Dear Friends and Benefactors,
We live in a time of ever changing moral standards (e.g., who would have
imagined 100, 50 or even 20 years ago that there could be a debate about the
definition of marriage!). The main reason for this is the principle that the
majority rules; what the majority wishes to do, that is the moral law. Or at
most we are told that economics, or biology, or psychology should be the sole
guides in shaping human conduct.
Thus the individualís judgment, as to what will contribute
most to his own well-being and welfare of society, becomes the final court of
appeals in moral matters. This of course is simply the modern version of Satanís
lie: "You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." The educational
policy of any age reflects the philosophy of the age, and therefore we have in
todayís education no mention of the sublime commandments of religion: "thou
shalt" and "thou shalt not." Instead, we have the deification of
human reason and an insisting upon the all-sufficiency of knowledge and
enlightenment. Intellectual development, tests and measurement, and individual
differences receive most of the attention, while character formation and the
will are largely overlooked.
The fruits of this policy are abundant: the amoral and
immoral conditions it promotes, the increase of lawlessness and crime, and the
riotous freedom of our youth to name just a few.
The solution to this moral dilemma can be found only in
religion as Pope Pius XI said in his Encyclical on the Christian Education of
Disorderly inclinations must be corrected, good tendencies
encouraged and regulated from tender childhood, and, above all, the mind must
be enlightened and the will strengthened by supernatural truth and by the
means of grace, without which it is impossible to control evil impulses,
impossible to attain the full and complete perfection of education intended by
the Church, which Christ has endowed so richly with divine doctrine and with
the Sacraments, the efficacious means of grace.
To overcome this moral dilemma it is important that we begin
by building solid foundations otherwise known as character formation. The word
"character" is derived from the Greek word meaning an instrument used to engrave
or cut furrows. Character is the sum total of all the qualities that have been
engraved upon the soul and that have become part and parcel of a man. Character
is life dominated by principle, or in other words the completely formed will.
The development of character in children should be the
supreme objective of priests, parents, and teachers. As Pope Pius XI described
in the same encyclical:
Hence the true Christian, the product of Christian
education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges, and acts constantly and
consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural
light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the
current term, the true and finished man of character. For, it is not every
kind of consistency and firmness of conduct based on subjective principles
that makes true character, but only constancy in following the eternal
principles of justice, as is admitted even by the pagan poet when he praises
as one and the same "the man who is just and firm of purpose."
Character training must therefore be made the center of the
educational scheme from our earliest years. When this has been done then the
child, when he comes to the critical years, will readily respond to the appeal
of the higher motives to which he has reacted so often before. When this has not
been done we can expect ruin. Individuals and nations are brought to ruin not by
a lack of knowledge, but by a lack of proper conduct as Pope Pius XI explains: "particularly
in young people, evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of
intellect as of weakness of a will exposed to dangerous occasions, and
unsupported by the means of grace."
While grace is all-powerful, it does not relieve us of the
duty of developing to the utmost the natural strength of character of which our
young people are capable. Priests, parents and teachers need to awaken in young
people the spirit of the conqueror. There is a nobility that lies in their soul,
dormant, perhaps, but never dead. If we would have them win out in the battle
for virtue this nobility must be aroused and spurred on.
To aid in this it is important that proper attention be given
to forming good habits in the young. Our character is the result of acquired
habits added to our natural temperament. Hence, character education is largely
the formation of habits. Therefore, parents and teachers must ceaselessly
endeavor to prevent the formation of habits of wrong doing; for such habits
weaken the will and cause misery. The formation of an evil habit happens so
easily that it may take a long time before one even realizes that he is bound by
it. Habits are neither made in a moment nor are they broken in a moment. But at
any moment one can begin to make or break them. Acts develop habits, and habits
form character, and character determines destiny. The boy, who, at the age of
fourteen, is rude, selfish, or offensively loud, is likely to retain these
habits as a man. Many psychologists affirm that, on the average, habits are
formed from the ages of three to fourteen. If so then it behooves parents to
begin early with habituating their children to what will form the basis of their
character and therefore their protection when they are passing through the fire
and water of the many temptations incident to adolescence.
This work of character formation must then begin with the
pre-school child. Every day in a childís early life is forming and determining
his future. Good habits of courtesy, table manners and speech have a part to
play in forming their character, as do good health habits, habits of orderliness
and play habits. Even more important are the general moral habits which must
also be formed early. Among these are: truthfulness and honesty, the foundations
of character; respect for parents and authority; co-operation with others; sense
of responsibility; sympathy; sense of modesty, so important for the proper
training in chastity.
Among the most important habits to be formed in children is
to teach them to be moderate in their wants. This is not a question of denying
them joys and pleasures, as childhood should be filled with joy. Yet they should
learn that no one can satisfy all his wishes, one who doesnít learn this will be
miserable later in life when he is not able to get everything that his heart
A child, who has had each and every whim gratified, will be
habituated to yield to every urge, and will not hesitate to push aside even
moral considerations if they stand in the way of satisfying sensuous impulses.
On the other hand, if they have been trained to abstain cheerfully they will
develop the basis of the habit which will assist them in saying no when these
same sensuous impulses tempt them.
In our world it is not too difficult to see the urgent need
of training children in habits of self-control. Many years ago the late
Archbishop John Spalding made an appeal in this regard to mothers: "O
mothers, you whose love is the best any of us have known, harden your sons, and
urge them on, not in the race for wealth, but in the steep and narrow path
wherein, through self-conquest and self-knowledge, they rise towards God and all
Parents should urge their children on to what one bishop
called "the strategy of the Holy War." They can do this if they train
their children every now and then to deny themselves some favorite food, or to
ignore some little pain, or to make a heroic conquest of laziness. These things
will train then to exercise themselves spiritually and will help to harden them
for the spiritual war that wages against us all. If, however, they have never
been trained to deny themselves permissible indulgences how will they be able to
abstain from gratifying the non-permissible desires.
Nor is it difficult to arouse childrenís enthusiasm for such
little acts of self-denial. Some children may whine at first, especially if they
are just beginning to form good habits, but, as the principle of doing not what
they like but what is right begins to sink in, they will soon take interest in
doing these little "acts of heroism" as beneficial to their own character
development. Self-control should therefore be represented to them as an act of
growth, of strength, of freedom; it must be made evident that the apparent
repression is only a step towards a higher life. They should be shown how a
gradual process of practice on the smallest things builds up willpower, and how
every act of self-conquest in one sphere of life makes the battle easier in all
the other spheres. In the work of self-discipline and the war for the control of
our emotional nature the offensive is the best defense of the higher nature.
By training our children along these lines, we shall give
them a conception of that true liberty which is the enjoyment of our privileges
without trespassing on the rights of oneís soul, of our neighbors, or of God.
They must be trained to obey the principle not their impulses. Only in this will
they find true happiness, both in this life and, one day, in the next.
Sincerely yours in the Mystical Body of Christ,
Fr. John D. Fullerton