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District Superior's
Letter to Friends & Benefactors

June 2006

Dear Friends and Benefactors of the Society of St. Pius X,

Pope Pius XII in his document Guiding Christís Little Ones says: "Train the character of your children. Correct their faults, encourage and cultivate their good qualities and coordinate them with that stability which will make for resolution in after life. Your children, conscious, as they grow up and as they begin to will and think, that they are guided by a good parental will, constant and strong, free from violence and anger, not subject to weakness or inconsistency, will learn in time to see therein the interpreter of another higher will, the will of God, and so you will plant in their souls the seeds of those early moral habits which fashion and sustain a character, train it to self-control in moments of crisis and to courage in the face of conflict or sacrifice, and imbue it with a deep sense of Christian duty."

Another word for this "sense of Christian duty" is responsibility, which is defined as the moral accountability of a person for his voluntary acts. Responsibility is also, in our consideration of the past few months, the second of the essential Rís that parents must instill in their children, the lack of which has affected todayís social life and added to the acceleration of our nationís moral degradation.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the sins committed against justice, where the common good, duties towards individuals or ultimately towards God are selfishly thrown aside with blatant disregard for the moral law. Justice, like every other virtue, enters into the Christian categorical imperative: "decline from evil and do good"; and, therefore, it implies not only the obligation to do good to others, but also that of not impeding or injuring the rights of others.

Ultimately this is a problem that is caused by the fact that the principles of penance and atonement are not functioning in many peopleís lives today. When someone does something bad, that person should be made to feel bad (penitent) about it and held responsible for correcting the problem caused by his misdeeds (atonement). In many families, these principles have been turned upside down so that when the children misbehave, it is the parents who feel bad about their misdeeds and it is the parents who try to solve the problem, which only the children can solve; starting with their feeling bad about it themselves. Without penance, atonement will never take place. Unless complete responsibility for a problem involving misbehavior is assigned to the child in question, that problem will never be solved. Parents must, therefore, unload these problems onto their childrenís shoulders, or better yet never take them upon themselves in the first place.

In the past, when children misbehaved in school, they were routinely assigned the consequences of their own misbehavior. They were made to shoulder the consequences and parents were expected to support the disciplinary actions taken and even amplify them at home if need be. Even if parents felt that the teacher wasnít the best in the world, or that the teacher wasnít handling the behavior properly or was even overreacting to their childrenís behavior, they realized that none of this was as relevant as two solid facts: their child had misbehaved and thus required punishment. Parents felt that their first obligation was to back authority and thus even when there was a doubt they gave the benefit of the doubt to the teacher and not to their child. Thus the child who created a problem at school had an agonizing walk home knowing that he was "in for it".

But today, there are many parents who have swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, of modern propaganda spread by "parenting professionals" and so do not want their children to suffer any "negative consequences" caused by the "old fashioned disciplinary methods, which were cruel, hurtful and even abusive." This results in their being overprotective, and because they donít want to be considered as "mean" by their children, they no longer use disciplinary techniques that are memorable and thus persuasive. When there is a problem, they blame the teacher for their childrenís misbehavior and so teach their children that irresponsible behavior is inconsequential. Thus, no matter what action the school takes, it cannot correct the problem because of the improper values taught at home.

These same "professionals" equate discipline with punishment, meant to break childrenís wills to make them passively subservient. But parents must recognize that this is not the goal of proper discipline and that discipline and punishment are not the same thing. Ultimately, the goal of parental discipline is to produce adults who require minimal "management" of their behavior; in other words, self-disciplined, or adults who are able to successfully take discipline into their own hands. Punishment may be part of the whole process of discipline but parents should keep in mind that punishments are given primarily for helping not punishing children. Parents must let the punishment fit the crime and the only one that does so is the one that stops the crime from happening again. Children will not stop misbehaving because their misbehavior makes their parents upset but only when it makes them upset.

Nor should we think discipline to be the breaking of wills but rather the bending of wills toward their proper end in order to make children autonomous. To do this, parents must establish reasonable yet challenging expectations by setting and enforcing limits, which they themselves model as socially appropriate behavior. Parents need to discipline their children but they must first be disciplined themselves if they hope to instill the same in their children.

Too often, parents themselves lack discipline and so correct, or rather punish, even the smallest mistakes with great drama and passion. But disciplined parents know where they stand and where they want their children to stand and they understand that a key to successful discipline is the projection of proper self-confidence. By communicating their expectations in no uncertain terms, coming straight to the point, telling (not asking!) the child what to do, parents project this self-confidence. If enforcement is needed, it is done in an evenhanded way without brutality or bribery. When children misbehave, self-confident parents make sure that those same children get upset, while they themselves remain calm. Only the penitent atones.

Discipline is the process of making a disciple, i.e. one who voluntarily follows your lead. The result for parents who discipline correctly will be that their children will respect their wisdom and seek their guidance. They will place great value on their parentsí approval and so want to behave in ways pleasing to them. Well-disciplined children will thus be guided toward accepting ever-increasing amounts of responsibility for their lives.

Next month I will continue with this consideration on responsibility training. Suffice it to say for now that old-fashioned discipline still works and is a key element in teaching responsibility to children.

I look forward to seeing many of you at this yearís ordinations in Winona, which will take place on Friday, June 23, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This year there will be four Americans ordained to the priesthood and one to the diaconate. Please keep the ordinands in your prayers.

Sincerely in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Fr. John D. Fullerton

 
 

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