by Clemens Pater
Parents will do their best to shield their children from internet pornography. They might secure software that blocks these sites. Perhaps the use of accountability services (e.g. Covenant Eyes) will help support efforts to foster sobriety in this regard.
Part of the defense against these hurtful enticements is an interior strengthening of virtues that helps the person resist temptations against holy purity. Strengthening chastity and fortifying ourselves and our children in the supernatural life can be a powerful defense against these temptations. Frequent Confession and worthy Holy Communions are also powerful fortifications against sin.
But, how do we foster these virtues – of chastity and purity - in our children? Here are a few suggestions on how to introduce the habits of chastity and holy purity – even in our young children.
Chastity is the correct use of our sexuality according to our station in life. It is a virtue – a habit, i.e., something that grows stronger as it is repeated and exercised – that moderates the desire for sexual pleasure. Chastity lets us love with an upright and undivided heart. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2337)
Modesty and decency are the guardians of chastity. They are an important part of avoiding impurity, and, in fact, they are easier to practice. “Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. …. Modesty protects the mystery of the person and their love.” (CCC, nos. 2521-2522)
Parents can teach, even their young children, to dress and act in a way that shows decency and respect for their bodies: wearing a bathrobe and wearing clothing that does not expose or accentuate the appropriate privacy of the body. The human body is good. It has been sanctified in the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, when Our Lord, True God, took human flesh and became, also, True Man.
The body, St Paul teaches, is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We can honor God in our body. (I Cor 6:19-20)
We can also choose to exercise decency or modesty in talk. Avoiding what is impure or vulgar in action or speech can preempt some of the likely temptations to unchastity. Over time, children may learn how to redirect inappropriate conversations; to have the prudence to avoid disrespectful situations, or the fortitude to walk away from hurtful or suggestive talk.
In accordance with the child’s age and level of bodily and affective maturity, parents can instruct their children on the greatness of God’s gift of the body; on the meaning and purpose of our bodies and of sexuality in God’s plan; and in strategies to avoid the occasions of selfish pleasure and impurity. Indeed, parents are the most fitting teachers of their children in the mystery of sexuality and love.
Very young children may have curiosities and questions when Mother is expecting a baby. While detailed explanations are not yet necessary with young children, this can be a time to talk about God’s love for them and their new brother or sister. Parents may also speak of the love of Mother and Dad as they are helped by God to bring children into the world.
As the child enters into puberty, it is important for the parent to teach about the body, its proper purposes and functions, simply but accurately, so that the child is not misinformed by talk with their friends. The science should always be accompanied by a clear understanding of the moral values which come from Christ and His Church. Mothers will often be the best teachers of their daughters, and fathers, of their sons. If one or other parent is not in the home, a very trusted friend might be asked to assist.
Because people are more than their bodies, children can be taught to interact and communicate respectfully with others, of their own age, and with adults. Parents will model this, consciously or not. Children can be guided to look into the person’s eyes; to greet them perhaps with a handshake; to speak kindly and to listen politely. Learning to interact with respect and care – person to person – can help the child avoid regarding others as objects. The child can be helped to recognize boundaries and to recognize what might be an inappropriate infringement on their privacy, or even abuse. Similarly, they will need to be instructed how they must respect others in this way. The atmosphere of the home can provide a model for good talk and interaction.
Parents have a responsibility to monitor and/or restrict TV and computer usage – especially hand-held devices and social media. Eventually, children will have to make these value decisions on their own. The virtues that have been taught and lived in the home will have laid a foundation for Holy Purity – or not.
Children and families should pray for the grace of Holy Purity. Using Holy Water at the bedside and concluding each day with prayers, particularly asking our Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, our Guardian Angel, and St. Michael for help and protection will invoke a supernatural assistance, and can be practiced at the earliest years.
We must always be careful to avoid the occasions and environments that may lead our children into sins against purity, but perhaps among the best defenses is an interior life of prayer, a frequent use of the Sacraments, and the cultivation and practice of virtue.
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Practice of the Three Hail Marys for Purity
A traditional Catholic devotional practice is that of praying Three Hail Marys for purity or chastity, and the other virtues associated with it. A person may pray them kneeling at their bedside each night, following the examination of conscience. Holy Water may also be used: to sign oneself, and to sprinkle on the bed.
The practice of the Three Hail Marys for purity dates back to at least the 12th century.
St Mechtilde (died, 1298) and St Gertrude (died, 1302), are said to have received revelations from the Blessed Virgin Mary concerning the practice. It was indulgenced by Pope John XXII in 1318 and in 1327.
It has been practiced and recommended by many saints, including St Anthony of Padua, St Alphonsus Ligouri, St John Bosco, St Bonaventure, St John Vianney, St Stanislaus Kostka, St Louis Marie de Montfort, St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, St Gemma Galgani, St Gerard Majella, St Josemaria Escriva, and a host of others.