Being charitable is one of the virtues that my husband and I are constantly teaching my son. For a child, being charitable can come in various, simple forms—one of them being sharing with others. The definition of sharing is to “give” or to “use, occupy or enjoy” a portion of something to another or others.
Like many children, it is not always easy for our little love to “give” or “enjoy” something with others. During playtime with other children, I see how flustered he gets when I remind him to be charitable, as all the children are vying to play with the same toys. I understand that it is not easy for him to share and sometimes I even feel as if I am being cruel by forcing him to share something he is having a great time with. However, as a Catholic mother, I know how important it is for him to begin learning these small acts of charity at a young age.
Wait, WHY is it so important for children to learn acts of charity?
1. It is What Jesus Tells us to do.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.
“Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.”
When we practice the virtue of charity, otherwise known as “sharing” to our son, we are following Jesus Christ’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you."
So when my son is playing with the pretend farmhouse at playtime and another little boy or girl comes over to play with it, I remind him to share with them not only so that they can experience the same joy in playing with the pretend farmhouse, but so that my son can follow Jesus’s commandment.
2. It Feels Good to Share.
While this isn’t and shouldn’t be the only reason to do good for others, it naturally feels good to do good. For now, my son doesn’t always seem to experience that happy, “good” feeling that comes when we share and/or do good for others.
Most of the time it seems he begrudgingly listens to me when I ask him to share with others—especially if it is the second or third time that I am reminding him to share. However, there are now moments when I don’t even have to remind him and he just shares of his own free will.
My son many not yet feel the happiness that comes with doing good for others, but you can bet that his momma does! I feel so much joy and excitement at the fact that my son is following Jesus’s commandments, even if it is just sharing a toy.
3. It Teaches Self-Denial.
St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, said “for by the constant practice of repeated self-denial in little things, with God's grace you will increase in strength and manliness of character.” (The Way, n. 19).
In Luke 9:23, Jesus says. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Self-denial sounds cruel, especially when speaking of a child, however, it is an important aspect of what will set ourselves and our children on their path to heaven.
Sure, I could let my son play with the pretend farmhouse and not remind him to share with others who want to play with it as well. While it may be more fun for him in that moment to have the pretend farmhouse all to himself, it will most certainly not teach him the virtue of charity. It also will not feed his soul nor will it help positively shape his character.
What good is it to have fleeting moments of joy if it will eventually cost us our souls?
For now, it may seem like just a toy, but, I pray, when my son is older, his actions will be more substantial.
How to Teach Children to Behave Charitably?
1. Be Their Role Models.
As Catholics, we are all called to follow Jesus regardless of our vocations and during all stages of our lives. The best way for our children to learn how to follow Jesus and live like Jesus is for them to see real-life examples in us, their parents. In other words, parents: we must practice what we preach.
Being a role model is true for a multitude of other examples; eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough exercising, praying the Holy Rosary each day, going to Mass at least once a week, resisting peer pressure and more.
I could remind him to share each and every time we are at playtime, but if I don’t show him that I, too, share and am charitable, not only will he eventually perceive me to be a hypocrite, but my words will be for nothing.
Worse, he may eventually replace my unsubstantiated advice with sinful, selfish ways instead.
2. Treat Everyone as if They Were Jesus.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
Before I go on, I admit that this is very, very, hard for me to do at times. Especially, those times that I have not been treated well or someone I love has not been treated well. Instead of focusing on those times, it is important to highlight that I am trying to get better and draw inspiration from the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
To expand on my previous point, however, being a role model is something that can be done each day.
While it is admirable to make “grand gestures” by donating your time, treasure or talent at organizations that serve the community (and we all should be doing that), we can find “simple, every day" gestures to treat our neighbors with love and as if they were Jesus.
What are some examples of “simple, every day” gestures?
–okay that last one is specifically directed at my husband, but nonetheless it is indeed charitable and prudent.
3. Focus on what really matters in life.
Saint Giuseppe Moscati was a physician and researcher who “gave his wages and skills to caring for the sick and the poor and was a model of piety and faith. He was beatified in 1975 and canonized in 1987.” Saint Moscati once said, "Not science, but charity has transformed the world," explaining that only a few go down in history as men of science, but all can leave the world a better place by their charity.”
Saint Moscati holds a special place in my heart as I recall my late grandparents on my mother’s side telling us about him. My son also has his same first name, although the American version.
I admit that I would love it if my son advanced far into whichever field he chooses, but I would love it even more if he heeded the advice of Saint Moscati to make the world a better place through charitable acts.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
In conclusion, I pray that he also listens to another Saint who has inspired me by advising:
“The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway,” Saint Theresa of Calcutta.
How do you teach your children to be charitable? Please, share with us on Facebook!
As always, thank you for reading and May the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always.
Online, Catholic. “St. Joseph Moscati - Saints & Angels.” Catholic Online, www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=4075.
Bolin, Author Joseph. “Thoughts from St. Josemarie Escriva.” Paths of Love, www.pathsoflove.com/blog/2009/09/thoughts-from-st-josemarie-escriva/.
“Catechism of the Catholic Church - The Virtues.” La Santa Sede, Vatican, www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a7.htm.