Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

A Parent's Blueprint for Making Youth Holy

by Rev. Daniel Egan, S.A.


The following document by Fr. Daniel Egan was originally delivered at the 1956 Proceedings of the National Catholic Conference on Family Life. Fr. Egan explains that because one of the primary ends of marriage is the sanctification of children, Christians who validly enter the state of Matrimony, are guaranteed, not only Sanctifying Grace, but also a special sacramental grace to assist them in the sanctification of their children. It is the sanctified youth who are the hope for the future.

Larger Work

Sanctity & Success in Marriage


180 – 189

Publisher & Date

Family Life Bureau, Washington, DC, 1956

No thinking person would question the truth of the statement that youth is our hope for the future. But not just any youth. Certainly not immoral youth, godless youth, delinquent youth. The future strength of our great nation will depend on youth who are morally strong; a God-loving, God-fearing, God-conscious youth; a prayerful, spiritualized youth with enough Catholic character to lead and not be led. Under God, only parents can bless our future with such youth. But, equally true, not just any parents. With rare exceptions, only holy and happy parents can truly sanctify their children. Therefore it all goes back to its God-ordained source: Our hope for the future lies in happy and sanctified marriages.

Catholic Schools Wasted Unless Parents Succeed

Today, the Church in the United States has invested billions of dollars in its educational system. Thousands of priests and religious are devoting their very lives to the education of youth. And all this is aimed not merely at imparting knowledge to our youth, but ultimately for their sanctification. I am now firmly convinced that all this money, time and talent are being wasted in direct proportion as parents themselves fail in their primary responsibility to sanctify and educate their own children.

Usually when we think of youth who live lives close to God, youth who are basically and sanely holy, we think in terms of normal, happy kids who love God deeply, are aware of His Presence, treasure Sanctifying Grace, have a personal devotion to Christ's Sacred Humanity and trust Him and His Blessed Mother in all the trials of growing up. We think of kids who know how to pray, frequently feed on the Sacraments, and have a real dread and fear of sin. And yet such qualities of nature and grace are never the result of mere teaching but rather of grace and education. Parents have this grace and they are the best educators.

Education Is Not Just Facts

The qualities of real sanctity are not judged in terms of a pupil's ability to just know the various dates of Church history, the colors of the vestments at Mass or the names of the Fruits of the Holy Ghost. Knowledge is not goodness. If it were America would be a land of saints! Facts are taught. This is teaching, not education. The habitual attitude, however, of having confidence in God, of hating sin, of suffering silently for Christ Jesus — this is the result of slow, patient, wise formation. This is education. And more and more today, only a parent can do this.

Here then is the role of parents in the sanctification of youth. Those habitual Christ-like attitudes of daily living that mean real sanctity can be formed in children only with great difficulty when teacher has so much to teach, when teacher must teach so many, and when teacher is just one among a child's many other teachers. But a parent? In such normal, true-to-life situations as those found only in the home — situations that are in no way artificial — what constant, daily opportunities to really form sanctity in children!

Some Half-Parents

The bond of relationship between parents and children is not just a physical one. A child is not just "body." Neither is he just "spirit." He is body and soul. A parent, then, who continues after birth to prolong only physical life in a child is just half a parent. In fact even less than a "half-parent," because the life of the soul is of far more importance than that of the body. Actually, there are instinctive, vital relations between the souls of children and those of their parents. Above all, there is parental love which is so absolutely essential and indispensable for any deep influence and lasting formation of true character and sound spirituality. Again, only parents can form a unity in the work of sanctification. The school does it in disjointed, tiny bits. Would to God that more and more parents were aware of this!

In the literature of modern education we read much about children being "conditioned" by environment. Now if one could be a "Catholic determinist," he could say most certainly that parents in the sacramental state of Holy Matrimony are endowed by both nature and grace to create the most suitable possible atmosphere and climate to "condition" children for true sanctity. So important, for example, is geographical climate that it is safe to say that everything about a country from food to people is conditioned by its climate. On the strictly spiritual level we can say, with few exceptions, that the climate of sanctity, happiness and love created by parents in their own marriage will do more to "condition" and "determine" the sanctity of youth than any other influence.

And yet, what do we see today? Today, like an ugly cancer, godless and unhappy marriages are eating away at the very life of our great nation. Though its deadly sickness reveals itself in countless different evils, there is one new symptom that has begun to frighten me.

