In the school of the Holy Family, we are to learn humility, which is a key to knowledge of the truth about God and oneself. Humility strengthen unity and love in marriage and family, as well as disinterested, selfless social love.
Without humility, there is no authentic love, because love is always humble. Humility is living life in the truth, aware that all that is good comes from God.
The school of humility
Parents should learn how to live a life of humility on a daily basis. Through discreet catechesis and specific examples, they may teach their children what humility is and how very important it is in personal and family life.
If parents live in a state of sanctifying grace, accept sacraments, pray, and respect and love each other, they are capable of forgiving each other and successfully overcoming any misunderstandings and conflicts. Happy are the children who have such parents
The most effective way to teach children humility is the example of the life of both parents. Children feel particularly threatened when their parents have arguments and do not live in harmony. They are very upset if they must wait for a long time for mum and dad to make up. The mutual love of parents, which can be seen also in forgiving guilt and reconciliation — and not in material conditions — plays a decisive role in bringing up children. If parents live in a state of sanctifying grace, accept sacraments, pray, and respect and love each other, they are capable of forgiving each other and successfully overcoming any misunderstandings and conflicts. Happy are the children who have such parents. The mutual love of parents as a manifestation of God’s love is the greatest treasure they can give their children. Mum and dad’s attitude, visible in their mutual gift of a love which forgives all, is patient and kind, not envious or boastful, arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way (cf. 1 Cor. 13: 4–5). Such a love allows children to grow towards mature love, forgiveness and overcoming evil with good.
A painful road to maturity
In our marriage, we have more than once experienced situations when the pride of one of us has mercilessly clashed with that of the other. We have often had arguments in which we hurt each other. This is because we have forgotten about Christ in our marriage and his desire that we love each other by giving to the other Christ’s love and forgiveness. Our marriage has gone through many crises, caused by our neglecting marital dialogue. Difficulties have overwhelmed us. One of us has showed anger by smashing plates against the floor, the other by slamming a door. The feeling of helplessness made us stand in the truth and present our problem to Christ and Mary in prayer. On such occasions, thanks to God’s intervention, we have been able to completely calm our emotions and overcome the conflict. Many a time, we have witnessed what might be termed a moral miracle. In the spirit of faith, we felt that it was Our Lady who was taking over from us. She taught us to forgive unreservedly and cast away bad thoughts, grievances and anger. We have tangibly experienced how widely mutual forgiveness opens the door to our hearts for the love of Christ present in the sacrament of marriage. We have come to understand that the ability to forgive unreservedly is a specific manifestation of humility, which makes us capable of mutual love.
Shaping the attitude of humility
A perfect model of humility is offered to us by Jesus, Mary and St Joseph. One important role parents have to play in bringing up children is to impart to them the attitude of humility. There are many opportunities for this: problems at school, disobedience, neglecting prayer, cowardice in situations that require us to stand up to evil, an inclination to lying and bad behaviour towards siblings. It is necessary to make children aware that all the hardships that we encounter in life are invitations to present them to Jesus and Mary in prayer and ask for help. Without Jesus, we can do no good (cf. John 15:5).
If, for instance, your child puts on airs because he or she is a top student at school, but is no good at swimming, then this weak side will naturally counterbalance the tendency to exaggerate their own merits. Parents have an opportunity then to encourage the child to pray and to take on a humble attitude. You may tell your daughter: “Before you go to the pool, first pray so that the time at the pool will be spend with Jesus and that you may be happy that your friends swim better than you do.” We will be able to tackle difficult situations in the spirit of humility if we accept them in the spirit of humility — as an invitation to prayer and to offer them and yourself to God. Children (and not only them) do not accept their weaknesses, because every child wants to be the best. Experiencing a weakness or a manifest lack of talent in a field should be an opportunity to talk to the child and to make them aware that they are unconditionally loved by God and their parents. Any failure is an invitation to pray and to notice the problems and needs of other people. You need to tell your child: “Look, you are better than other children, for instance, at maths. Thank God for the talents He has given you and remember that He wants you to share those gifts with others by helping them. If, however, you are poorer at some field or activity, ask Jesus for help and thank him for his love and for the help he gives you each time you ask.”
God opposes the proud
God wants us to fulfil our duties the best we can, because in this way we carry out God’s plans and his will. You must not let your child be lazy or neglect schoolwork. He or she must know that by fulfilling all their duties (including doing homework), they are carrying out God’s will. The child must be taught the skill of discerning what God wants of him or her at a given moment. Everything must be subject to the love of God and one’s neighbour. If, for instance, the child is doing homework and the need arises to help immediately his or her parents or siblings, the child should interrupt studying to help them.
The child who has poor grades must be encouraged to study, and hope must be kindled in them that they may receive better grades but must study hard and persevere. Furthermore, it is necessary to make the child realise that when he or she asks God for help, all necessary help will be forthcoming. Such a child should be encouraged to work and pray. Meanwhile, from a talented child who is successful at school, obedience should be more firmly demanded, and such a child should be often reminded that giving credit for successes to oneself and not to God is a sign of pride. A child should know that all talents are God’s gift, given for the purpose of doing good.
The most effective way to teach children humility is the example of the life of both parents
It is necessary to oppose resolutely a frequent tendency in children to boast about their clothes, a cell phone, objects they possess or their dad’s car. The desire to be perceived as a person of success by basking in the success of one’s parents is a sign of selfish patronising over others. This attitude can be overcome when parents themselves do not pursue success at any cost but care above all about the quality of their spiritual life and do not excessively accumulate material goods but try to assist the poor and needy instead.
Parents should draw their children’s attention to various manifestations of selfishness and pride in the specific situations of their lives, and explain to them what lies behind their behaviour and reactions. When a disobedient child suffers some harm from his or her friends or gets into trouble at school, the parents, commenting on the situation, should say outright that God lets such situations take place so that we get rid of selfishness and pride, which are the major sources of all evil in our lives.
During Bible study together, it is desirable to show the child attitudes full of humility and others full of pride. Humility may also be discussed using examples from the lives of saints. To teach children to identify the signs of selfishness and pride in themselves, parents ought to skilfully comment on the events which they witness every day, read about in books or watch in the media. Yet this will all be ineffective if the parents do not let God shape the attitude of humility in themselves.
Parents are responsible for what films their children watch and how they use the Internet. Prior to giving permission to their children to watch a film, parents should learn what it is about and how it is assessed in the Catholic media so as not to expose the children to harmful and depraving content. At all times, one should adhere to the following rule: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). The greatest manifestation of pride is the rejection of the Decalogue and deciding by oneself what is good and what is bad or living life as if God did not exist. Applying this principle, we will always know which film or book is good for our children (e.g. C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia), and which films or novels deny Christian values (e.g. the Harry Potter novels) and contain a spiritual venom which severs relationships with God and depraves children by exacerbating selfishness and pride. We are pestered with the ideology of success, which takes the form of the so-called rat race. A child is expected to strive for success at all costs; that is the style of upbringing which is imposed on us. We must guard ourselves and our children against that type of mentality. The most important thing in life is not achieving success, but shaping one’s character, growing mature to be capable of love, gaining knowledge, mastering self-control, overcoming selfishness and pride and in particular learning humility. Our role model is Jesus, a true God who for our salvation “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7). The same Jesus asks us: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29).