Pope Francis clearly stated the need for faithful Catholic education in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia released on Friday, and warned against any attempts by schools or teachers to impose ideologies contrary to the teachings of the Church, theologian and author Dr. Edward Sri told The Cardinal Newman Society.
“Pope Francis went out of his way to reiterate the Catholic teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children,” said Sri, who teaches at the Augustine Institute in Greenwood Village, Colo., noting that schools should never replace parents. “The Pope, however, points out a division between parents and schools in some cases.”
“I think about how many moral issues — topics such as abortion, pre-marital sex or the definition of marriage — are presented in educational settings today,” Sri continued. “In some cases, a certain ideology is being imposed upon the children in the classroom — a certain agenda that is directly at odds with what the parents want for their children.”
Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out against the harms and dangers of “gender ideology,” and the Newman Society noted Amoris Laetitia’s particular emphasis on sex education and human sexuality. The Holy Father warned in the document that cultural and media influences on the family have in some ways strained the relationship between Catholic schools and parents.
“[P]arents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education — accessible and of good quality — which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions. Schools do not replace parents, but complement them,” Pope Francis stated in article 84 of the document. “Still, ‘a rift has opened up between the family and society, between family and the school; the educational pact today has been broken and thus the educational alliance between society and the family is in crisis,’” he later added in the same article.
So how does Pope Francis hope to solve this crisis? By helping parents fulfill their role as primary educators of their children, Sri said.
With that in mind, Sri suggested five simple things every parent can do to make sure their home is a place of faithful formation and education. These principles, Sri said, will help families become “a school of the virtues, a school of faith and, indeed, a school of love.” Each paragraph includes the appropriate citations from Amoris Laetitia.
1. Learning to Love: Learning to love does not happen automatically and it can’t be taught in a workshop or marriage preparation retreat. Preparation for marriage begins at birth with what they learned from their own family life and upbringing. The best marriage preparation, therefore, takes place in the home in childhood. “Those best prepared for marriage are probably those who learned what Christian marriage is from their own parents, who chose each other unconditionally and daily renew this decision” (208). Children will learn about the daily love, sacrifice, patience and generosity required in marriage from their parents and family.
2. Technological Vigilance: Parents should be intentional in the formation they give their children, especially in our secular age. Pope Francis notes the challenges parents face in raising their children when there are many alternative values being promoted in the world that has unprecedented access to our children through the media. Parents should be “concerned about who is providing their entertainment, who is entering their rooms through television and electronic devices, and with whom are they spending their free time” (260). Parents should not be overbearing and controlling in these matters, but they do need to be vigilant, he says (260-261).
3. Shaping the Will: Education of children involves shaping likes and dislikes, guiding children to seek the true, the good and the beautiful. Pope Francis says parents need to foster in their children “good habits and a natural inclination to goodness” (264). Sometimes parents will need to correct their children. Such discipline, when done with love, makes the children feel cared for (269).
4. The Why Behind Morality: Children need to know more than the moral law. They need to see the connection between God’s moral law and their happiness; otherwise, morality will seem like just a bunch of rules. They need to know not just the fact that something is right or wrong, but the fundamental reason for the moral law: God gave it to us so we can flourish and be happy. “A good ethical education includes showing a person that it is in his own interest to do what is right” (265).
5. Passing on the Faith: Faith is a gift from God given at baptism, but parents are the means God uses to nurture the life of faith in their children. What a responsibility! Pope Francis notes how parents must themselves be seeking God and living the faith, and then asking God to act in their children’s hearts and make that faith grow. Do parents pray specifically for their children in this way? He also notes how family catechesis is important. But even more, he encourages a Christian environment in the home. The home should be the place where children appreciate the meaning of the faith, prayer and service to others (287).
He emphasizes the need for moments of family prayer and devotion, saying these can be more powerful for the children’s faith formation than any homily or catechism class.
These kinds of principles will hopefully help families repair the rifts that Pope Francis suggests can exist between parents and schools, Sri told the Newman Society. Ultimately, the role of Catholic teachers calls for that relationship to be strong in order to assist parents in providing the faithful Catholic education they desire for their children.
“A Catholic teacher participates in the larger mission of the Church and should strive to foster a deeper unity with the parents, overcoming the rifts that Pope Francis mentioned exist between schools and parents today,” Sri said.
In the end, Amoris Laetitia “challenges all of us involved in Catholic educational institutions to have a humble, servant’s heart — to remember that whatever training and expertise we may have acquired in our fields, we are at the service of the Church and the parents who entrust their children into our care,” he said.