If it were given to a man to see virtue's reward in the next world, he would occupy his intellect, memory and will in nothing but good works, careless of danger or fatigue.
– St. Catherine of Genoa
Like many parents, I have spent alot of time thinking about the best motivators for my children. Well before I read Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards, I had prayed to God to give me the grace and strength to serve as the model my children deserve. I know that our actions often speak louder than words. I know that stickers and money and charts will soon fizzle if the kids see that their supervisors are uncaring or distracted. I know that good living is its own reward and that children will follow the lead set by their parents, their first and foremost educators. The polemics raised in Kohn's book are actually answered in Familiaris Consortio, one of Pope John Paul II's encyclicals (This document and much of his other writings cover these perennial themes of love and obedience to God's will.).
Enter concupiscence (a very fine discussion of this is found in the current catechism)....our intellect is darkened and our will disordered due to the effects of original sin. This is an apple few want to crunch on. Yet, imagine the myriad benefits to society if everyone would stop and think about the origins of human nature and, most importantly, the ultimate destiny of the human person. I got to thinking about all of this after spending a blessed quarter of an hour with JB, reading Chapter 3, "Creator of Heaven and Earth," in her Faith and Life book. As she read aloud to me, "Is God a creature? No, God alone is uncreated. He had no beginning. God is the cause of all creation."
She looked at me with those beautiful, baby-blue eyes of hers and asked me, "But, who created God?" She asked, but she knew. And, there was mystery and marvel in her question and the discussion that followed.
First things. We are missing the old discipline of philosophy. Socrates loved learning, and he knew who was the Author of life and learning. Socrates was sentenced to death for telling his contemporaries that their mythic figures --their gods and goddesses-- may be entertaining, but that they did not express the eternal truth of the one, uncreated, and utterly holy God. He was forced to drink his poison, but he did not die a pagan. He did not live as a pagan, even though he lived among pagans. Paganism abounds in 21st century America. We wonder why our children and youth struggle so to live out the virtues; yet, as a culture, we are very oriented toward vice. Much of it masquerades as myth and mystery, but all the old heresies are alive and kicking. Flannery O'Connor wrote some of the most chilling and memorable fiction this country has known, and it was her deep-seated conviction that American culture had forgotten the true meaning of the human person. Who created us? What do we owe to the One who has given us life? Are we passing on to the next generation a thorough understanding of freedom? Are we spirit as well as matter? Does the soul live forever? If so, why do we rob the soul of grace by refusing true religion?
When we do not understand sin, we do not understand virtue. It takes heroic virtue to raise a loving family in this day and age. May we bless God by revisiting our understanding of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." These goals are worthy goals for our children; the means to achieve them are found first by God's grace through Holy Mother Church. The Church, as a mother, teaches us to love others as our Lord loved us -- both by dying on the Cross, and by giving Himself to us as spiritual food in the Eucharist.
How perfect! I just opened JB's cursive practice, and it landed on Proverbs 12:1: He that loveth correction loveth knowledge, but he that hateth reproof is foolish.