~Familiaris Consortio #42
A foundational belief of all Christians is that God inscribes His law upon each and every human heart. This law provides a foundational desire to do what is good and to avoid what is evil. It connects each person with God – even when there is a weak or denied faith about His presence. It is within the human heart that one will come to know God and true happiness and fulfillment.
If the heart is the place where God connects with you, then it is also the best place for you to connect with your children. Why? Because it is in the heart that you can partner with God in raising your children to do what is right and ultimately find true happiness. God counts on you to be “his hands” and “his heart” on earth.
One of the best ways to work with God in the formation of a child’s heart is virtue development. Virtue development includes any parental actions that advance the child’s ability to know and choose what is good over evil. Parents who intentionally demonstrate firm habits of thinking about and choosing to live morally good lives develop virtues within their family.
What exactly is a virtue? A virtue is a firm habit to do
what is right and good. It allows one to perform good acts
and to give one’s best. A virtuous parent chooses what is
morally good in every concrete action, even when faced good acts and with temptation.
It is important to note that virtue development cannot
be forced upon anyone. Rather, virtue development is
acquired through human effort. Your child has to freely choose to become virtuous – you as a parent cannot coerce or manipulate him or her to do what is right. This personal commitment towards goodness is made internally, within your child’s heart.
When parents try to change a child’s behavior through manipulation or force, they often find themselves painted into the corner of, “If you do what I say, I will give you what you want.” This parenting strategy develops the child’s selfish tendencies instead of his or her commitment to do what is right. Changing the outside behavior of your child does not ensure that the heart of your child has followed. You know you can press your child to change his or her outside behavior, but you cannot force the internal change. This is why parenting through the virtues is harder to accomplish.
The process of building good character begins with the four Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. These key moral virtues form the foundation upon which all other virtues grow. If you focus on helping your children develop prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, you will be instructing their heart and leading them towards authentic goodness.
Even though virtue development requires more time and effort, the rewards of parenting for virtue are great. Virtues endure. A change of heart results in real conversion, where a change in behavior may be only a temporary, surface- level fix. Virtues help children internalize the goodness to which you want to lead them. There are few greater gifts a parent can give their children than a virtuous heart that is firm in its commitment to pursue goodness and truth.
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