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
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 Youth:
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 desires.
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 high things."
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
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
Fr. John D. Fullerton