December 2009 - Education - A Question of Details

This month we would like to share with you some reflections on education, prompted by an apparently insignificant question which was asked by young parents - "Should we give a pacifier to our baby to calm him and, incidentally ("incidentally"? are you sure?), be ourselves at peace?"

Dear friends and benefactors,

This month we would like to share with you some reflections on education, prompted by an apparently insignificant question which was asked by young parents - "Should we give a pacifier to our baby to calm him and, incidentally ("incidentally"? are you sure?), be ourselves at peace?"

Accurately described as being "the art of arts'", education aims to train in virtue a child enowed with a rational soul. However it seems to us that this noble task can succeed only if we open the child's soul to the understanding of details. When this understanding is lost, what in fact disappears is the in-depth understanding of the order of the world, leaving the child completely powerless regarding his passions, which promptly enslave him.

If we neglect to teach the importance of details, the child will rapidly lose the sense of human realities and give free rein to the animal that lives within him. The consequences of this are enormous. What would become of a marriage where no consideration is ever shown to the spouse? What would happen to politeness, which is itself nothing more than a succession of details? Take those details away: politeness would not survive, thus distorting the relations that we maintain with those in authority. Today, we see in society the harmful effects of such distortion.

We could multiply the examples, but we would always draw the same conclusion - namely, that life is made up of small details which we must learn not to overlook. The observance of these details is nothing less than the acknowledgment a higher order in the world, to which we must submit throughout our life.

That question about the pacifier is undeniably only one matter of detail. Knowing now, however, how important details are, we will try to consider seriously a subject that initially seemed trivial.

The child's first instruction in the laws of life is through his different experiences, either of the physical or the psychological order. The child constantly tests the resistance of physical objects and of his parents, subjecting the latter to the barrage of his desires and whims, without even being conscious of it! The problem arises when the parents do not understand that the child's whole life rests upon the foundation of this first formation - and shouldn't the foundations be carefully placed if we want to ensure the solidity of the building?

When the child has to be calmed down, the use of a pacifier is an artificial recourse which has. for the parents, the undeniable attraction of allowing them to avoid practicing the necessary patience. Unconsciously, this easy way out affects their spirit of consecration to God. by helping them to avoid the painful effort of having both to endure the cries of the child and to teach him to master his desires.

Moreover, the pacifier develops a psychological dependence which will result later on in an unhealthy dependence on any kind of consolations. To have recourse to it is neither reasonable nor rare - it is, in fact, nothing more than an easy way out for the harassed parents, but not a way of education in virtue for the child. The child is already learning, in this way, how to satisfy his desires. He establishes a link between his cries of demand and the pacifier, which gives him a well-being that satisfies his animal nature. lie finds an illusory compensation that distorts his relation with reality.

Tomorrow, the demands of his animal nature will be of another kind. Accustomed to satisfy them, he will turn then to artificial paradises that will draw him away from reality, from the law of effort, from virtue. Is this, really, what we want to teach our children? If such were the case, that would not be education.

Education fails or succeeds in this training of the understanding of the detail. We witness this with sadness even here, at the seminary: because they haven't received this training when they were little, certain seminarians go back into the world, although it seemed clear that they had a vocation. But not having the understanding of details and of the effort that they constantly require, they are unable to answer God's call.

But some parents may object that the pacifier only offers to the child some consolation, of which he is in dire need. Couldn't these consolations be considered in the light of a higher nature about which we have ourselves spoken of? Why do we seem to oppose such consolations so fiercely and unrelentingly?

We oppose them because today there is a deplorable confusion between consolation and affection. We must vigorously denounce this extremely pernicious confusion which bogs the child down in an increasingly intense and constant search for consolations that unbalances the man to the profit of the animal that lives within him

The child is, indeed, in search for consolations. But on this point, he is no different from other animals. To give him consolations without trying to lead him to a higher plane is to reduce him to animality and to keep him at this lower plane. Actually, more than consolations, the child is avid to receive tangible proofs of affection.

Even if the difference between consolation and affection seems very slight, an abyss separates them! Consolation is directed at the animal level and cannot exceed this stage. Affection, on the other hand, nourishes the rational soul, which includes in itself the animal and vegetative parts that exist in every man. Thus, by affection - the love of benevolence which wants the good of another and opens the person to virtue - we also meet the "need" for consolations, but we do not bog ourselves down by stopping there. We do not corrupt the child, as we do when we give him only consolations which, not nourishing his soul, must be repeated incessantly, thus creating a devastating dependence. And who can say where will this dependence stop?

On the other hand, by means of affection we elevate the child's soul by turning him towards the higher realities of life and love.

This simple example can help us to realize how affected we are by our times, by this century of pleasures and extreme confusion, subject to the constant pressure of those who are already slaves of this world. We are children of this century! But then, O Blessed Mother, what will happen to our children? Come to our aid, O Lord, we are mad...

In any case, here we have an additional reason to carry out a good Advent in the expectation of His coming into our hearts; hastening it by the vehemence of our prayers!


In Christo Sacerdote et Maria,