Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
God creates from nothing, we create using the stuff God supplies us. As creatures in his image and likeness, it is our right and proper office to be "sub-creators" as J.R.R. Tolkien called us. Therefore, teaching our children how to cooperate with God in the work of creation is a perfectly fitting job for us as Catholic parents.
Genesis points out five tasks given the human race in the Garden: marriage, fruitfulness, rule, work, and worship. In all these tasks, we become more fully human and, for the baptized, become more profound participants in the life of the Blessed Trinity through Christ. Let's look at them briefly.
Marriage: Man and woman are made to be "one flesh" by God. But, of course, marriage is a freely chosen act too. God does it (which is why it's a sacrament), but he does it through our freely willed choices. We are the co-creators of our marriage along with God. We are responsible for our choices in marriage, not the passive recipients of some sort of magic zap from God. True, there is an element of mystery, of "falling in love". But in addition to inspiration, there's perspiration: the daily choices to persist in small acts of charity, kindness, mercy, kissing, caressing, open praise of virtues and achievements, picking up socks without being asked, refraining from nagging when you have every right, etc. that keep a marriage "in tune". Modeling this for a child is critical.
Fruitfulness: At its most basic sense, of course, fruitfulness refers to "openness to life": that is, a welcoming attitude to children. Welcoming your children and teaching them to welcome their siblings is vital. Some families teach older children to make "Welcome to our Family!" cards for newborns. Others enlist the aid of older children in the "meals on wheels" projects necessary. Beyond this, though, fruitfulness refers to welcoming our family throughout their lives, as well as to a whole range of human activities: fruitfulness in good works, "fruits" of the Spirit, fruits of labor and so forth. Celebrating the fruitful lives of the saints in concrete ways such as "birthdays" on their feast days (with cupcakes you make with your kids) is another way of honoring fruitfulness.
Rule: Adam is given dominion over the earth. His proper office is to rule creation wisely and in union with God's will. Teaching our children to govern, first themselves, and then that bit of creation for which they are responsible is an initiation here. Again, mundane things like discipline with TV, being responsible to make one's bed and clean one's room can be linked to this higher reality about our place in the world. It's never too early to point out our responsibility to care for God's creation, but it's also important help children distinguish between that and the "People are a Disease on the Face of Mother Earth" agitprop that often comes from environmentalists who reject the biblical picture and worship Nature instead of God.
Work: Adam is set to tend the Garden. Work, often thought of as a curse when you have to do the dishes or take out the garbage, is a blessing that has been damaged but not destroyed by the curse of Genesis 3. Our dignity as human beings is expressed in work and kids can learn that from the moment they are able to walk and help us carry a loaf of bread from the store. Giving children work to do (and rewarding them with praise, an understanding of the good they do the world and, where appropriate, pay) is a vital task. Teaching them to see work, not simply as a means to moolah, but as an essential part of our dignity, is vital. In addition, teaching them to see works of creativity in writing, art, music, painting, medicine, science, theology, architecture, philosophy, film and imagination is also a vital part of helping them see our role as co-creators in beautifying the Garden God entrusted to Adam.
Worship: The word used to describe Adam's work in the Garden is the same term used to describe the work of Levitical priests. Our work too, is priestly, because through it we offer sacrifice and praise to God, as well as mediating the love of God to other human beings. Teaching our children to recognize this priestly call helps them see their place in the on-going work of creation. Prayers of praise, adoration and petition are ways in which new things come into being, we come into deeper union with Christ, people are healed, lives are changed, and needs are met.
Co-creation with Christ is not optional but an essential part of our mission and nature. Initiating our children into this glorious mystery of our humanity is, itself, one of the great co-creative tasks we have received from God. Let us give thanks for that dignity and live it out exuberantly. This is particularly true for us as Catholics, because in Christ, our work as co-creators is raised to a supernatural level. When we participate in the work for bringing people to Christ, we co-create with him in a whole new way, for we bring not merely natural, but supernatural works of art called "saints" into existence. Everything in this world, every work of natural creation, is going to perish in time. Someday the pyramids will be gone. But the person in union with Christ crucified and risen will still be there "bright shining as the sun". To have a part in that work of creation, by teaching our children about eternal life in Christ Jesus and teaching them to share his love with others, is the highest possible work of creativity we could hope to achieve.