attitude toward the universe as a whole, toward our earth, toward
places made by God or man is, naturally, as secularist as the current
attitude toward individual things and possessions. Few people are
brought up to look for the power and wisdom and love of the Creator in
His creation; even those scientists who recognize the "great
Mathematician" or "the great Architect of the universe" usually do not
recognize Him as a Person who is interested in mankind. To the majority
of people today, the heavens do not declare God's glory, but only man's
littleness and impotence; the wonders of heaven and earth do not invite
them to praise, but to a pagan sense of "lacrimae rerum," the tragic
fragility and passingness of all things, or still worse, to a kind of
wondering despair at the purposelessness and chanciness of nature in
all her manifestations.
As St. Bonaventure says, creation was meant to be for mankind a great
book in which we could learn about God. Civilizations other than ours
have realized in the main that this book was made to mean something,
even if they did not know the alphabet or the language. Ours, alas, is
the first to hold, as a general assumption of ordinary people, that it
is only a meaningless scrawl or, at best, a cold-blooded mathematical
We need to arm our children against this assumption as they will meet
it in their friends, in popular magazines, in literature, and even in
education. We want to equip them not only to possess, but to share with
other people the true vision of creation. The sense of the presence of
God in His universe which we try to give them must, therefore, be full
and deep and mature, rooted in faith and knowledge as well as the sense
of awe and wonder native to unspoiled childhood.
Our aim, then, is to give the children a positive sense that the
heavens are telling the glory of God. We want to give them the habit of
going from "When I consider the work of Thy hands, the moon and the
stars that Thou hast set up..." to the mystery of "What is man that
Thou art mindful of him," a mystery not of doubt that God could be
mindful, but of wondering love that He is mindful, even to making His
only Son the Head and Redeemer of mankind.
We want the children to come to appreciate all the wonders of nature as
signs of God's creative power, wisdom and love, and of His redemptive
and sanctifying love as well. We want them to learn to give God the
intelligent and loving praise for His marvelous work that only a man
can give, and to give that praise as part of the great praise which our
Lord is continually giving to His Father in the joy of the Holy Spirit.
Our special task as parents, here, is to lay in childhood the
foundations for such an attitude, and to be always ready to show the
children how to integrate into this attitude all the different kinds of
information they may acquire about the make-up of the world and the
For this purpose, we need first to see to it that the children actually
have sufficient opportunity to see God's works: the night sky, for
instance, and trees and fields and grass, and, when possible, hills and
lakes, the sea and mountains. (Here is an excellent argument for at
least some rural life for families!) Then, we need to equip ourselves
with an elementary knowledge of the natural sciences dealing with the
make-up and functioning of the universe, the solar system, our earth.
We also need a good working knowledge of the nature of Psalms, in
particular, 8, 18, 28, 64, 95, 96, 97, 103, 147, 148 and the Canticle
of the Three Children in the fiery furnace.
Equipped with such knowledge, we may be able to lead the children from
their initial wonder at, say, the sky full of stars, to a greater
wonder resulting from some real knowledge of what the stars are, their
distance from us and each other etc., to the praise of God as expressed
in human words by the Holy Spirit Himself. And if we can make it
habitual so to proceed from the observed facts of nature to the praise
of God, whenever the children's interest, some new view or piece of
knowledge, some startling event like a big storm, make it natural to do
so, then we will be laying the true and right foundations for a
life-long attitude toward all natural science.
And, as the children grow older, we can continue to deepen and broaden
the scope of this habit in all its dimensions. We can encourage the
children to observe accurately, to study and think about natural
science of all kinds (even by making collections of odd bugs or
butterflies); we can find out from bookstores or libraries where to get
more detailed scientific information about whatever most interests the
children; we can absorb enough of this information ourselves to give
the children the habit of looking first for the purpose for which God
made anything and made it the way it is; then to admire how marvelously
the design, material and functioning of the thing is adapted to this
We can continually try to complement the children's experience and
growing knowledge of nature and natural things with an ever-growing
appreciation of the way in which these things are used by our Lord and
in Holy Scripture as signs and "types" of His relations with us, of His
life in the Church, and of our lives with Him hereafter.
For example, Christian tradition has always seen the sun as a "type," a
sign of our Lord. Any child's spontaneous reaction to the wonder of a
sunrise, or of a glorious sunny day after many dark ones, can be made a
basis for some growth in the knowledge and love of our Lord as the Sun
of our lives. And any scientific knowledge about the action of the sun
on all the water of the world, for example, or in photosynthesis, can
be used as material to fill out and expand the analogy, to lead the
growing and grown-up mind and heart to God.
