Letter from the Rector #2: Sentimentality

In this letter to parents, Fr. John Mark McFarland, Rector of Our Lady of Sorrows Academy in Phoenix, Arizona, warns against the danger of allowing Catholic education to be influenced by the prevailing sentimentality of modern society.

December 3, 2018


Dear Parents,

As we approach Christmas, it grows harder to ignore the overwhelming sentimentality of our modern society. The great feast of Our Lord’s entrance into the world is shamelessly cheapened by an exaggeration of the importance of feelings. Modern man wants to feel all warm and gooey inside when he thinks about himself, humanity, and the world. He does not want to think about the serious response that the Incarnation demands from him. Thus, we are treated to songs, movies, and decorations referring to snow, gifts, trees, and Santa Claus with no reference to the true reason for the celebration. Christ is removed even from the name of his own feast, generically called “the holidays” or “the season”.

Sentimentality is not confined to Christmas, and we encounter it everywhere these days, including in the education of children. “The poor children are overburdened; make it easy for them. Give full vent to the pupil’s inclinations and do not force him to do anything he dislikes.” This is how a book on Jesuit education characterizes the modern approach to instruction of the young…in 1903! Since then it has obviously gotten worse. We live in a world of moral weaklings, unable to make themselves do anything they find unpleasant or difficult. An education that replaces real love with sentimentality contributes powerfully to this problem.

The Incarnation is evidence of God’s profound love for us. Its significance has nothing to do with feelings. Our Lord came into this world to suffer and to prove His love for us by His suffering. In order to profit from this love, we too need to suffer. We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Our Master to Calvary. There is nothing sentimental about the cross, and even the manger is the cross begun. Our Lord suffered from the moment He came into this world.

In educating the children entrusted to us, we cannot allow ourselves to be guided by sentimentality. We do not want to see them suffer, but trying to remove all suffering and hardship from their lives will cripple them in their pursuit of their ultimate end. Even accomplishing the ordinary duties of human life requires sacrifice and self-denial. We need to realize that loving children means preparing them to meet these challenges by giving them the necessary tools. If they are ruled by their feelings, their lives are destined to be a failure. They need to be directed toward what is truly good, even if it is difficult to attain. Let us keep this well in mind in disciplining, in assigning responsibilities, and in cultivating their intellectual life. 

On the other hand, hardship for its own sake may bring a degree of strength, but it does not make true Christians. We need to place the ideal before the eyes of our young charges. This ideal is nothing less than the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He came into this world to raise us to the very life of God and to enjoy the fruit of our self-denial for all eternity. As we begin this holy season of Advent, may we be intent on following Our Lord’s example and helping our children to do the same.

Yours in Christ,

J.M. McFarland+
Our Lady of Sorrows Academy