When the 41st International Eucharistic Congress convened its Family Life Conference in Philadelphia last August, two of the principal speaker s were Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, both as dedicated to their church as to their children. Here are excerpts from their speeches.
PRINCE RAINIER: «The question before us today is whether there is hope f or the Christian family in the modem world. Can it find enough inner strength and determination, as well as enough external support, to with-stand the dangers that threaten it and remain the tightly united cell it has always been? Can it continue to serve as the foundation of all societies and nations?
I can only speak from experience as a man, and a father—telling you what I have learned as I’ve witnessed the hardships, the anxieties, the joys of raising a family. Growing up as a. decent human being is a difficult job in the world of today. Our children are faced with all manner of dangers; they are prey to many temptations; they can so easily become the victims of artificial needs which have been promoted by our generation, presumably for the betterment of theirs.
I have neither the competence nor the time to cover all facets of these vast problems, but the first essential is to define what exactly the family is. For me, there is no better definition than this: “A family is a place where a child feels secure”.
I believe that to feel secure a child must grow up in an atmosphere of love, affection and understanding. This is a rare privilege in the world of today. Too often parents make a point of not bringing up their children; of allowing them complete liberty and independence, hoping, perhaps, to encourage the development of their own individualities. When there is no one with whom to share problems and discuss painful experiences, a child can never feel secure. In his solitude he may seek elsewhere what he never found at home. When parents seek a trouble-free way of living, renouncing their duties and giving up on their natural role of protectors—it has a disastrous effect on both the child and on the family.
A child yearns to find authority, consideration and affection at home. Instead, he often finds egotism, cowardice and laziness. It is egotistic for parents not to want to upset their own lives; cowardly for them not to assert their authority; lazy for them to avoid dialogue with their children.
Instead of growing up feeling se-cure in the knowledge that they are protected, loved and wanted, many children are born unwanted; and many others are torn from their families by divorce or separation— both of which are too easily obtained today.
If a parent is to maintain the dialogue with his child that is essential, he can not expect to be a pal to him. Rather he must endeavor to become his friend—one who can show him life, answer his questions, explain to him that drugs and pornography are both harmful means to artificial liberation and false horizons.
In these days the Christian family cannot be preserved without active help from the church. Since the family can only flourish in the light of God and in the keeping of His Commandments, we parents cannot act alone. We must call for the help of those who have dedicated their lives to the service of God.
For a child to feel secure he must believe. What begins as love and trust in his parents at his earliest age is then nurtured to Christian faith.
I am revolted to see that there is so little concern today for one’s alliance with Christ. Because of the insecurity which surrounds us and the encumbrances of materialistic preoccupations we drift away from our religion. It becomes more of a social concern than a manifestation of faith.
I was taught as a child that God was mercy. This troubled me. For, to me, mercy was something that I needed only when I had sinned. It was only later in life that I found out that God was love and that His religion was, above all, charity, understanding and pardon. God gives love and demands in return only a minimum of respect and discipline. It is this discipline that keeps families together. What unites them is the common belief that above and beyond ourselves there is only one authority to whom we are committed in obedience.
The more we are confronted with temptations and sin, the more we will feel the need of obedience to our faith. In loneliness and unhappiness we reach out for hope; we remember that we can pray. True faith begins when man speaks to his Creator in the simple words of his heart. Thus he finds the relief and comfort that human beings all seek.
I have noticed in my country, as elsewhere in Europe, a new impulse: People are seeking to enter the house of God. Churches are less empty; more children take part in Christian youth movements. More than ever before, the deceptions and sorrows we’ve suffered have brought us to the need for hope and belief. It is up to us Christians, as parents and soldiers of the Church, to show the way to make our faith accessible to all. We must be the active promoters and prospectors of Christian hope, thus helping others to weather the storm of doubt and allowing the Christian family to flourish.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is bound to happen so long as we proclaim our want for it. But silent Christians are of little use. The family will flourish only with the help and guidance of the Church. Left alone in a hostile environment, it will undoubtedly fade and disappear. If this should happen, how can a nation big or small, hope to survive?
I believe my country is a vivid example of this. Monaco, a tiny Christian country which was threatened and occupied for 700 years, survived only because its princes and the people lived as a family, united in their determination to defend their faith and to hope for their salvation.
Today, the Christian family shall remain strong—not only because it is surely God’s will, but because in Christianity are the foundations of our precious liberties. Yes, there is hope for the world in the Christian family, if we parents awaken. We must keep adapting to the realities of the modern world—not by sitting in a corner in silent prayer, nor by going to church once a week to feel cleansed, but by admitting our faith and fighting for it.
Whatever happens we must never give up, but keep proclaiming our faith and our hope that our loving God will not only give us our daily bread, but will deliver us from evil».
PRINCESS GRACE: «We are here today to affirm our faith in the Christian family.
My husband and I share this faith, and perhaps in this sharing there lies what is most important in the forming of a couple and the founding of a family. To agree, to hold the same feeling and beliefs, is to help maintain harmony in family life. Then, no matter what problems a family must face, the base is solid.
I knew this for myself—in my own situation. I married a man from a different country, who spoke a different language, who lived in a different culture, and who also was head-of-state. His responsibilities were—and are—enormous. It would have been extremely difficult for us to build a life together without the strong, basic bond of our religion. We were in agreement from the beginning on what we hoped to teach our children, so that they would know what their family’s attitude would be toward the difficult life experiences they surely would en-counter.
A great American once said, “My, father never told me how to live. He lived, and let me watch him do it”. In today’s world, it is increasingly difficult to let your children watch you live a harmonious life. There are ways, but they take time and effort—precious commodities many modern mothers have trouble finding.
The role of wife and mother is probably more difficult today than ever before—not that modern life isn’t difficult for everybody. More and more women work, whether out of necessity or desire, spending long hours away from home. Thus their role is made immeasurably more complex. Yet, essentially, it is the same as it has always been—to keep the family together, to provide a link between generations.
I am often asked, “What would you like most to give to your children?”. I answer, “Just what my parents hoped to give to me: Character”.
Naturally, the question I ask my-self (it’s the same, I am sure, with most mothers) is: How in today’s world can we give our children character? How can we teach them to tell right from wrong in this rapidly changing society? How can they learn measure in a day of overindulgence?
Our children are besieged by out-side influences that leave us mothers feeling confused and a bit helpless. For one, television has invaded the home—the place where a mother used to feel her family was secure and protected. There is no longer a way to stop the world at your door-step. Outside influences, for good or evil, are right there in the home and a part of everyday life. Our children must learn early a sense of values and selection.
Self-discipline is one of the hardest goals for anyone to achieve. But it is more necessary now than ever before. A child will, alas, too often sooner believe the TV commentator or what “the man-in-the-street,” tells him than his parents. Thus it becomes essential to establish a fundamental discipline and respect within the family structure.
To teach respect for the father, respect for every member of the family and respect for oneself as well —this is mainly the mother’s job.
As parents we can no longer protect our children completely, but we can and must prepare them for all eventualities. We must provide them with an identity; surround them with faith, hope and love in assuring them of their place in the family and our concern for them as individuals. As Kahlil Gibran says, “We as parents are the bows that send our children as living arrows off into the world; the stronger the bow, the further and straighter the arrow will go”.
As my husband has stated, and as I believe, too, the Christian family has never been more important as a strong and vital force in society. But we need help. We look hopefully to the Church for encouragement and guidance».
Copyright 1976 © Good Housekeeping (November 1976)