Parents’ participation in God’s creative activity includes education
By Brian Pizzalato
Through imitation of, and participation in, Trinitarian life and Christ’s relationship with the church, married couples have the profound responsibility and obligation to the service of life. This takes place through procreation and education. In my last article, I wrote of procreation. But serving life does not end there. Education must follow.
Through the begetting of life, parents participate in God’s creative activity. Creation didn’t end “in the beginning.” That was just “the beginning.” God creates a new human soul at the moment of every conception of a new human body. John Paul II tells us, “…parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life” (Familiaris Consortio, 36).
He goes on to say, “…they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it.”
Serving life moves beyond merely not contracepting or aborting, beyond simply having another baby. It includes the parents’ loving guidance, through education, of that new person to the living out of a fully human life. This means parents are responsible for education seen in its broadest sense. The church speaks of the parents’ responsibility for educating their children in documents concerned with education in general, with family, with catechesis, with sexuality. Living a fully human life means both natural and supernatural education.
Education is about knowing and living the truth, whether it is the truth that 2 + 2 = 4, or that God died on Calvary. Human persons were created for truth. “The desire for truth is part of human nature itself,” proclaims Pope Benedict XVI (Address to the CDF, Feb. 10, 2006). Thus, knowing the truth is part of living a fully human life.
This also means that the ultimate goal of all education is union with he who is truth himself. Pope Benedict XVI has made clear, “Jesus Christ is the Personified Truth who attracts the world to himself. The light that shines out from Jesus is the splendor of the truth [veritatis splendor]. Every other truth is a fragment of the Truth that he is, and refers to him.”
The parents’ responsibility is to lead their children to the fullness of truth because it is the truth that will set them free (cf. John 8:32). There is this intimate unity, not dichotomy, between truth and freedom. Pope Benedict XVI says, “Jesus is the Pole Star of human freedom: Without him it looses its sense of direction, for without the knowledge of truth, freedom degenerates, becomes isolated and is reduced to sterile arbitration.” Freedom disconnected from truth is not freedom at all; it is slavery. It is something that dehumanizes, rather than leads to a fully lived human life.
There is also a profound connection between truth, joy and love. Pope Benedict XVI tells us: “Indeed, truth alone can take possession of the mind and make it rejoice to the full. It is this joy that increases the dimensions of the human heart, lifting it anew from the narrowness of selfishness and rendering it capable of authentic love.”
So education fits with what parents naturally want for their children. Parents want what is best for their children. They want them to experience and know true freedom, true joy and authentic love. However, it is the case that “scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it.”
The good news for parents, however, is that they do not have to do it alone. They are the first and foremost educators of their children, but not necessarily the only educators. Serving life is a responsibility of the domestic church, the family, and the universal church. How can this be? The church is also a parent, mater et magistra, mother and teacher.
The church, along with parents, is responsible for educating in its broadest sense, not simply when it comes to religious education. The church also speaks of the church’s responsibility for education in documents concerned with education in general, with family, with catechesis, with sexuality. This means the church is responsible for educating in math, science, social studies and obviously catechesis. Yes, this also means that the church is responsible for educating in the realm of human sexuality and safe environment, which are two forms of education that are not synonymous.
In a document from the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education entitled, “Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education,” (which certainly does not mean what it does in the secular sphere) we hear that, “openness and collaboration of parents with other educators who are co-responsible for formation, will positively influence the maturation of young people” (51). This would certainly go for other forms of education as well.
The Second Vatican Council’s document on education says, “The Church is bound as a mother to give to these children of hers an education by which their whole life can be imbued with the spirit of Christ and at the same time do all she can to promote for all peoples the complete perfection of the human person, the good of earthly society and the building of a world that is more human” (Gravissimum Educationis, 3).
Education is about communicating truth to the human person out of love so that we might live in the freedom as children of our heavenly Father.