Saint Thecla, miraculously protected from being eaten by lions.
Of course having seven kids, we also regularly have many an ear listening in on our adult conversations. (Fourteen ears to be exact, and sixteen if you count the two newest ears.) They occasionally overhear us discussing topics like religious freedom, the HHS mandate, best practices in helping the poor, tax rates, marriage and abortion. And, sometimes they have questions.
I consider it a distinct (albeit weighty!) privilege to be in the position of shaping my kids' early views on these subjects. I reject the notion that it is better to say nothing for eighteen years and let them eventually choose their "own" way--because in the absence of a solid reason otherwise, people generally default to the prevailing views of the culture. A parent's silence will indicate that the issues don't matter, or that there is no moral/reasoned component to those issues. And children are looking to us for guidance, so in saying nothing we are saying something. They will indeed need to make decisions for themselves, but the early years of a child's life are intended by God for formation and training in virtues and faith.
That is not to say that children should be robbed of childlike innocence and a carefree existence. We do not watch the national or local news in our home, I do not inform my kids of every single global disaster, and they are by all accounts fairly sheltered.
But as parents, I do believe it is our duty to form our childrens' consciences and help them learn how to think through things from a Catholic (or historically Christian) perspective. This means finding age-appropriate ways of discussing things related to sin, sexuality, and life--which is actually quite possible and much easier than I thought it would be.
We recently read about Saint Thecla at the dinnertable. A convert from paganism in the first century, she was nearly martyred twice for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, and serves as a beautiful example of bravery in the face of religious persecution. We talked with our kids about how while none of us have been called to martyrdom, we do have the opportunity (and duty) to stand for Jesus in smaller but still important ways. Choosing to do good, rejecting the temptation to sin, and not denying Christ before men are all ways we can, within our own cultural context, exemplify bravery and allegiance to God. And if we can cultivate these virtues in the small things, we will at least be prepared to live them out in bigger ways.
The conversation also turned to politics. We explained that sometimes taking a stand for truth and love is uncomfortable. Sometimes it means having people think bad things about us. And it isn't always fun. We picked a couple of current issues, and explained why the Church believes what she does about them, and why that is offensive to some people.
It is easy to underestimate a child's ability to synthesize and process information. It's true that kids tend to see the world in black-and-white, simple terms, but honestly? That can be an incredible advantage. We must of course take extra care to emphasize love and respect for each and every person regardless how they differ from our family, but the receptivity of children is a God-given gift that we must protect and nurture. We ought not take for granted, for example, a child's inborn sense of justice and apprecation for the natural law.
The way you conceptualize and live your faith will, without exception, influence how you conceptualize issues and how you vote. Even if you insist the two are separate. Many argue that Jesus has nothing to do with what happens in the public sphere, but try telling that to Saint Thecla, or the many men and women throughout history who were martyred by the state for refusing to renounce Christ, or to be complicit in sin. Something tells me they would have a different perspective.
I know I say this a lot, but I'm saying it again: I am increasingly grateful for the timeless and simple truths held and preserved by Christ's Church, for the graces we receive through the Sacraments, and for the many saints who serve as good (though challenging!) examples of how to follow Jesus. No need to reinvent the wheel every few years or deconstruct one's faith to the point where there is nothing left but doubt, and an acceptance of whatever the current cultural trend is. Instead, it is simply Jesus, and His love for us and for the world. Even amidst such a polarized and polemical cultural climate, it comes down to love for God and love for others.
And that is certainly something we can explain to our children as we form their consciences, working to express the whys behind the whats--even as it pertains to the messy business of American politics.