How can we fathers foster a healthy interior life for our children? John Clark offers that we must encourage our children to have a conversation with God.
In the past two years, significant attention has been paid to protecting our physical health. In response to the marked increase in depression, much has also been written about mental well-being.
Yet little consideration has been paid to spiritual health. In fact, spiritual needs are viewed by portions of society as subservient—if not altogether worthless—in relation to physical and mental ones. As the heads of our families, however, we fathers must foster the spiritual health of our sons and daughters.
Fundamentally, spiritual health requires the state of sanctifying grace. No soul in the state of sin could be deemed healthy; that soul is not even registering a spiritual pulse. Yet even the soul in that state can and should—in fact, it is imperative that he must—have hope. Because Jesus instituted a cure that is 100% effective: the sacrament of Penance.
Here’s the Answer
Regardless of the magnitude and number of his or her mortal sins, there is not a single soul on planet Earth who cannot be cured with a good sacramental confession. God’s mercy is an ocean, and the sacrament of Penance is high tide.
On this note, it is imperative that parents regularly take their children to Confession. Once a month is often recommended, but parents must also drive their children to Confession—readily, happily, and unquestioningly—any time their children ask. A child’s desire to go to Confession (unless there is an underlying scrupulosity problem) is a powerful sign that he or she is receptive to actual grace. Pro tip: follow up Confession with a trip to Chick-Fil-A and/or a game of catch in your backyard.
Spiritual health, however, must go beyond the basic requirement of sanctifying grace. The state of grace is not the finish line of sanctity but rather the starting gate.
From a Catholic perspective, the vague term “spiritual health” is sometimes more concretely expressed as the “interior life.” Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange explains the interior life as the “conversation which, everyone has with himself as soon as he is alone.” A person’s interior life is very revealing because, as Garrigou-Lagrange explains, “man converses interiorly with himself about what preoccupies him most.”
The Revealing Question
You can learn a lot by asking yourself that question: What preoccupies my thoughts? Remember that we’re not talking about fleeting thoughts here. In their spare moments, even many saints in
Heaven probably thought about how they could putt a golf ball more accurately, or had similar earthly cares. The interior life is about the insistent preoccupations of the mind. If our mind is a city, what neighborhoods do we keep returning to? Is it the vice of fear or the virtue of hope? Is it meaningful things or trifles? Is it to gain more material things or how to increase the extrinsic glory of God?
It becomes obvious that while all of us have an interior life, not all of us have a healthy one.
This prompts the question: how can we fathers foster a healthy interior life for our children? How can we ensure that they remain in the safe neighborhoods of the mind?
The answer is that we must encourage our children to have a conversation with God. Father Reginald explains, “As soon as a man seriously seeks truth and goodness, this intimate conversation with himself tends to become conversation with God. Little by little, instead of seeking himself in everything, instead of tending…to make himself a center, man tends to seek God in everything and to substitute for egoism, love of God, and of souls in Him. This constitutes the interior life.”
Starting the Conversation
We fathers must inspire our children to carry on a lifelong conversation with God. Of course, that begins with first having our own conversation with God. It is to have a conversation of love in an elevation of ourselves to God. It is to have “mental prayer,” which as Garrigou-Lagrange writes, is a “gaze of love.” This is not metaphorical. We must speak to God in our quiet moments. What’s more, we must actively and daily seek those quiet moments for conversation with God.
At present, our children live in a world that is terribly fearful. But Jesus has assured us that He has not only overcome the world but will speak with us as we make our way through it.
That conversation should make us brave, just as it made the Psalmist brave: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” It is impossible to simultaneously converse with God and fear evil.
If we fathers can nourish our children in a conversation with God, they will have something that goes well beyond spiritual health. They will have an interior life.
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