Youth Sneer at Sanctity in Marriage

I conduct many high school retreats and teen-age missions during the year. I've been doing this for more than ten years. In giving my conferences I always try to stand as close as I can to the kids to study their reactions as I talk. Believe me, more and more today I am shocked, disturbed and frightened at the sneering, cynical smiles of far too many of today's adolescents whenever I begin to speak of happiness and sanctity in the marriage state.

This, I say, is a frightening symptom of what an ever increasing number of modern youth — yes, even Catholic youth — are actually thinking of marriage. Now, it would be useless to correct the "sneering" unless we first removed the cause. Causal therapy is far more lasting than anything that is only symptomatic. When youth observe day in and day out marriages that are everything but happy and sacred, then little wonder that I'm greeted with sneers and cynical smiles when I tell them otherwise. If looks could speak, many kids are telling me "Father, that's for the birds!"

Perhaps it is too late to change the attitudes and thinking habits of an alarming number of present day married couples about happiness and sanctity in marriage; but with God's help we must begin at once, by every possible methodology, to literally force young people to admit long, long before matrimony that in a happy marriage husband and wife can achieve a very high degree of sanctity and that through them children are to be sanctified. Only in this way can we stem the tide of bad marriages with all its ugly backwash of divorces and separations, broken homes and rejected children, juvenile delinquency and untold leakage from the Church. Only in this way can we prevent the thousand and one other evils of which we are all aware. And only in this way, too, can our youth be sanctified and the very wellsprings of our future purified and preserved.

In case anyone were to doubt the positive role of parents in the sanctification of youth, it may be well to remember that this is actually one of the primary ends of marriage. And because it is, Our Blessed Lord has mercifully arranged it so that every valid, Christian marriage guarantees husband and wife all the graces they need to cooperate in their children's sanctification. This is so, because it is impossible to have a valid Christian marriage without its being a holy Sacrament. The contract is the Sacrament. The mutual consent is the outward sign which gives grace. That is why those making this contract confer the Sacrament on each other. The priest is just the witness.

Perhaps we have grown so used to these words of the Catechism that we have lost our appreciation for the tremendous thing that really happens when two Christians enter a valid contract of marriage. That the Sacrament of Marriage contains and confers grace in the soul of its recipients is a dogma of faith defined by the Council of Trent. The Church further teaches that the Sacrament of Marriage confers grace to the soul of husband and wife by the very objective power of the sacramental rite so long as no impediment is placed in the way. This rite is the valid, mutual, free consent of the contracting Christian parties. Once this is done, Sanctifying Grace flows into the soul of each party, not by virtue of their own personal disposition, but by the very contract itself.

The Sacrament Gives More Than Sanctifying Grace

All this would be most wonderful by itself, but there's even more. It seems there's no limit to what God will do to help parents sanctify their children. No wonder Saint James tells us "God is able to make all Grace abound in you!" It is difficult, even in exact theological terminology, to describe anything as "more" than Sanctifying Grace. For what human words could describe such a priceless possession! But actually, the Sacrament of Marriage does give something more. It gives to its recipients a special Sacramental Grace, which is "identical with Sanctifying Grace with an adoption toward the effectiveness of the particular Sacrament." In the words of St. Thomas "Sacramental Grace adds to Sanctifying Grace something that produces a special effect to which the Sacrament is ordained."

In other words, husband and wife do not receive all the grace of the Sacrament at one time. Rather, once they enter this sacramental state they have the right to receive all the actual graces especially needed to fulfill the ends of marriage.

But one of the final ends of marriage is the sanctification of children. Therefore, parents must receive the actual graces to accomplish that end! They receive those sacramental graces as they are needed and when they are needed.

We see, then, how the Sacrament of Marriage gives to parents far more than a mere physical relationship with their children. It actually establishes a relationship of grace. But "grace begets grace." This is a theological axiom. Who then could belittle the role of parents in the sanctification of youth! By nature and by grace, Christian fathers and mothers in a valid marriage are God's human instruments of grace. They not only sanctify each other, but most certainly sanctify their children.

Parents — Greatest Human Agency for Sanctity

Because of all this we are safe in saying that, more than any other human agency, parents are the special instruments of Divine Providence to help youth grow in sanctity. More than any retreat or mission, more than any spiritual book of exercise, yes, more than any priest or religious, parents themselves, in Holy Marriage, can lead their own children so very close to God. They can do this by the graces they channel into the souls of their children and by the power of example.

When I think of parents who are really holy and therefore close to God, I think of them as possessing certain very definite qualities — the possession of which will almost certainly dispose their children to true sanctity.

