Every parent’s dream is the happiness of their children in this life, and eventually, unending happiness one day in heaven. If this essential existential goal is not clear to parents, then nothing is clear to them.
David Brooks, in his book Road to Character, wrote as the first point of his Humility Code: “We don’t live for happiness, we live for holiness. Day to day we seek out pleasure, but deep down, human beings are endowed with moral imagination. All human beings seek to lead lives not just of pleasure, but of purpose, righteousness, and virtue.” And he adds: “The best life is oriented around the increasing excellence of the soul and is nourished by moral joy, the quiet sense of gratitude and tranquility that comes as a byproduct of successful moral struggle. The meaningful life is the same eternal thing, the combination of some set of ideals and some man or woman’s struggle for those ideals. Life is essentially a moral drama, not a hedonistic one.”
In the spiritual life, God is man’s true good and happiness. In order to possess this eternal good, man must unite himself to God. This union with God cannot be achieved by man’s own strength; he needs God’s help and grace. Only by striving to orient his entire earthly life can he hope to one day be eternally happy with God in heaven.
Now, holiness, as some may think, is not an unhappy life project. This is false! Like any ideal, sanctity entails sacrifice. For example, to become a good athlete, painter, doctor, architect or lawyer, one must invest a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice. Now holiness, especially our own and our children’s, is no exception.
Today the challenge is how to make sanctity – which is not easy to click, like, upload or take a selfie of – something attractive and meaningfully valuable for the young, who are caught up in the waves of instant material gratification and entitlement.
What can parents do?
- Parents first. The task of making holiness attractive begins with the very parents – through word and deed – themselves. They are not perfect, but they constantly and naturally radiate one sincere desire in their life: holiness is the only thing that truly matters.
- Heart and mind prints. An invisible reality like holiness, so to speak, needs to latch itself to material things. The best realities to print onto our children’s minds and hearts are prayer, offering, and service. This is done by accompanying them and gradually helping them own these exercises. For example, pray for an intention, offer a discomfort (i.e. a broken toy, eating vegetables, and the hot weather etc.) to God and how a day cannot end without some concrete act of service (i.e. learning how to share their things with others).
- Rewarding the invisible. We must strive to make them cherish spiritual rewards: a “please” accompanied by a smile, an “I’m sorry” with an embrace and firm pat on the back together with a “thank you”. Such spiritual rewards help to open closed minds, soften hard hearts, and convert self-centered wills.
- ‘Godgets’ more. Gadgets today are one of the most common compensations for children. We have to help them realize that these material things are secondary to God, family, friends, and work. This can be done through the example of temperance and sobriety that parents and guardians constantly live at home and at work.
- Material reminders. Decorate the house, without overdoing it, with simple but elegant images (i.e. our Lord, our Lady, St. Joseph and a particular saint the family is close to, etc.) These are helpful material pointers that raise the spiritual temperature of the home, as members strive to use them as reminders to pray to God, to the saints, for the family and friends.
- Create spiritual spaces. Praying as a family is very important to nurture desires for holiness. But this isn’t just the grace before meals or the Rosary. There could be prayers said spontaneously for special intentions or events. There is also the wonderful practice of gathering every evening, for less than five or so minutes, to thank God together for His graces, ask the others’ pardon for some minor faults and to pray for more grace to love the next day.