Maybe it's just me, but it seems like more than a few parents get themselves educated once they accept the responsibility of educating their children. I guess I found out what I didn't know when I realized that someone else was counting on me!
In chapter seven of Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), Pope Francis opens his mind and heart about the "increasingly complex" educational role that families play in the formation of their children. The Holy Father has a profound concern for young people, and he begins his discussion by confronting parents with these essential questions: “Do we seek to understand ‘where’ our children really are in their journey? Where is their soul, do we really know? And above all, do we want to know?” (n. 261).
The Holy Father wants parents not just to be in control of the details of their children’s daily lives, but to be engaged with who they are and where they are heading on deeper levels. A better education of children, Pope Francis argues, will help them not only to know and love what is objectively good, but also “to realize that what we consider objectively good is also good ‘for us’ here and now” (n. 265). It is personal, and yet the good is not just a “good-for-me” kind of relativism which isolates us from God and others.
Pope Francis encourages families to provide “an education in hope,” and he exhorts them to be places where “we learn self-mastery and detachment from our impulses”; in this way, we learn responsible freedom and respect for the freedom of others (n. 275).
In this context, the Holy Father addresses the most controversial topic in chapter seven: “The need for sex education” (nn. 280-86); he offers parents much food for thought, as they consider whether their own views have been more informed by the Gospel or the world: “In an age when sexuality tends to be trivialized and impoverished,” Pope Francis thinks that the issue of sex education “can only be seen within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving” (n. 280).
· The Holy Father is not naïve about the prevailing state of affairs today: “Frequently, sex education deals primarily with ‘protection’ through the practice of ‘safe sex’”; he comments that “This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of acceptance. It is always irresponsible to invite adolescents to toy with their bodies and their desires” (n. 283).
· In a prescient comment given the ongoing confusion about gender identity in post-modern settings, Pope Francis notes that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for ‘thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation…An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves” (n. 285).
Let’s pray that the entire Church finds new ways to support families in the mission entrusted to us by the Savior. After all, “Faith is God’s gift, received in baptism, and not our own work, yet parents are the means that God uses for it to grow and develop” (n. 287).
Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us!
P.S. Check out this 2-minute video on Pope Francis' monthly prayer intentions, filled with inspirations and challenges!
P.P.S. SPOILER ALERT: Next month's installment on Amoris Laetitia will address the hotly debated section of the text, about which Pope Francis himself predicted: "everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight" (AL, n. 7)!