Perhaps our whole aim in all this can most powerfully and beautifully
be summed up in one paragraph from St. Bonaventure's "The Journey of
the Mind into God." For we want to train our children so that they will
always be free from the blindness, deafness, dumbness and stupidity he
speaks of, and train them so that they may be able to awaken others to
use all material creation as 'material for glory', for praising the
glory of God and so achieving glory themselves:
"He must be blind, then, who is not enlightened by the great splendors
of created things; he must be deaf who is not awakened by such loud
outcries; he must be dumb who does not praise God for all these effects
of His power; he must be stupid who is not led to the First Principle
by all these indications in His work.
"Open your eyes, then; listen attentively with the ears of your spirit;
move your lips and direct your heart, so that in all created things you
may see, hear, praise, love, serve, magnify and honor your God; if you
do not, the whole world may rise together against you.
"For it is for this reason that the whole world will fight against the
unwise. But for those who are wise, the world will rather become
material for glory, for those who can say with the Prophet: 'Thou hast
delighted me, Lord, with Thy making, and I will exult in the work of
Thy hands. How wonderful are Thy works, O Lord, Thou hast made every-
thing in wisdom, the earth is filled with Thy possessions.'"
But we need to show our children also how the great works of man's
hands are meant to lead our minds and hearts to God. A Christian is
crippled for God's service if he cannot see what is good and wonderful
in a great city, a great bridge or dam, a great building; if such
things do not give him material for thinking of and loving and praising
God, as well as reasons for shrinking from evil.
Of course, we need not try to blind ourselves or the children to the
evils involved in the very existence of a big modern city, of a
skyscraper, of a great factory. But the thrill that comes to anyone at
the sight of the New York skyline, or the Golden Gate Bridge8 can just
as well be ordered to God as that which comes, say, from the Grand
Canyon; and if it is not, a whole side of our children's lives will be
allowed to grow up cut off from God and His love.
So we need to direct the children's admiration for man's wonderful
works to an admiration for God who made men able to discover how to
make these things, able to get together and actually build them. Again,
when opportunity permits, from the sight of all the ordered activity
that goes on in putting up a new building, for example, we can show the
children how we should all be working to build up God's house; from the
care with which each brick or rivet is put in its right place, we can
lead them to think about the care with which God is fashioning us with
"blows and strokes" as the stones of His eternal dwelling.
When they come to experience the life of a great city, or to learn
about city organization and so on, we can show them that it is by no
mistake of terminology that the Church is called the "City" of God;
that the company of redeemed mankind will be the holy city, the new
Jerusalem coming down from God; and, therefore, it is part of the
Christian's work to make our human cities less completely unlike the
heavenly one, to see to it that life in these cities is better suited
to lead men toward that heavenly City rather than away from it into
that of the devil.
Along these lines also, we can begin to give the children some sense of
the Church at work all over the world, leavening with Christ's own
presence and action cities and towns, villages and country, wherever
there is a priest at work, wherever there are Christians building up
the kingdom of God. And so we can begin to give the children a
world-wide vision of the Church at work, of its needs in various coun-
tries, of our responsibility to pray for and support all missionary
Such a vision will mean also what might be called a Catholic sense of
geography, which sees Rome as the real nerve-center of the world, the
home of Christ's Vicar and of all the organizations by means of which
he governs the worldwide Church. Such a Catholic sense of geography is
also aware of the great spiritual centers in each country, of the great
shrines of our faith, of the Holy Land as what it is.
But above all it sees the world as being vivified and renewed by the
invisible force of Christ's life working through the visible
organization of the Church, reaching from the Holy Father in Rome to
our Bishop in his Cathedral, to our own parish Church in which we
receive the teaching, the life and the direction of Christ Himself.
It is hard for a 'born' Catholic to realize how featureless must be the
lives of those whose ordinary experience does not include any kind of a
'holy place.' All other cultures have had places known to be especially
filled with the power of their god or gods or demons; only to ours is
everywhere equally neutral, equally empty of any presence above or
below or beyond the human. But since we live in such a culture, we need
to do something to cultivate in ourselves and our children a real and
living sense of the sacredness of our churches. "This is a place to
fill one with awe," says the Introit of the Feast of the Dedication of
our own church, "Truly it is the House of God and the gate of heaven."
One seldom-used means of giving our children such a sense of our
church's holiness might be to ask our pastor or his assistant to give a
private (or, better, public) description of the marvelous ceremony of
consecration (if ours is a consecrated church, or of its blessing, if
it is not). Surely such a description would make a wonderful sermon for
the anniversary of consecration or blessing.
Again, we might ask our pastor to take the children, as a priest friend
of ours actually does, on a conducted tour of the church, showing them
the consecration crosses, letting them have a good look at the altar
and its furnishings, at the holy oils in the ambry, at the sacred
vessels and vestments for Mass, while he tells them as much as they
could follow of the special blessings of each thing and of its use.
