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Roxane Salonen shares how Saint John Paul II's words calling the family “a school of love” have inspired her, both as a mother and daughter. 

“The family is a school of love,” Saint John Paul II once said. I wish I had seen this phrase early enough to have taped it to my fridge when our five young-adult children were little. It might have empowered me to see more clearly the sublime dignity in my role as mother in the most intense hands-on years.  

As I mediate on this phrase now, and on the section of The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) where the virtues of family are laid out, it’s clear my chances have not vanished entirely: not in my role as mother nor as daughter. Not yet, anyway.  

Respect for parents derives from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of their love and work, have brought their children into the world, and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom and grace. (CCC 2215) 


Parents of young children, someday you will have the chance to see the fruits of your labor, as my husband and I have in our maturing years.  

To offer a few examples, we’ve been able to watch our oldest daughter step into her role as a first-grade teacher, taking up the noble charge of education like my own mother did, and her mother before her. And when we recently visited our oldest son in Phoenix, many miles from his North Dakota roots, we got to see him thriving in his new, faraway life. Meeting his friends and seeing how gladly they interacted was an unexpected pleasure.  




When our children are young, we can’t begin to imagine how people beyond our world will someday regard them as adults. Instead, we set about our daily tasks and do the best we can to form our young ones, with God’s, the Church’s and our community’s help. More often than not, it is exasperating work that can feel fruitless. 

But as an older mother now, I want to bring hope and encouragement to younger parents. Keep your eye on eternity and don’t let God and the sacraments out of your sight! At the same time, know that things likely won’t unfold exactly as you plan. Relax your vision a bit, because your children will have ideas and dreams of their own, along with their share of mistakes—just like we did at their ages. 

Keeping this phrase, “The family is a school of love,” in mind, be earnest about the subjects your school teaches—not topics like reading, writing and arithmetic, but courses with eternal implications as the Catechism mentions: tenderness, respect, and disinterested service.   




But just as we owe this “training camp” of love to our children, our children, especially as they grow older, have an obligation to us as well—and we do to our parents. In Day 287 of the Catechism in a Year podcast discussing the Fourth Commandment—“Honor thy father and mother”—Fr. Mike Schmitz encourages older children to acknowledge the debt they owe their parents. Rather than hold grudges, we ought to consider gratitude most of all, regardless of whether we feel we’ve been given what we want or need, simply because “what our parents have given us is irreplaceable.” Words to ponder. 


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Parents of young children, someday you will have the chance to see the fruits of your labor! #CatholicMom


It took my father’s death for me to grasp the true, exquisite value of my parents in my life. But my eyes were open then. At the beginning of the pandemic, my sister and I made a pact to call our mother regularly, realizing that, as a widow, she might be experience engulfing loneliness. We’ve kept that up since, so Mom gets a phone call every other day from one of us. Recently, she thanked me for these frequent check-ins, but in the end, we are the ones blessed.  

Fr. Mike said that as we grow into adults, we often think that, since we’ve left home, it’s “every man to themselves,” but the Church envisions something much more beautiful.  

As they grow up, children should still respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. (CCC 2217) 


Our school of love doesn’t stop operating just because we, or our children, leave the house, he said, nodding to the Book of Sirach to bring his points home:  

For the Lord honors a father above his children, and he confirms a mother’s right over her children. Those who honor their father atone for sins, and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure. Those who honor their father will have joy in their own children, and when they pray they will be heard. Those who respect their father will have long life, and those who honor their mother obey the Lord (Sirach 3:2-6, RSV/CE) 


Again, so much richness! 

Bringing all this to a close, Fr. Mike cautioned that our chances to be there for our parents will evaporate someday, maybe sooner than we think, so we should seize these opportunities to love while we can. 

Q4U: What subjects does your school of love do well, and where can your school of love improve? 



Copyright 2023 Roxane Salonen
Images: Canva