A key element of Catholic parenting is to parent in a way that seeks to shape the heart of your child, not just manage their behavior. A great way to accomplish shaping your child’s heart is to offer opportunities to grow in virtue.
Unfortunately we don’t hear much about virtues anymore. We hear more about “values” because values are subjective. Different people can have different values. But virtues are habits to choose what is objectively good. What is a virtue for one person is a virtue for everyone.
The Catechism teaches us:
A virtue is a firm attitude to do what is right. Its direct opposite is a vice. A vice is a habit to do what is wrong. Prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance are called the human or cardinal virtues because they forge our human character. These four habits assist us in developing a pure heart that is open to God’s will.
“The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace (God’s special help that strengthens us) purifies and elevates the virtues in our lives.” Catechism of the Catholic Church #1839
Imagine that you are building a house. The decision to build forces you to answer numerous questions about the project. What type of house will you build? Where will you build it? What materials will you use? What size will you make your house?
Now imagine that you are building your life. Think of the questions that should be asked and answered. What type of life do I want? Where do I want to go in my life? What resources will I use in my life? How meaningful do I want my life to be?
In both of these scenarios, the first and most basic question that has to be answered is what type of foundation do I want? Everyone will agree that if a house’s foundation is inadequate, the house will not last. All the effort spent building the house will be wasted because the house will eventually fall. The same is with human life. If it is built on a shaky foundation, it will not find its true purpose and meaning.
Human virtues are the firm foundation upon which a full and worthy life is built. Human virtues (also called natural virtues) help us to become human and orient us toward the true, the good and the beautiful. They lay the foundation for meaningful, selfless relationships with each other. They lay the foundation for a loving relationship with God (the human virtues are supplemented through grace by another set of virtues called the “supernatural virtues,” which help us to love God).
How Are Virtues Developed?
So how are virtues developed? There are certain elements that you can provide your children to encourage virtue development:
Repeated Action: A virtue is a habit. Habits are formed by repeated action. Give your children plenty of opportunities to practice their virtue.
Freedom: A virtue is an internalized goodness – a good that becomes part of our character, part of who we are. That means it needs to be freely chosen. Offer firm guidance, but find ways to allow your children the ability to choose for themselves. You don’t necessarily want to give them the choice between good and evil or between obedience and disobedience. But you can give them the choice about how they do what is right and good.
Pro-Active Parenting: Sometimes parents fall into the trap of only parenting in reaction to what our children do wrong. This is reactive parenting. Reacting parenting is good and necessary. Children need to learn that their choices have consequences. But parents should also exercise proactive parenting. This means offering opportunities for children to exercise goodness, not just avoid evil.
Start Young: The brain of a child is much more elastic than the brain of an adult, or even of an adolescent. Virtues are much easier to learn when we’re young. We can still grow in them as we get older – and we should! But early formation gives our children the best start.
Pray, pray, pray! All goodness comes from God. Grace can help us grow in goodness and virtue. Pray for your children and for yourself that the Holy Spirit will helps you all grow in goodness and become the people God created you to be.
Where Do We Start?
But where do we start? There are many, many virtues that you could encourage in your children. But the Church gives us a great starting point. The Church focuses on seven key virtue. The four Cardinal Virtues are virtues that help us to live a fully human life. They are called “cardinal” – a word meaning “hinge” – because once we master these four virtues, all other “human virtues” are easier to develop.
Show the gift of prudence to your children. Prudence is “right reason.” It’s exercised by knowing what is truly good for us and then making a plan to do what is right. In order to help your children know what is right, you have to set standards for your family to live by. There are standards that are already set by the Catholic Church: Ten Commandments, Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, two Great Commandments. Know them, live them, teach them.
Show the virtue of justice to your children. Justice is respecting and giving what is due to God and to others by choosing what is right. As a parent, you should demonstrate self – discipline and know how to correct your child when they are not being just. Children who are held accountable for what they do, learn the meaning of justice. Justice is the application of prudence.
Show the virtue of fortitude to your children. Fortitude is moral courage. Choosing to do what is right according to God’s will is not easy. By living according to God’s will, you and your child may encounter teasing, criticism, loneliness, or more. Your job is to give your child support and love. Listen to them. Be available to them. Be proud of them. Pray with them and for them.
Show the gift of temperance to your children. Temperance is self control or self discipline. Modeling moderation and appropriate structured use of your time will serve as an example for your children. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” has merit here. Children should be responsible for chores around the house and participate in additional youth activities that present opportunities to increase your children’s sense of interdependence, dedication, perseverance and concern for others. But keep in mind that outside activities can never replace the need for family time each day.
Here’s an example of how the Cardinal Virtues give rise to other human virtues.
Show the gift of chastity to your children – especially when they enter puberty. Chastity flows from temperance and is sexual self control. It is a gift of vital importance in today’s world because it frees a person from self gratification allowing for total and unselfish love. Children need to know that reserving genital activity until marriage is right and good because it saves them from countless pain and anxiety. They also need to know that fortitude is needed in order to live chastely. The good news is children who have applied the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance before the onset of puberty usually embrace chastity with open arms.
These four virtues work collectively to support moral life. It is hard to exercise one without the other three. They are like four pillars supporting a foundation. If all are holding their weight, the foundation is firm and strong. If one is missing, the other three are placed at risk of failure.
Let’s take a look at a simple example of how these virtues work together.
Most of us drive some type of vehicle. When we drive, we are expected to follow the rules of the road. One rule that we are all familiar with is attending to the various traffic signs.
If you are driving and you come to a traffic sign that has eight sides, is bright red and has the letters
S-T-O-P written on it, you know that you are being directed to stop. If you understand that the sign STOP means you need to stop your vehicle, then you are exercising the virtue of prudence. The sign is a rule and measure of traffic safety and you understand that.
Knowing that the sign STOP means stop and actually stopping are two different actions. Imagine that you come up to a stop sign that is at an intersection with wonderful visibility. As you approach the sign, you have plenty of time to assess that the intersection is clear. The temptation may be to SLOW down and proceed through the sign rather than to actually STOP. If you choose to roll through the sign, you are not acting with justice. But, if you do stop, then you are demonstrating justice (giving respect and what is due to the rules of the road). Clearly, prudence and justice are closely joined.
Imagine that as you come to the intersection with great visibility, another car quickly pulls up behind you. The driver is in a hurry. This is when moral courage comes to play. If you obey the rules of the road and stop (despite the honking and gesturing of the driver behind you) you are exercising fortitude. It is also important to note that you exercise fortitude if you stop even when no one is watching.
Another rule of the road is to go the speed limit. This presents a challenge for many drivers as is evidenced by the number of speeding tickets issued annually in all 50 states. It can feel good to drive fast. It can give us a sense of power and importance. Temperance is necessary to follow traffic safety laws in the face of our desire to do it our own way. It can also be difficult to oppose the masses of cars passing you as if you are standing still. Sometimes it can be difficult to confront our own selfishness that puts our busy schedule ahead of the safety of others. We need fortitude to do what is right.
The example above is simplistic – yet it shows that virtues become important in all parts of our life. It is natural that in some situations exercising the cardinal virtues is easy. This means that in other situations it will be difficult to demonstrate prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Consistency in demonstration is a challenge. It is not easy to maintain moral balance because we are all wounded by sin. Thankfully, because of Christ’s gift of salvation, we are offered grace (free and undeserved help from God) which strengthens and enlightens our efforts to develop a virtuous life.
This article is gotten from [http://www.twl4parents.com/raising-catholic-kids-who-live-the-virtues/]