Authentic Education within the Family
“TOWARDS a Better Education of Children” is the title of chapter seven of Pope Francis’ The Joy of Love. The pope asserts that “parents always influence the moral development of their children, for better or for worse.” Thus, it follows that they “should take up this essential role and carry it out consciously, enthusiastically, reasonably and appropriately” (259), employing both traditional and newer methods to guide their children.
One find an interesting and pedagogically insightful section in which Francis clearly states that “obsession, however, is not education. We cannot control every situation that a child may experience…. If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements, they will seek only to dominate space” (261).
“But this is no way to educate, strengthen and prepare their children to face challenges. What is most important is the ability to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy” (261). Pope Francis asks parents to genuinely appreciate where their children are on their journey to maturity.
Sex Education in the Family.“The Need for Sex Education” is the title of a lengthy section (280-286) in The Joy of Love. It begins by recalling that the Second Vatican Council spoke of the need for “a positive and prudent sex education” (280) to be imparted to children and adolescents.
This challenge for families is great. “It is not easy to approach the issue of sex education in an age where sexuality tends to be trivialized and impoverished.” The task must be seen “within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving” (280).
Within this delicate and urgent responsibility, care must be taken not to limit sex education to mechanization or purely physical aspects that focus primarily on “protection” through the practice of “safe sex” (283). Such an approach could convey “a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were any enemy to be protected against” (283).The goal must be to teach “sensitivity to different expressions of love, mutual concern and care, loving respect and deeply meaningful communication” (283).
Faith Formation in the Family. In a section devoted to passing on the faith, Pope Francis provides many helpful insights. “Raising children calls for an orderly process of handing on the faith” (287). This process has to be adapted “to each child…. Children need symbols, actions and stories” (288).
“Parents desirous of nurturing the faith of their children are sensitive to their patterns of growth, for they know that spiritual experience is not imposed but freely proposed. It is essential that children actually see that, for their parents, prayer is something truly important. Hence, moments of family prayer and acts of devotion can be more powerful for evangelization than any catechism class or sermon” (288).
The family is to be “an agent of pastoral activity through its explicit proclamation of the Gospel and its legacy of varied forms of witness” (290). Pope Francis provides a rich and diverse list of evangelizing activities proper to the family: “solidarity with the poor, openness to a diversity of people, the protection of creation, moral and material solidarity with other families, including those most in need, commitment to the promotion of the common good and the transformation of unjust social structures, beginning in the territory in which the family lives, through the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy” (290).
Undoubtedly, the multi-faceted evangelizing role of families is both crucial and highly demanding!