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On the Education of Children – III

Give Good Example &
Watch Your Children’s Companions

St. Alphonsus Marie Liguori
Today we post the last part of St. Alphonsus’ sermon to parents on the education of their children (See Part I and Part II). In it he explains to them the importance of good example. It is not enough to instruct by mere words, but parents must provide a good example in the home.

Also, he warns, it is necessary to remove from children the occasion of doing evil by forbidding them to have evil companions, go to bad places, read pornographic or romantic books, or be exposed to immoral situations. Further, parents must correct the faults they see in their children.

Parents are obliged to instruct their children in the practice of virtue, not only by words, but still more by example. If you give your children bad example, how can you expect that they will lead a good life?

When a dissolute young man is corrected for a fault, he answers, "Why do you censure me, when my father does worse." The Scripture confirms: "The children will complain of an ungodly father, because for his sake they are in reproach." (Eccl. 41:10)

How is it possible for a son to be moral and religious when he has had the example of a father who was accustomed to utter blasphemies and obscenities; who spent the entire day in the tavern, in gaming and drunkenness; who was in the habit of frequenting houses of bad fame, and of defrauding his neighbor?

A Father teaches his son to tie tie

A son will follow his father's example; above; a father shows his son how to knot a tie

Do you expect that your son will go frequently to confession when you yourself approach the tribunal of penance scarcely once a year? Children are like apes; they do what they see their parents do.

It is related in the fables that a crab one day rebuked its young for walking crookedly. They replied, “Father, let us see you walk.” The father walked before them more crookedly than they did. This is what happens to the parent who gives bad example. Hence, he has not even courage to correct his children for the sins that he himself commits.

But though he should correct them, by words, of what use is his correction when he sets them a bad example by his acts?

It has been said in the council of Bishops that "men believe the eyes rather than the ears." And St. Ambrose says, "The eyes convince me of what they see more quickly than the ears can figure out what is past." (Serm. 23, de S.S.)

According to St. Thomas, scandalous parents compel, in a certain manner, their children to lead a bad life. St. Bernard says, they are not fathers but murderers; they kill, not the bodies, but the souls of their children.

It is useless for them to say, "My children have been born with bad dispositions." This is not true, for, as Seneca says, "you err, if you think that vices are born with us; they have been engrafted." (Ep. 94)

Vices are not born with your children, but have been communicated to them by the bad example of the parents. If you had given good example to your sons, they should not be as vicious as they are.

O brethren! Frequent the Sacraments, assist at sermons, recite the Rosary every day, abstain from all obscene language, from detraction and from quarrels; and you shall see that your sons will go often to confession, assist at sermons, say the Rosary, speak modestly and fly from detraction and disputes.

It is particularly necessary to train up children to virtue in their infancy: "Bow down their neck from their childhood” - for, when they have grown up and contracted bad habits, it will be very difficult for you to produce, by words, any amendment in their lives.

Immodestly dressed preteens at an immoral party

A father must forbid his children to have bad companions or wear immoral clothing

To bring up children in the discipline of the Lord, it is also necessary to take away from them the occasion of doing evil.

Hence a father must, in the first place, forbid his children to go out at night, or to go to a house in which their virtue might be exposed to danger, or to keep bad company."Cast out," said Sarah to Abraham, "this bondwoman and her son." (Gen 21: 10) She wished to have Ishmael, the son of Agar the bondwoman, banished from her house, that her son Isaac might not learn his vicious habits.

Bad companions are the ruin of young persons.

A father should not only remove the evil that he witnesses, but:

First, he is bound to inquire after the conduct of his children, and to seek information from domestics and guardians regarding the places that his sons frequent when they leave home, regarding their occupations and companions.

Second, he should take from them every musical instrument that is to them an occasion of going out at night, and all forbidden weapons that may lead them into quarrels or disputes.

Third, he should dismiss all immoral servants; and, if his sons be grown up, he should not keep in his house any young female servant. Some parents pay little attention to this; and when the evil happens they complain of their children, as if they expected that things thrown into the fire should not burn.

Fourth, a father ought to forbid his children ever to bring into his house stolen goods such as fowls, fruits and the like. When Tobias heard the bleating of a goat in his house, he said, "Take heed, lest perhaps it be stolen; restore ye it to its owners." (Tob 51:21)

How often does it happen that, when a child steals something, the mother says to him, "Bring it to me, my son."

Parents should prohibit to their children all games which bring destruction on their families and on their own souls, and also masks, scandalous comedies, and certain dangerous conversations and parties of pleasure.

Fifth, a father should remove from his house romance novels that pervert young persons, and all bad books which contain pernicious maxims, tales of obscenity or of profane love.

Sixth, a father ought not to allow his children to sleep in his own bed, nor the male and female children to sleep together.

Seventh, he should not permit his daughters to be alone with men, whether young or old. But some will say, "Such a man teaches my daughters to read and write, etc.; he is a saint." The saints are in Heaven; but the saints who are on earth are flesh, and by proximate occasions they may become devils.

A mother teaching her daughters to spin

A vigilant mother instructs her daughters in wholesome work, music and pleasures

Eighth, if he has daughters, he should not permit young men to frequent his house. To get their daughters married, some mothers invite young men to their houses. They are anxious to see their daughters married; but they are not anxious seeing them in sin.

These are the mothers who, as David says, immolate their daughters to the Devil: "They sacrifice their sons and their daughters to devils." (Ps 105: 37.) And to excuse themselves they will say, “Father, there is no harm in what I do."

There is no harm! O! How many mothers shall we see condemned on the day of judgment on account of their daughters! The conduct of such mothers is at least a subject of conversation among their neighbors and equals; and, for all that they do, the parents must render an account to God.

O fathers and mothers! Confess all the sins you have committed in this respect before the day on which you shall be judged arrives.

From St. Alphonsus Liguori, "On the Education of Children,"
Sermons of St. Alphonsus Liguori, Sermon 36,
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost,Vatican Radio Report
Posted August 31, 2013

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