One of the primal gifts we as parents offer our children is unconditional love. Because of the unique bond we hold with our children the natural order of things is to care and nurture them to the best of our abilities because they are our children our own flesh and blood. A unique but important way of understanding our role as authentic Christian witnesses toward our children is the emphasis of our children’s dignity.
The gift of dignity reflects an understanding that each human being is created with an inherent worth created in the image and likeness of God. This unique covenantal bond is very important to address and affirm because it creates an honest and authentic understanding of our role as children of God and our responsibility not just to ourselves, but to God first and then to those around us especially our families. The Prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) articulates the importance of this covenantal understanding in the following way:
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The Human Person, Dignity, and Mercy
A human being should not be denied the opportunity to recognize and embrace their own dignity in the image and likeness of God. All of us are part of a grand covenantal bond instituted by God reinforced by Christ and faithfully transmitted by the Church. The Catechism reminds us that the dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience (1750). This means that inherent to our nature we possess a genuine moral compass that assists us in basing the judgment of things on the dignity of those arounds us including ourselves.
In light of our covenantal relationship with Christ genuine mercy directs our actions to seek those who have lost their sense of dignity as a child of God. This means that as parents our role is to foster a mercy of conversion rooted in charity with the aim of guiding our children toward an intimate communion with Christ and His Church (Lk 15:7). At the heart of our parental identity toward our children is the revelation of God’s love through His Son Jesus Christ and the enormity of this love found in the Paschal Mystery.
The Danger of Teaching False Mercy
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In basic terms, false mercy is an unwillingness to address moral virtue for the sake of satisfying disordered passion(s). This means that “my child doesn’t have the right to everything he wants just because he says so.” It doesn’t mean that he can do no wrong because he is God’s gift to this earth.” Genuine mercy aims to help our children “find themselves” which means recognizing their own faults and “owning up to them.” The parable of the Prodigal Son reflects this point very clearly where the son comes to “find himself” (Lk 15:17) i.e. finding his moral sense and realizing that the decisions he made did not lead to better state in life. False mercy rejects the idea of finding yourself because the attitude is “I am just fine.” Hence if we as parents profess this distorted ethic of life our children will never see the need for moral conversion let alone a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Genuine mercy challenges all of us to recognize our dignity as children of God which in turn will guide us to act on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy to those in greater need than ourselves.
Blessed Cardinal Newman reminds us that
“Virtue is its own reward, and brings with it the truest and highest pleasure; but if we cultivate it only for pleasure's sake, we are selfish, not religious, and will never gain the pleasure, because we can never have the virtue.”
Copyright 2016 Marlon De La Torre
About the Author
Marlon currently serves as the Director of Catechist Formation and Children’s Catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. He is an adjunct professor of Catechetics for Holy Trinity Seminary serving the Diocese of Dallas and Fort Worth and an adjunct professor of Catechetics for The Catholic Distance University. His published works include Screwtape Teaches the Faith. Learn more about Marlon's work at his blog Knowing Is Doing.