There is a profound relationship between the First Commandment of the Law of God and the divine vocation of parents to be the first and foremost educators of their children. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says empower parents (emphasis added):
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
It is very significant that the sacred author placed this admonition to parents next to the First Commandment. Notice that he did not mention here priests or any other leaders of the Israelites; not even Moses himself. This does not mean such leaders were unimportant. Like all the Chosen People, parents and priests were to obey the Law of God. After all, this is what this covenantal discourse of Moses was all about.
Today as then the New Israel, the Catholic Church, must follow this divine order: Parents are primarily responsible for passing on the faith and morals to their children. This duty and right stems both from the natural and supernatural orders.
Procreation Means Educating Human Life
Regarding the natural order, the Church teaches that procreation is not simply the transmission of human life, but also the education of human life:
The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute. The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable. (CCC 2221)
Regarding the supernatural order, the Church teaches that:
Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the ‘first heralds’ for their children. (CCC 2225)
It is true that priests are the teachers of the People of God by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. (CCC 1585) But their role is supersedes what should happen in the home in that priests teach parents, and parents teach their children. Learning “at your mother’s knee” allows the Church to make great headway against the Culture of Death and towards establishing a Culture of Life. Until then we will be punching holes in the air.
Mom and Dad Remain Primary Educators
The role of catechists, religion teachers, and educational organizations are subsidiary, not primary. They are to humbly and respectfully help the parents and priests God Himself directly placed in the midst of His people.
Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God.
The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents. (CCC 2226)
God has already equipped parents to be the primary teachers of their children. As is the case with all of God’s gifts, though, this teaching gift must be accepted and nurtured. Just as faith is also God’s gift, at the same time this virtue needs to grow in a similar way. Parents have the grave duty to study the teachings of the Church, to pass them on to their children according to age and development. They do not have to be theologians or so-called “experts,” just good Catholic parents that know Scripture and the Catechism.
And they are not alone. The Church is there to empower parents, as are faithful Catholic organizations like Human Life International.
It could be argued that many have failed somewhat by implementing a sole pastoral approach. There are entire systems of catechesis and Catholic schools developed so children, teens, and young adults are properly formed. Yet the results are absent. Too many schools graduate young Catholics ignorant of basic issues affecting Life, Faith and Family. Many drift away from the Catholic Church toward secularism.
We must refocus! This is a mandate stemming from the Word of God. By moving away from a purely pastoral approach, with its unintended consequence becoming a substitution for parental guidance, we choose the path primarily focused on ways to empower parents.
Adolfo J. Castañeda is HLI Director of Hispanic Education