Parents Must Be Happy in Marriage

First of all, because happiness and holiness go together, I think of a father and mother who are sincerely happy in marriage. This happiness is so sincere and real that their children know they're happy. And when children know their parents are happy, there are fewer sneers when one speaks to them about happiness in marriage. This happiness is revealed in small and little ways that children long remember — like husband and wife kissing each other in their children's presence. Not a "peck on the cheek" that becomes "duty" or, rather, custom. Instead, a real loving embrace of pure affection. True, as physical charms disappear with the years, physical attraction lessens; but equally true, real love is supposed to deepen and mellow with age. Children should certainly be shown this.

Parents Really Love Children

Secondly, when I think of parents sanctifying their children, I think of them as blessed with all terms of St. Paul's definition of true charity. Yes, for God's sake, and because children are "flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone," they really love their children and want them around. They love them enough to punish them when necessary, but remedially and not vindictively. To make the punishment fit the crime and to love even while punishing.

Never to paralyze them with love, but to love them in such a way that kids will really feel wanted, loved and part of the family. This kind of parental love is shown to youth in ways more convincing than cooking, washing, ironing, making beds and handing out money. It is revealed in a look on a parent's face, a tone of voice, a word of encouragement, and an occasional hug.

St. Paul says that "Charity is patient . . . it is kind . . ." This Christian charity in the home will do more to sanctify than all the forced attendance at the Sacraments. Children and teenagers are people. They have feelings, hurts, disappointments, successes and failures. Parents that are truly holy will, with the charity of Christ, treat them like people. Because parents are patient and kind, they will see things from their children's point of view even though they can't agree. Though almost impossible at times, they will respect and try to understand the opinions of their children. Only in this way will the children trust them with every confidence and run to them with every problem. And in spite of what some may suggest, this approach is not "softness," but truly Christ-like. It is because this "climate" is missing from the home that children too frequently find the street corner a happier place to meet with their friends. A youth would never join a "gang" if he felt understood, wanted, appreciated, respected, important, loved in his own home.

Saintly Parents — A Must

I think of the saintly parent as one who has a deep and abiding faith in God and all He has revealed. Now, more than ever before, the home must become the stronghold of faith. Faith in things unseen. Faith in things to come. Faith in the big realities that parents alone can make real to their children. It makes me almost breathless to think of all a mother and father could do by word and example to deepen their own children's faith in the reality of heaven, the Fatherhood of God, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, The Motherhood of Mary, the value of the Holy Mass, and the Sacraments, the terrible evil of mortal sin. The world's greatest preachers and teachers just fade into insignificance when compared to a parent's power to sanctify children!

They Trust God

Fourthly, a holy parent is one with an attitude of unwavering confidence in God. Parents who are themselves personally convinced that God does love them, cares for them, knows what's best for them — such parents are bound to instill in their children the same attitude. This attitude of loving abandonment to God's Holy Will is basic to sanctity, and it's an attitude that no school could ever teach. Parents greeting trials, crosses, sickness and disappointments as the will of God's Good Pleasure can do more to bring children closer to God than all the disjointed May processions or Stations of the Cross that may not be God's Holy Will!

Be God-Conscious

Fifthly, parents who live holy lives will sanctify their children by bringing a consciousness of God into their own lives. If God is just someone to keep on reserve, to run to in trouble and to forget in prosperity, then what "consciousness of God" will children develop? Saintly parents will, without making it odious, frequently speak about God with reverential informality. By so doing they will educate children into knowing, admitting, accepting and living this basic fact that God alone is the All-Important Reality. Too many parents are ashamed to "informally" but reverently bring Him into their conversation. Even in their own home! What a blessed joy, privilege and responsibility it is for parents to discuss things — like movies, dates, styles, political and social issues — from God's point of view.

Know How to Pray

Finally, only those parents can sanctify children who know how to pray. When parents have taught their growing children how to pray, because they have first taught them to know and love the good God to Whom they are speaking, then they have "educated" their children in the greatest of all sciences. For, as St. Augustine assures us, "If you pray well, you will live well, if you live well, you will die well, and if you die well, then, all is well!"

To put it all in a summary, then, we are on the surest of theological grounds in stating that because one of the primary ends of marriage is the sanctification of children, Christians who validly enter that state and put no obstacle in the way are guaranteed, not only Sanctifying Grace, but a very special sacramental grace to enable them to sanctify their children. Youth who are thus sanctified are our whole hope, under God, for the future.

© Family Life Bureau

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