Minding Our Manners
Published on November 12-13, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
“What do you say?”
That is the question that Mom and Dad would ask when they are telling us to mind our manners. The response is often one of three things: “Please” when we want something, “Thank you” when we receive something, and “Sorry” when we had done something wrong. We were taught these responses from an early age and through the years we have learned that they are probably the most important lessons in life, the most useful tools that we ever got.
At the heart of these responses is the admission that we are not alone, that we need other people. We say “Please” to ask for someone’s help, “Thank you” to acknowledge his help, and “Sorry” for not being of any help to him. We would never say any of these lines if the other person did not matter; that we do say them means that the other person does. The other matters because we depend on him, we depend on his advice and his aid to help us do what we have set out to do, to help us become what we have hoped to be. We realize then that not only are we not alone, we cannot do everything alone. We rely on the kindness of another, whether he be a stranger, a friend, or even an enemy.
Parents instill these words in their children not only to teach them manners but also to teach them discipline: “Please” reminds kids that they cannot have their way all the time; “Thank you” reminds them to be grateful to those who have helped them along the way; “Sorry” nudges them with the truth that they cannot get away with anything.
We teach these same values when we prepare our children to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. We teach them to pray, to say “Please” to God when they turn to Him in their need. We teach them to receive Holy Communion with joy, to say “Thank you” to Christ for the gift of His Body and Blood. We teach them to confess their sins in Reconciliation, to say “Sorry” to God through the priest for what they have done and for what they have failed to do. We teach them while they are young so that these words become part of their vocabulary, so that these deeds become part of their habits. We teach them these values and prepare them for these sacraments so that they might know how much God matters to us and how much God will matter to them.
While they are young, we can ask our children, “What do you say?” They are still at that age when we can tell them that they cannot do everything that they please, that they cannot treat anybody as a nobody who gets no thanks for his kindness or no apology for the hurt inflicted on him. We need to show them how to please God, how to thank Him, how to say sorry to Him. If we don’t, we might as well expect our Lord as well as our neighbor to ask our children later on, “Didn’t your parents teach you any better?”