A Parent’s Perspective
One of my childhood Catholic children’s books, The Seven Deadly Sins, always attracted my interest with its dramatic depictions of errant children. There was Eileen who was envious, Clare the covetous and a range of other boys and girls who had failed in one area or another. I remember feeling a bit superior to the bold boy in one illustration who was so immersed in the sin of gluttony that he wouldn’t even share his treats with his hungry little dog. I didn’t feel quite as virtuous when reading about Mary who was lounging slothfully on the couch with her cat, thinking of my own long hours spent reading comics instead of tidying my bedroom. My dedication to the weekly Saturday scrubbing and cleaning left a lot to be desired. It was easier to read about the shocking transgressions of imaginary children than to work on my own shortcomings.
Even as adults, we may be very good at identifying where we’re going wrong or how we have failed but we still struggle to actually develop the positive habits we so desire”
That old tattered booklet that described the sins of pride, covetousness, envy, anger, lust, gluttony and sloth did a very good job of describing in vivid detail the various vices involved. I’m not too sure how effective it was in inspiring children to grow in goodness and virtue. Even as adults, we may be very good at identifying where we’re going wrong or how we have failed but we still struggle to actually develop the positive habits we so desire. As parents, teachers and guardians, we can be great at seeing what’s wrong with the children and young people in our care, but at a loss sometimes to know how to gently lead them in a different direction. We’re well aware of the damaging effects of sin in our lives and in the lives of our children but, are we effective in helping them to fight sin by growing in the corresponding virtues? Growing in virtue helps us to grow away from sin.
Some children may not know what exactly we mean by virtue in a Catholic context. It’s good to utilise a lack of knowledge in our children to engage in a teaching moment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes a virtue as a “habitual and firm disposition to do good”. It explains that developing virtues allows a person “not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself”. The virtuous person actively pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions. I think when we just focus our efforts on avoiding doing wrong, we can fall at the first hurdle. On the other hand, if we form the habit of doing good, we’ll be less likely to habitually do the opposite. While it all sounds great in theory, how can we assist our children in striving to be the people that God wants them to be? A good start could involve taking the capital sins and encouraging children to act in ways that are the opposite to the negative behaviours they are associated with. A natural pride in one’s success or talents is totally normal but the sin of pride can lead to a go-it-alone attitude. An excessive obsession with one’s own excellence, maybe even looking down on others, can be remedied by helping a child to develop the virtue of humility. It’s great to be blessed with many gifts and abilities but an appreciation of abilities as gifts from God helps children to stay grounded. In today’s world the self-made man or woman, overly independent and self-reliant can be viewed as a positive role model. The humble person knows that we can do nothing on our own, and is less focused on being in the limelight, but works for the benefit of others in a spirit of service.
Parents are the best example for children when they practise patience instead of giving into anger and irritability. We can’t model self-control and restraint if we blow our top at the smallest annoyance or inconvenience. To foster kindness and gentleness, families should remember the three important words that Pope Francis urged us to use please, thank you and sorry. During the last year, many of us have turned into couch potatoes and may have gotten a bit lazy and lethargic while also overindulging in food and drink. The sin of sloth is described by St Thomas Aquinas as “a sadness arising from the fact that the good is difficult”. This leads to a spiritual apathy which we can overcome by an enthusiastic embrace of all that brings us closer to God. At last public Mass is back – what better time to commit to attending more Masses as a family, going to Adoration and putting God first, instead of last, on our schedules? Being busy pleasing God and focusing on God helps us to dispel any sense of gloom as we banish the envy and greed that can arise by comparing ourselves to others. This can particularly apply to social media where the grass is always greener and where people can sometimes be reduced to clickbait to gain likes or, treated as objects rather than individuals made in the image and likeness of God. We can finally ponder on Pope Francis’ words in his third Apostolic Exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad: “The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland or mediocre existence.”