Teach them yourself

From Teaching Religion at Home by Mary Reed Newland

The notion that one must be specially educated to teach religion to one’s small children can be disposed of immediately by examining the lives of saints whose parents were unschooled, even illiterate. Literacy is hardly a requirement, but the success of such mothers as Assunta Goretti and Margaret Bosco dispose of the "I don't know enough" excuses.

Image:   At the Summit, Moonlit Night by Edward Potthast

Image: At the Summit, Moonlit Night by Edward Potthast

Père Auffray writes of Margaret Bosco:

This poor unlettered Piedmontese woman had a subtle sense of true education. Neither anything nor anyone, neither the Priest as a preacher nor as a catechist, nor the teacher in his school, can replace the mother: she alone can fashion the heart. A high and noble duty which Margaret Bosco instinctively understood; and how she devoted herself to doing it! 

At the bottom of this education, as at its top, was God. She would seize the least opportunity of impressing this thought of their Creator in its various aspects upon the hearts of her sons. On a starry night she would take them out and say: "All the stars are wonderful; it is God who put them there. If the sky is so lovely, what must paradise be like?" Or else, in the presence of one of those magnificent dawns which tinge the snowy girdle of the Alpine horizon with a ruddy glow: "What wonders God has made for us, dear children!" If hail had destroyed the humble family vineyard wholly or in part: "Let us bow our heads!" she murmured. "God gave us these beautiful bunches of grapes, and now He has taken them away. He is the Lord. It is a trial for us, for the wicked a punishment." And on a winter evening, when the family was huddled together round a flaming log and the north wind was whistling or icy rain was hammering on the roof: "Dear children, how we should love God for providing us with what is needful. He is indeed our Father who is in heaven.”

It was not only for the needs of the body that this watchful mother was so vigilant; more than all she took thought for the training of the soul, and she began by feeding her children's minds with the pure teaching of the faith. She could neither read nor write, but she knew all the catechism by heart, and Scripture history and the life of our Lord as well. From her memory all this living doctrine, patiently doled out, was passed on into the minds of her boys. She might have found some excuse in her daily care for handing over this work to the zeal of the curé of Castelnuovo; but in Italy, at that time, the catechizing of children took place only in Lent, and that meant for these children walking more than six miles a day; she preferred to teach them herself everything she knew, trusting to her work being checked or completed by the curé of the parish.

Image:  The Grace by Franz by Defregger

Image: The Grace by Franz by Defregger

This early Christian teaching, falling from his mother's lips, explains much in the harassed childhood of little John Bosco. It explains, in short, why the bitter poverty, the hard work, the ill-tempered jealousy of a cloddish half-brother did not warp the mind and destroy the spirit of this brilliant, dedicated, game little boy whom God had destined to be a great shepherd of souls. 

Margaret Bosco, Assunta Goretti, Charles and Brigid Savio (not illiterate, but simple people) cancel out our excuses. God did not make a mistake when He left the teaching of the little ones to the parents instead of the scholars. It might be said, with all due respect, that the scholars know too much to teach them, for small children learn best truths that are simply taught in the language of their daily lives by means of the love of their parents. Like Margaret Bosco, we have the catechism, Holy Scripture and, in the Gospels, the life of our Lord. Unlike Margaret Bosco, we can read. "She might have found some excuse in her daily cares for handing over this work." But she did not. "She preferred to teach them herself—everything she knew."

Perhaps this is the difference between the parents of the saints and the others.