Pope Pius XII Speaks to Mothers – Part One


-by Pope Pius XII

We need not delay to remind you how important and how necessary is this work of education in the home, and how grave a mother’s obligation not to neglect it or perform it with indifference.

Speaking as we are to our beloved daughters of Catholic Action we can have no doubt that they regard this obligation as the first of their duties as Christian mothers, and as a task in which none can fully take their place.

But it is not enough to be conscious of an obligation and to have the desire to discharge it; it is necessary also to render oneself capable of discharging it competently.

The need of serious preparation for the difficult work of education:

It is a curious circumstance and, as Pope Pius XI remarked in his Encyclical, a lamentable one, that whereas no one would dream of suddenly becoming a mechanic or an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer, without any apprenticeship or preparation, yet every day there are numbers of young men and women who marry without having given an instant’s thought to preparing themselves for the arduous work of educating their children which awaits them.

And yet, if St. Gregory the Great could speak of the government of souls as ‘the art of arts’, surely no art is more difficult and strenuous than that of fashioning the souls of children; for those souls are so very tender, so easily disfigured through some thoughtless influence or wrong advice, so difficult to guide aright and so lightly led astray, more susceptible than wax to receive disastrous and indelible impressions through malignant influences or culpable neglect.

Fortunate the child whose mother stands by its cradle like a guardian angel to inspire and lead it in the path of goodness!

And so while we congratulate you upon what you have already achieved, we cannot but exhort you warmly and anew to develop those splendid organizations which are doing so much to provide for every rank and social class educators conscious of their high mission, in mind and bearing alert against evil and zealous to promote good.

Such sentiments in a woman and a mother give her the right to that reverence and dignity which belong to a man’s loyal helpmeet; such a mother is like a pillar, for she is the central support of the· home; she is like a beacon whose light gives an example to the parish and brings illumination to the pious associations of which she is a member.

The mother’s work of training during infancy:

To woman, God has given the sacred mission, painful yet how joyous, of motherhood; and to her too, more than to anyone else, is entrusted the first education of the child in its early months and years.

Of heredity, which may exercise such an influence upon the future cast of a child’s character, we will not speak except to say that this hidden heritage sometimes points an accusing finger at the irregular life of the parents, who are thus gravely responsible for making it difficult for their offspring to lead a truly Christian life.

Fathers and mothers, whose mutual love is sanctified by the faith of Christ, see that before your child is born you prepare a pure family atmosphere in which it may open its eyes to light and its soul to life, so that the good odor of Christ may linger about every step of its moral development.

Mothers, your sensibility is greater and your love more tender, and therefore you will keep a vigilant eye upon your babies throughout their infancy, watching over their growth and over the health of their little bodies, for they are flesh of your flesh and the fruit of your womb.

Remember that your children are the adopted sons of God and specially beloved of Christ; remember that their angels look for ever on the face of the heavenly Father; and so you, too, as you rear them must be angels in like manner, in all your care and vigilance keeping your eyes fixed upon heaven.

It is your task from the cradle to begin their education in soul as well as in body; for if you do not educate them they will begin, for good or ill, to educate themselves.

Many of the moral characteristics which you see in the youth or the man owe their origin to the manner and circumstances of his first upbringing in infancy: purely organic habits contracted at that time may later prove a serious obstacle to the spiritual life of the soul. And so you will make it your special care in the treatment of your child to observe the prescriptions of a perfect hygiene, so that when it comes to the use of reason its bodily organs and faculties will be healthy and robust and free from distorted tendencies.

This is the reason why, except where it is quite impossible, it is most desirable that the mother should feed her child at her own breast.

Who shall say what mysterious influences are exerted upon the growth of that little creature by the mother upon whom it depends entirely for its development!

Have you observed those little eyes, wide open, restlessly questioning, their glance darting from this thing to that… following a movement or a gesture, already expressing joy or pain, anger and obstinacy, and giving other signs of those little passions that nestle in the heart of man even before the tiny lips have learned to utter a word?

This is perfectly natural. Notwithstanding what certain thinkers have maintained we are not born endowed with knowledge or with the memories and dreams of a life already lived.

The mind of the child as it comes forth from its mother’s womb is a page upon which nothing is written; from hour to hour as it passes on its way from the cradle to the tomb its eyes and other senses, internal and external, transmit the life of the world through their own vital activity, and will write upon that page the images and ideas of the things among which it lives.

Hence an irresistible instinct for truth and goodness turns the simple soul that nothing knows upon the things of sense; and all these powers of feeling, all these childish sensations, by way of which mind and will come gradually to their awakening, need to be educated, trained, carefully guided, otherwise the normal awakening and proper direction of these noble faculties of the spirit will be compromised and distorted.

From that early age a loving look, a warning word, must teach the child not to yield to all its impressions, and as reason dawns it must learn to discriminate and to master the vagaries of its sensations; in a word, under the guidance and admonition of the mother it must begin the work of its own education.

Study the child in his tender age. If you know him well you will educate him well; you will not misconceive his character; you will come to understand him, knowing when to give way and when to be firm; a naturally good disposition does not fall to the lot of all the sons of men.

“Parents are often to blame for the rebellious spirit of their children, because they give little of themselves – of their time, interest, and practical love – and then complain that their children do not obey. Let your good example be a sufficient motive for your children’s obedience, even when you are obliged to ask them to do things that few other parents ask.” – Fr. Lovasik

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