Besides such special means, we must, of course, take the day by day
ordinary means of teaching the children to appreciate the holiness of
our church by teaching them to appreciate the wonders that take place
in it: the Mass, especially the Sunday Mass, Baptisms, Confirmation,
Confessions, blessings, prayers made and heard, the Presence of our
Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
We also need to give the children a sense of the sacredness of places
in which Christians live and work, not that this is of the same kind or
degree as the sacredness of a church, but it is nonetheless very real
in its own right. The most obvious among such places is, of course, our
own home. We need to bring the children to feel implicitly that their
home is, as it were, their special workshop, training-ground, gymnasium
in the work and exercises of real life, and not to feel that real
living takes place everywhere else, that home is simply a
filling-station for their physical or spiritual needs. (Though, of
course, they will always feel at times that other people's homes are
more interesting, more full of promise and vitality than their own.)
And, by the time they grow up, they should realize that it is now their
task to go out and form some new home, whether in a rectory, or a
convent, or a group, or a new 'little church,' an ordinary Catholic
home. But for the years of their home-life we should surely try to make
them feel positively and not merely negatively "at home at home." And
for this purpose, we need to make sure that real living, spiritual and
mental, as well as physical, is going on in our house. If we ourselves
are trying to lead a fully Christian home life, surely this effect will
In this regard, we can also try to make sure that the physical lay-out,
furnishing, decoration, etc., of our houses are, as far as possible,
suited to the life we are trying to lead in them, not to somebody
else's life, or to some notion of static unrumpled perfection.
So we can try to train the children in habits of order and tidiness;
teach them to help us with the cleaning and beautifying of the house by
showing them that all this is for the sake of more efficient, more
fruitful, more vital living both human and Christian; that if your
tools for carpentry, or for cooking, or for clothing yourself are so
mixed up that you cannot find what you want, such a mess is neither
practical nor efficient, nor worthy of a house in which Christ's mem-
bers and fellow-workers live and work.
So, also, we can not only have our houses blessed when we first move in
and, when possible, at Epiphany and Eastertime, but we can try to make
these blessings really understood by the children as vital forces in
our home life, forces with which we want to cooperate in order to live
as fully and happily as God intends.
In this connection also, we can try to give the children the sense of
going away from home and coming back as special events. For instance,
one mother known to the writer is careful always to give her children a
blessing, the sign of the Cross on their foreheads, before they go out,
even to school or to a friend's house to play.
We can also work towards awakening in the children a sense of
responsibility about going to other people's houses, being sure they
are invited generally or specifically, telling us just where they are
going, and being back home again on time. And, above all, we can try to
make sure, in our discussions of our home furnishings and improvements,
and in our comments on other people's houses, that our children come to
understand that it is not the material or size or plan or efficiency or
"niceness" or "loveliness" of beautiful surroundings or furnishings
that are important about a house, but rather the Christian life of
charity that is lived in it--that all these other things are only
important as possible means toward this end.
As the children grow older, of course, they will realize more and more
explicitly that, although God is everywhere, there are many places,
alas, in which He is not wanted, to which He is never invited, and many
from which He is as positively excluded as the perversity of human (and
devilish) wills can do it. Our task here, it would seem, is to be aware
of children's instinctive reaction to the presence of evil in places,
to encourage them to realize that our Lord has, in fact, overcome all
this, and that they can overcome it also in His strength with the sign
of His Cross.
We can show them also that their future work as Christians is to be our
Lord's instruments in bringing His life and grace to the human beings
who are responsible for the unholiness of unholy places, and so helping
Him to restore all places as signs of His presence. And we can also
reassure them, whenever the need presents itself, that in deepest
truth, unless by unrepented serious sin they have cut themselves off
from God's presence, wherever they go they will find, ultimately, "only
God and nothing strange."
1. What is the Christian attitude toward nature?
2. List the ways in which children can be aided in acquiring an
understanding of nature.
3. How can children be led to appreciate that the parish church is a
place of special reverence?
4. In what ways can we give a religious meaning to our own home?
5. What standard should children use in judging the homes of other
1. List examples of how the Church uses some places or some aspect of
nature as a symbol for religious truth. (Consult the litanies and
Scripture; for example, the Blessed Virgin as "Ark of the Covenant.")
2. Discuss the importance of religious places in our lives. Do we have
the same concern for learning about the sacred places in our area (such
as the Cathedral church and religious institutions in our dioceses) as
we have for places of civic interest? Would it be possible to arrange
pilgrimages to various religious places in the area?
3. A conscientious Christian housewife said: "One of the things that
bothers me is that now with several children I can't keep the house as
tidy as I would like to have it." Discuss this problem and try to set a
standard to guide a Christian mother in her housekeeping: can there be
too much "order"? too little order?
4. Discuss ways of building an appreciation for Rome and the various
European countries through which we have received our Christian
5. Discuss the places in the community where "God is positively
excluded." Do teenagers have difficulty in recognizing the places where
God is excluded and the places that are occasions of sin? What kind of
program can be suggested which would encourage teenage recreation at
places and in ways consistent with Christian culture?
The Christian Pattern
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals