Spring! What a beautiful time of the year to teach our children about Mother Nature and its workings in relationship to the Supernatural….

Illustration by Marcel Marlier (1930, Belgian)

by Mary Reed Newland, How to Raise Good Catholic Children

Sky, trees, sun, all of nature was created by God and serves Him perfectly, giving Him great glory. But nature study by itself teaches only an assortment of interesting facts. It can teach much more, if we would use it to teach as our Lord did and help our children to see the world as proof of God and His greatness and generosity.

For instance, one time our Lord said: Consider the ravens, for they sow not, neither do they reap, neither have they storehouse nor barn, and God feedeth them. How much are you more valuable than they!

He was talking to grown-ups at the time, telling them to be so detached that the sight of a flock of crows would remind them to trust their Father in Heaven.

We have crows all over our pasture and woods in the summertime, and the children love to think of Christ watching just such flights, hearing the same sounds of cawing when He told his listeners to think of crows like this.

If you live in the city and complain, “But we have only sparrows in the city,” well, He said the same thing about sparrows.

Weren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? He asked. And yet not one fell to the ground without God’s first giving permission. “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

We do not have to tax our ingenuity in our use of nature to teach our children these first steps toward detachment. We need only to imitate Christ. That is one of the ways He taught most often.

Encouraged to look at the world this way and to wonder at all its beauty and mystery, they begin to see these truths by themselves.

Then the ants around an anthill tell them wonderful things, not just about ants, but about the power of God, who could give such tiny insects instincts of order and industry that they follow faithfully and thereby give glory to Him.

A child will come in to report tearfully that kitty has caught a mouse and is eating it on the porch, and it’s the beginning of learning the incredible obedience in nature: that it’s the nature of kitty to do just that.

A mouse will eat the grain (or nibble the bread in the pantry), a cat will eat the mouse, a dog will chase the cat, and on up the scale. It’s a fallen world since the first sin in the Garden, and we are all the victims of fallen nature.

Animals have no soul like ours, no reason, no gifts of grace. So they are obedient to their nature by doing the things their instincts tell them to do. And in their obedience, they praise God.

During deer season in our part of the country, the children are horror-stricken at the thought of killing deer; even seeing hunters cross our land to go into the hills makes for much excitement.

So every season, we have to reread the passage in Genesis where God gave man all the beasts of the earth for his food. Then, explaining that by hunting, for the purpose of food, the deer population is kept in check and the orchards that bear our native apples and peaches are protected from damage by too many deer, they begin to learn something of the divine economy in nature, the pattern of victim to prey, and the great dignity of man, to whom God made all other things subject.

These things may seem trivial, far afield of detachment, but for children, they’re the beginning. But often we miss the opportunity, in our haste to correct them for some attitude we think cruel or disrespectful, to use such situations to anchor them just a bit more firmly in their knowledge of God.

For instance, some children discovered a turtle and started pelting him with stones. When they ran back to report the fun to the grown-ups, some admonished them not to throw stones at turtles: “It isn’t nice.”

Others said, “You mustn’t throw stones at turtles. God made the turtle, and he is obeying God perfectly, according to his turtle way. You are far above a turtle. You have a mind and a soul, many things he has not. When you see a turtle, see him as something quite wonderful coming from the hand of God, with a funny little head that goes in and out, and a little house he carries on his back. And remember that both you and he were put here by God to do His will and praise Him — the one by acting like a turtle, the other by acting like a boy.”

This sounds like the kind of thing that might go in one ear and out the other, especially coming in the middle of an afternoon of noisy play. But days later, one of the boys at the turtle episode ran to his brothers after discovering a baby rabbit in its nest.

“Did you catch it?”

“No, it’s God’s. I just kneeled down and looked at it.”

Every mouse, every bird, every ant and grub can be an occasion for a small reflection, and these poured together like grains of sand slowly, surely, help to anchor a child in God. Sin, not God, causes nature’s harshness

Someone posed this problem, however. If you go too far with all this, wouldn’t a child conclude that he must stand still and let a wild beast devour him because the beast is God’s?

But we’re always permitted to defend ourselves. God gave Adam the animals and told him to “rule over them.” So we’re their masters, and they were made to serve us.

If some of the saints, in perfect detachment, could walk with serenity into the jaws of wild beasts, we can only wonder at their abandonment and pray that we, too, may one day trust as they did.

Lacking such trust (and it’s a rare and wonderful gift), it’s never a sin to kill a mad dog, or a poisonous snake, or even — and children will bring it up — swat a fly or kill a mosquito.

“Well, I wish they’d never committed Original Sin, and these darned mosquitoes wouldn’t bite.” And Jamie, scratching madly, begins to understand something of the nature of a fallen world when he applies it to mosquito bites.

St. Paul’s letter to the Romans helps a great deal to explain to children about the world and its longing to be restored to harmony (although it has to be retold in words they understand).

In it he wrote: Creation was made subject to vanity, not by its own will, but by reason of Him that made it subject, in hope, because creation itself also shall be delivered from its slavery to corruption, into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God. For we know that all creation groans and travails in pain until now.

Even the storms and tornadoes and earthquakes that seem so cruel and mysterious are the result of the Fall. And St. Paul says that this would not have happened if God hadn’t made nature share in the punishment for man’s sin.

But in its way, nature, too, hopes for the day when harmony will be restored and it will be perfect again. This is very comforting to a child who listens to hurricane warnings on the radio and asks, “Will there be a hurricane because God wants to show us His power?”

He is not a cruel God. He is perfect and just. But He warned Adam not to disobey. It was Adam’s sin that set in motion the cruelty in nature, and if Jesus had not consented to become man and share these misfortunes with us, we would never know what to do with them.

He turned punishment inside out for us, and gave us a way to use the sufferings we endure, from mosquito bites all the way up to hurricanes. We can pour them into the well of His own suffering and help Him redeem the world.

And of course this is the only answer to natural disorders and afflictions that makes any sense. Many children learn it, while many “wise” men do not.


“Let me encourage you to find room for a garden in your life, for a garden has secrets that can teach you so much. In it we have the privilege of witnessing firsthand a part of God’s character: Creation. We are so much richer because of our love for plants, flowers, and trees and our involvement in their growth.”
Emilie Barnes. Simple Secrets to a Beautiful Home  (afflink) Illustration by http://www.genevievegodboutillustration.com/
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