In 1971, Richard and Karen Carpenter released a popular song, “Bless the Beasts and the Children.” Some of the lyrics are worth reflecting on:

Bless the beasts and the children.

            For in this world they have no voice.

            They have no choice…

       For the world can never be

         The one they see…

Light their way

            When darkness surrounds them.

            Give them love, let it shine all around them…

            Give them shelter from the storm.

            Keep them safe.

            Keep them warm….

Despite the Carpenters’ excellent and powerful insight, there is so much more that Catholic parents must provide to their children so they can overcome the temptations of the secular world and hang on to their faith.

It is true that God gave us the family to keep children safe and warm and to let love surround them. Their parents are responsible to light their way, especially when the darkness of the world’s values and behaviors surround them.

In his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis recognizes the complex nature of providing the nurturing and loving home that children need and deserve. He calls on the family to reach for the highest aspirations.

Parents must model loving and respectful attitudes and behaviors toward each other and their children and teach their children to accept themselves and other as unique persons.

He also addresses the broad topic of education. This is not restricted to an academic education but more includes knowledge about the world and culture. Parents also need to be the first teachers of the faith for their children; they need to model faith, worship of God and consistent participation in the life of the Church.

The Holy Father highlights certain serious sins against children, their wellbeing and justice. Among these sins are abortion, human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Both the local and national media report appalling acts of child neglect and abuse: a couple in California accused of imprisoning their own children and depriving them of adequate food; and the recent conviction of a physician who abused girls and young women in gymnastics for decades. Here in Vermont, we have seen many instances of serve neglect associated with chronic substance abuse, and addiction has led to numerous children being taken into state custody.

The challenges to families are not trivial. We each have a special call to protect our own children (and even the children of families that are suffering, in crisis or absent) and to be their voice when needed so that they may grow into mature, stable adults, aware of their own human dignity created in God’s image and to experience the joy of God’s love as His children. We need to guide them to be devout and faith-filled Christians who will serve God and their neighbors.

—Deacon Pete Gummere serves at Corpus Christi Parish in St. Johnsbury.  He is a bioethicist and adjunct faculty member at Pontifical College Josephinum, where he teaches courses in medical morality and moral theology in the Josephinum Diaconate Institute. He also serves as theology instructor at the Diocese of Burlington’s St. Therese Digital Academy.

Originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.