I have heard it said that if a sense of order and discipline is not established in a child's life before the age of seven, he is lost. I do not know where that pearl of parenting wisdom came from and I'm not even sure I believe the age part - but I think I understand the point that was being made.
Children need the security of consistent boundaries for behaviour to be established early in their lives in order for them to thrive. I'm not sure how the seven-year age limit came into the equation; perhaps it was simply an exaggeration to illustrate the fact that every child needs a sense of order. Fair enough. On that point, I hope most reasonable and reasoned people agree.
I firmly believe that parents' must establish and maintain boundaries for proper moral behaviour - boundaries within which they themselves abide. Those boundaries must be consistent with Church teaching because that is the best way to live.
I refuse to accept that a child is ever beyond the pale of redemption because of bad circumstances, poor upbringing or even cruelty. If I did accept such an idea, the redemptive message of Christianity would ring hollow.
The Bible tells us that children are a gift and a heritage from God (Psalm 127.3). Parents do not own their children - they are entrusted with their children's physical, emotional and spiritual care. God calls parents to bring their children up in the way of the Lord.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells parents to "initiate their children from an early age into the mysteries of the faith" and to establish wholesome family life that can "foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one's life" (n. 2225).
I can personally attest to this truth. I was born into the gentle nurture of a Christian home. My parents imparted to me essential Christian truths from my earliest years. Although I turned away from the Christian faith as a young man, in my late twenties I returned to Christianity with a faith that was alive and a personal relationship with Christ.
Just as the catechism states, the early Christian preparation of my formative years remains with me to this day and helped form a root of spiritual character. My faith has served me throughout many storms of life (and there have been some rather nasty and frightening storms).
Marriage and family life under the lordship of God are the ideal setting for children. I know this because that is where God put his own Son. The Holy Family was the ideal place to nurture the Christ child.
Godly parents are one of the greatest assets any child can have. A child reared under the love and nurture of godly parents is likely to thrive.
It is not a guarantee that children will grow up to love and serve God - the world can tempt children away - but the chances are best that such children will emerge into adulthood as followers of Christ if their parents were. They are more likely to have a desire to serve rather than be served; they are more likely to view their lives in terms of seeking a higher calling.
I know forces contrary to Christian faith are everywhere and, quite frankly, may seem overwhelming. Parents must not lose heart. (That is exactly what the evil one wants.) Christian parents must continue teaching the faith to their children, knowing their parish communities and Catholic education support them.
The love and hope of vibrant and living Christianity can stand in stark contrast to the chaos found in a godless world view where materialism, consumption and temporary self-gratification often triumph over human dignity and individual worth.
In the midst of worldly consumption, Christ calls people to something different, something greater, something other-centred rather than self-centred. Young people who have been taught to listen for the leading of the Holy Spirit can discover the reason they were born. When this happens, they will discover a meaning and purpose to their lives that far outstrips anything the world can offer.
We desperately need a generation of young visionaries who are unafraid of being radicals for the kingdom of God and are prepared to dedicate their lives to furthering that kingdom on earth. Young people who are on fire for God can change the world and even the course of history for the better.
What greater legacy could a parent hope for?