority in order to meet her son and his problems in a new way. For her child has grown into manhood, and wishes to be taken seriously. Everything reminding him of his childhood is repugnant to him. It is possible, too, that having finished with his childhood, he would also like to get along without his parents. The young man must take a new stand in regard to the world and his parents. But the mother has counted on that interior change. She meets her adolescent child with greater freedom, she loosens the reins to a certain degree, and by this very fact, she binds her children ever more closely to herself. The less a mother wishes to let her children go the more she loses them. By giving her boy his freedom, she helps him to attain his own independence. He must learn to act from his inner convictions, and not merely because mother has impressed them upon him. He must build his life upon his own convictions.

When once the mother takes a great-hearted, self-sacrificing stand towards her adolescent child, then she will become a mother to him for the second time and she will become the confidante of his secrets, the friend he wishes to consult. In this way the new powers of a growing love may be a blessing for both. For example, it may produce a greater desire to fulfill their obligations, a greater love of good order, a greater self-respect and better behavior.

Pious mothers must above all take care not to force religion upon the adolescent youth. During these days, youth must experience the freedom and glory of being children of God. Youth must learn to be proud of being a Christian-not because the parents wish it, but because he is interiorly convinced of it himself.

To a young man in love, home should be dearer than ever. This wonderful experience of first love will radiate everywhere. The mother is acquainted with this love, but the young man has only a faint inkling of its meaning. She knows the dangers of love; therefore she can lead the way. She will teach him not only negatively by prohibitions, but by her motherly affection lead him to control his passions in his love for his beloved. For the hearts of the lovers are similar to the two poles of an electric arc lamp. When the two poles are at a proper distance apart and kept there, then the electric spark passes from one to the other and gives light and heat. Should the poles be brought too close to one another, they burn up, and only a charred coal remains. And education being the art of arts, it has a very particular and practical application to these days of company keeping.


In modern times there is a tendency to give rather too much than too little information about sex matters. And often this tends rather to awaken than to control the wild fire of passions. A Christian mother will have the conviction that knowledge of these matters should remain in terms of a child's world for as long a time as possible. Enlightenment at too early an age may be very harmful. When the proper age has arrived to explain matters of sex, then nature is ready to use these powers intelligently. This enlightenment is not the office of the school, it should not be taught by questionable magazines for youth. These matters are best explained "under four eyes." But the proper moment must be prepared. If the education of the child was properly supervised, then the parents will be the proper persons to instruct their children. The mother has the greatest portion of the task. Next to the pastor, she is the chosen messenger. She should explain that the body is sacred, a wonder of God's creation, that God has given the body certain sacred functions, and that the awakened passions must be used only to attain a more noble purpose. If the mother does not fully understand her child, then she should have recourse to prayer. By prayer she can in a quiet, unobtrusive manner help her children and bring them strength. We do not wish to denounce all novels and romances as unfit for young people's reading but we do wish to admonish youth to read with discrimination and within due limits. According to Manzoni, the world is sufficiently full of sensual love without our adding to it by an inordinate perusal of love stories. But the modern youth is book hungry. According to statistics published by Wilfrid Zsak, five books a month are read by the average young person. We would also remind you that the reading of bad literature will not be stopped by merely forbidding it-what is forbidden has a certain glamour- but by giving youth better literature from Catholic sources. The treasures are there for the taking, but they must be used.

One word more about work. During the years of adolescence work is the salt of life. The devil's busy time is not while you are working, but during your idle hours. When you are not busy at work, the devil will find work for idle hands to do. There are opportunities at hand for him to seize. We must therefore flee idleness. Sloth is the devil's pillow. St. Augustine confesses that he sinned most in his youth when he had little or nothing to do. As a child, St. Notburga was always given some work to do, suitable to her strength. Her mother was heard to say: "It is true that I derive little benefit from her work, but she profits, she learns to work." I know of no more charming picture than to see a mother gradually introducing her growing daughter to all kinds of work. How proud the young girl when she is permitted for the first time, to cook a meal by herself! Working together, hand in hand, brings them closer to one another than long conversations. The ground prepared by work accepts the seed more easily, and gives promise of a hundred-fold harvest.

Wise Instructress

There are many things that might still be said, but we pass "them over. But one thing I cannot leave unsaid. The mother must always accept her child as an independent personality. For education does not consist in demands and commands, but in winning and serving. When you forbid, the child should realize that you are right. As the sun is not in the heavens to burn up everything violently with its rays, but to give light and heat, so the mother must radiate unselfish warmth and love.

Still all the natural means employed will not be sufficient to ward off all possible dangers, or bring the child through them safe and sound. And all the spiritual seed that has been planted in its soul must pass through a crisis. All childish forms of belief must be eliminated and replaced by a solid faith. It is of the utmost importance that adolescent youth establish a correct relationship with Christ, that youth be firmly anchored to God in the fulness of faith. The Gospels should therefore be placed in the hands of every youth. Young people should be practicing Catholics, living with the Church, receiving the sacraments, and taking part in the celebration of special feasts of the Church. These are helps not sufficiently appreciated during the time of youthful probation.

Now the time has arrived for self-education in life. The parents are no longer the center of the young folks' life. Now the results of their instructions, the strength of the foundation, begin to show. It can be seen what principles the parents have instilled into the soul of their child. "The apple does not fall far from the tree." Fortunate, indeed, if the golden key of mutual confidence has not been lost! The child takes its first growth at the breast of its mother. In the arms of its mother it dreams the sweet dreams of childhood; from its mother's lips it hears sweet words of love; the eye of its mother watches over it, the hand of its mother guides it safely, and binds it to her heart by the tender bonds of love.

Mother And Confidante

It is our hope and wish that the mother will always be a good understanding mother to her adolescent child. While her child is small, she must be small. When it is growing, she must know how to be young; when it is adolescent, she must learn the difficult art of retaining its friendship. How wonderful the development of the child, how wonderful the understanding and the development of the mother with the child! She is always present by her influence, like the sun, shining every day, but not always in the same way. A word of admonition from her can disarm the restive soul, her tears can soften hardened hearts. There is no power, no influence upon earth, that equals hers.

The soft hand of the mother, like an artist, forms the helpless, small, newborn child. She awakens its soul, teaches it to walk, helps it to talk, fills its soul with all the treasures in her possession, until only love remains, and that she dispenses constantly. It is owing to this blessed sacred, kindly hand that we are able to believe in beauty and goodness. That love and home are words of deep meaning to us. To her we owe it that we have not been cast out upon the world like wolves rushing from their lair, ready to tear to pieces anything that crosses their path. Hers is the only hand that gives constantly, without making demands. She can even bear with her boy of fourteen or fifteen as he rudely repulses her because he does not wish to be considered a child in the company of his friends. Though repulsed a thousand times, though beaten a thousand times, and mocked for an old fool, she still stretches out her trembling hand to bless. She is present when we have become great, and the world honors us. She is also to be seen when her son may have become even the most despised man in the world. She only knows the cry of her heart: "You are my child."

There is no more glorious thought of God, than to recall the kindly hand of mother. We must look up to her in prayerful reverence. Even when grown up and mature, we must, like pious pilgrims, again and again make our pilgrimage back to the shrine of "Mother."

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