True Education (Part Two)


Stuart, Janet Erskine, The Education of Catholic Girls, 1912

The following are points very necessary in Catholic education (Part Two)…

Part One is here.

5. Proper views of Jesus Christ and His mother. For Catholic children this relationship is not a thing far off, but the faith which teaches them of God Incarnate bids them also understand that He is their own “God who gives joy to their youth”—and that His mother is also theirs.

There are many incomprehensible things in which children are taught to affirm their belief, and the acts of faith in which they recite these truths are far beyond their understanding.

But they can and do understand if we take pains to teach them that they are loved by Our Lord each one alone, intimately and personally, and asked to love in return.

“Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not,” is not for them a distant echo of what was heard long ago in the Holy Land, it is no story, but a living reality of today.

They are themselves the children who are invited to come to Him, better off indeed than those first called, since they are not now rebuked or kept off by the Apostles but brought to the front and given the first places, invited by order of His Vicar from their earliest years to receive the Bread of Heaven, and giving delight to His representatives on earth by accepting the invitation.

It is the reality as contrasted with the story that is the prerogative of the Catholic child. Jesus and Mary are real, and are its own closest kin, all but visible, at moments intensely felt as present.

They are there in joy and in trouble, when everyone else fails in understanding or looks displeased there is this refuge, there is this love which always forgives, and sets things right, and to whom nothing is unimportant or without interest.

Companionship in loneliness, comfort in trouble, relief in distress, endurance in pain are all to be found in them.

With Jesus and Mary what is there in the whole world of which a Catholic child should be afraid. And this glorious strength of theirs made perfect in child-martyrs in many ages will make them again child-martyrs now if need be, or confessors of the holy faith as they are not seldom called upon, even now, to show themselves.

There is a strange indomitable courage in children which has its deep springs in these Divine things; the strength which they find in Holy Communion and in their love for Jesus and Mary is enough to overcome in them all weakness and fear.

6. Thoughts of the faith and practice of Christian life.

And here it is necessary to guard against what is childish, visionary, and exuberant, against things that only feed the fancy or excite the imagination, against practices which are adapted to other races than ours, but with us are liable to become unreal and irreverent.

We must guard against too vivid sense impressions and especially against attaching too much importance to them, against grotesque and puerile forms of piety, which drag down the beautiful devotions to the saint.

In northern countries a greater sobriety of devotion is required if it is to have any permanent influence on life.

But again, on the other hand, the more restrained devotion must not lose its spontaneity; so long as it is the true expression of faith it can hardly be too simple, it can never be too intimate a part of common life.

Noble friendships with the saints in glory are one of the most effectual means of learning heavenly-mindedness, and friendships formed in childhood will last through a lifetime.

To find a character like one’s own which has fought the same fight and been crowned, is an encouragement which obtains great victories, and to enter into the thoughts of the saints is to qualify oneself here below for intercourse with the citizens of heaven.

To be well grounded in the elements of faith, and to have been so taught that the practice of religion has become the atmosphere of a happy life, to have the habit of sanctifying daily duties, joys, and trials by the thought of God, and a firm resolve that nothing shall be allowed to draw the soul away from Him, such is, broadly speaking, the aim we may set before ourselves for the end of the years of childhood, after which must follow the more difficult years of the training of youth.

The time has gone by when the faith of childhood might be carried through life and be assailed by no questionings from without.

A faith that is not armed and ready for conflict stands a poor chance of passing victoriously through its trials, it cannot hope to escape from being tried.

“We have labored successfully,” wrote a leading Jewish Freemason in Rome addressing his Brotherhood, “in the great cities and among the young men; it remains for us to carry out the work in the country districts and amongst the women.”

Words could not be plainer to show what awaits the faith of children when they come out into the world.

For faith to hold on its course against all that tends to carry it away, it is needful that it should not be found unprepared.

The minds of the young cannot expect to be carried along by a Catholic public opinion, there will be few to help them, and they must learn to stand by themselves, to answer for themselves, to be challenged and not afraid to speak out for their faith, to be able to give “first aid” to unsettled minds and not allow their own to be unsettled by what they hear.

They must learn that, as Father Dalgairns points out, their position in the world is far more akin to that of Christians in the first centuries of the Church than to the life that was lived in the middle ages when the Church visibly ruled over public opinion.

Now, as in the earliest ages, the faithful stand in small assemblies or as individuals amid cold or hostile surroundings, and individual faith and sanctity are the chief means of extending the kingdom of God on earth.

But this apostleship needs preparation and training. The early teaching requires to be seasoned and hardened to withstand the influences which tend to dissolve faith and piety; by this seasoning faith must be enlightened, and piety become serene and grave, “sedate,” as St. Francis of Sales would say with beautiful commentary.

In the last years of school or school-room life the mind has to be gradually inured to the harder life, to the duty of defending as well as adorning the faith, and to gain at least some idea of the enemies against which defense must be made.

It is something even to know what is in the air and what may be expected that the first surprise may not disturb the balance of the mind.

To know that in the Church there have been sorrows and scandals, without the promises of Christ having failed, and even that it had to be so, fulfilling His word, “it must needs be that scandals come” (St. Matthew XVIII. 7), that they are therefore rather a confirmation than a stumbling-block to our faith, this is a necessary safeguard.

To have some unpretentious knowledge of what is said and thought concerning Holy Scripture, to know at least something about Modernism and other phases of current opinion is necessary, without making a study of their subtleties, for the most insecure attitude of mind for girls is to think they know, in these difficult questions, and the best safeguard both of their faith and good sense is intellectual modesty.

Without making acquaintance in detail with the phenomena of spiritualism and kindred arts or sciences, it is needful to know in a plain and general way why they are forbidden by the Church, and also to know how those who have lost their balance and peace of mind in these pursuits would willingly draw back, but find it next to impossible to free themselves from the servitude in which they are entangled.

It is hard for some minds to resist the restless temptation to feel, to see, to test and handle all that life can offer of strange and mysterious experiences, and next to the curb of duty comes the safeguard of greatly valuing freedom of mind.

Curiosity concerning evil or dangerous knowledge is more impetuous when a sudden emancipation of mind sweeps the old landmarks and restraints out of sight, and nothing has been foreseen which can serve as a guide.

Then is the time when weak places in education show themselves, when the least insincerity in the presentment of truth brings its own punishment, and a faith not pillared and grounded in all honesty is in danger of failing.

The best security is to have nothing to unlearn, to know that what one knows is a very small part of what can be known, but that as far as it goes it is true and genuine, and cannot be outgrown, that it will stand both the wear of time and the test of growing power of thought, and that those who have taught these beliefs will never have to retract or be ashamed of them, or own that they were passed off, though inadequate, upon the minds of children.

To know that in the Church there have been sorrows and scandals, without the promises of Christ having failed, and even that it had to be so, fulfilling His word, “it must needs be that scandals come” (St. Matthew XVIII. 7), that they are therefore rather a confirmation than a stumbling-block to our faith. -Janet Erskine, 1912

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