Sunday, March 23, 2014

Happy Children

"Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2223)
One phrase stands out for me in paragraph 2223 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "self-denial." 15 minutes of television is all you need to know that there's not a lot of self-denial preached by mainstream society. Seems to me that the commercials might be right-- after all, I know how unhappy I am when I desire a Double-Double from In 'N Out and can't have it. I also think about how happy I would be if I had that Double-Double . . . and some fries . . . animal style.  

In teaching self-denial, does the Church have it wrong here?

Of course not. Like so many things, Church teaching as found in the Catechism, seems backwards only when viewed through the fallen perspective of the world. In reality, my reaching out for that Double-Double brings only temporary, sensory-based happiness, but it damages the true, lasting happiness that comes from being healthy, eating right, maintaining a healthy weight, etc.

Happy Children
I think that's what we really need to distinguish for our children-- the difference between temporary, sensual or sensory-based happiness, and true, lasting happiness, particularly through the kind of education we provide them.  

Please, don't get me wrong-- our senses are gifts from God, and it's okay to enjoy them! However, the Catechism is pointing us toward an education that prepares our children for something much deeper than success or the fulfillment of the material desires of their hearts. In fact, I'd go so far as to propose that if the education we provide as parents and teachers leaves our children bound by their own desires seeking only to satisfy their wants, instead of able to control them through self-denial and self-mastery, we will have failed in teaching our children one of the most important lessons prescribed to us by the Church.

Let's begin teaching self-denial and self-mastery during this Lenten season by setting realistic and virtuous limits on our children's expectations, and by emphasizing charity and generosity before wants and desires. Though successful careers and material things are definitely blessings granted by God, they are not the ultimate purpose of our existence, and they don't bring us the true freedom achieved through the virtue of self-denial.

After all, true happiness is not being bound by the desire for something (and thus frustration when not able to possess it).  True happiness is found in the peace that comes from being able to master these binding, overpowering desires.