Many are probably already aware of the Pope’s remarks last week about a father who disciplined his children. However, everyone has assumed that he supports spanking. Nowhere does the Pope mention spanking. He does mention that the father said he smacked his children but not in the face.
I have yet to read in any of his remarks a support of spanking. However, stepping back and looking at the whole anecdote reveals something much more necessary and useful: the importance of disciplining children, especially by fathers.
Before I go further, I want to clarify terms especially in regards to the term discipline. Discipline is very closely linked to discipling which is the method to teach a disciple. And disciples are followers of Christ. So disciplining should be teaching children how to become a disciple, a follower of Jesus. Discipline is not punishment. It is teaching a person how to be a disciple. Discipline is learning how to be a true follower of Christ by being the you God created you to be.
Spanking is pure punishment and retribution. It does not have teaching at its core. It is focused on pain and humiliation. It is an action based in anger.
So back to what the Pope said. He is pointing out the necessity of fathers to teach their children to follow Jesus. That is the point of fatherhood. Not just to raise children to adulthood but also to disciple children so that they follow Jesus. To be faithful Christians, faithful Catholics. And fathers play a very key role in this discipline. That’s why the Church requires that those married in the Church promise to raise their children Catholic, not to keep up membership but to teach the faith with love so that children become true followers of Jesus.
So disciplining a child is not punishing a child for wrongdoing though that is what people assume it means when they hear the term. But that is incorrect, even false. Disciplining is teaching how to follow Jesus and live the life of a Catholic Christian. Correcting behavior is part of that but punishment is not. Punishment is about harshness and emotional reactions to what you perceive as bad behavior, a reaction based in anger as a means of retaliation for feeling angry.
Fathers are necessary in truly discipling children in the faith, not just as teachers, but as role models as well. But most importantly as fathers. Every child needs a father along with a mother. Every child wants a father and mother. Both teach and shape a child into a whole adult disciple.
Is this easy? No. But is it worth the effort? Yes.