When Saints Formed Children

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When Saints Formed Children“God made me to know, love, and serve Him in this world in order to be happy with Him in the next.” Thus does the child correctly answer the catechism question of why God made him.

In consonance with this basic notion, Catholic education has traditionally meant fashioning the child’s whole personality for the practice of virtue. It thus produced children with consciences, in marked contrast to the troubled and problem children so prevalent today.

Modern schools have, for the most part, lost sight of — or utterly ignore — the true finality of education. Let us look back, then, to a time when saints formed children, leading them along the path of virtue.

Following are some selected passages from the educational guidelines laid down by Saint John Bosco last century. These forgotten truths are every bit as timely now as then.

On music: “Any educational center without music is a body without a soul. Music educates, soothes, and elevates; it is a most efficacious means for instilling discipline and contributing to morality.”

On love for beauty: “The teacher must also help his charges perfect their sentiments for beauty. This is a natural sentiment, but it must be developed and perfected. All children have a capacity to appreciate the beauties of nature, art, and religion.

Our Lord teaching children
Our Lord teaching children.

“I recall that when I was a boy my mother taught me to look up and gaze at the sky and to observe the marvels of the countryside. During the serene and starlit nights, she took me outside and showed me the heavens and said to me, ‘It is God Who created the world and put so many beautiful stars above. If the firmament is so beautiful, how will paradise be?’ And when spring came around, with its wealth of flowers across the countryside, she would exclaim: ‘How many beautiful things the Lord has made for us!’ And when the clouds gathered, and the skies darkened and the thunder roared: ‘How powerful the Lord is! Who can resist Him? Therefore, let us not commit sins.’ And in winter, when all was covered with snow and ice, and we would gather together around the fire, she, even amidst our poverty, would say: ‘How grateful we should be to the Lord Who has provided us with all that is necessary! God is truly our Father: Our Father, Who art in heaven…’”

On intellectual formation: “To cultivate only the intellect, abandoning all the other human faculties, is to deform man.

“Intellectual education encompasses a series of norms, of practical measures and appropriate resources to provide the juvenile intelligence with the knowledge of letters and sciences indispensable and helpful for life. But the school should not presume to take the place of the family, and much less the Church. School must teach in relation to life.”

On moral formation: “All, or nearly all, educators see the development of the intellect as their principal responsibility to the child.

“However, this displays a lack of prudence, for they do not understand — or else easily lose sight of — human nature and the reciprocal dependency of our faculties. They direct all their efforts to the development of the cognitive faculties and sentiments, which they erroneously and tragically confound with the faculty of love. In so doing, they completely disregard the sovereign faculty, the will, which is the only source of true and pure love, and of which the sensibility is but a type of outward appearance.

Saint John Bosco
Saint John Bosco.

“What is the obligation of the Christian teacher? According to the spirit of Jesus Christ and the practice of His moral law, the mother, the father or the teacher, must avoid giving a vitiated education to the children Providence has entrusted to them; their immediate end must be to direct the child along the path of sanctity, whose guideposts are renunciation and generosity. To communicate the spirit of sacrifice, the teacher must direct his charges, above all, to cultivate their reason and will without neglecting any of the other faculties.”

On social formation: “Games are also social elements that should not be belittled. For this reason, we give them much importance. Games teach the child to control himself and not to injure or bother his companions; to develop social sensibility; to increase habits of courtesy, affability, and manners; to stimulate the exercise of justice and loyalty, indispensable conditions not only for games but for all forms of social activity.”

On religious education: “Education must develop in youth a passion for good and a hatred of evil. The teacher is duty-bound to understand that this is an effect of correspondence or lack of conformity to the will of God.

“One of the defects or vices of modern pedagogy is the reduction of religion to pure sentiment. For this reason, it does not want to speak to children about, or even name, the eternal truths: death, judgment, and, much less, hell.”

Taken from Biografia y Escritos de San Juan Bosco, B.A.C., Madrid, 1955.

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