St. Bonaventure says, in his little treatise "Bringing Forth Christ," "Seek the company of good people. If you share their company, you will also share their virtue." With this thought in mind, we used to pay close attention to who our children's friends were.
We encouraged them to invite kids to our house, so we could make a close inspection. When they were old enough to do sleepovers we had a lot of those. In 24 hours, you can learn a good deal about a child's table manners, personal hygiene, prayer habits, disposition, comfort around adults, intellectual interests and a dozen other things.
We sent the children to Catholic school, not just for instruction in the faith, but also because the friends they made there would come from families whose faith mattered to them.
We volunteered to drive the car pool. Young passengers in the back seat tend to think of you as a kind of taxi driver, and the conversations you overhear are unscripted and revealing.
We got involved in school affairs, mostly for selfish reasons. Teachers whom we got to know would sometimes share tips on which children would make good friends and which were less eligible.
And of course we met the parents, and they were the best measure of what the children were like. In the ideal case, we would find a three-way match: mothers, fathers and children would all get along. These families are still our best friends.
I have been thinking about these relationships in a new way as our own children go through the same process. My mother once told me, when she was about 80, that you never stop being a mom. What she meant was that she was worrying about one of her children, and the exercise was not very different from what it had been when she was 40.
Recently, I have been paying close attention to the adult friends our children are making. I suppose I should have foreseen this, but only now has it dawned on me how important this is. When our children got married, we hoped they would find spouses they could lean on, to strengthen their faith. It is good to have friends who provide the same support.
It's more than that. These friends are part of what we mean by the church. Our communion with them helps us fulfill our vocation as Christians. We learn from them the example of holiness. We discern it, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "in the authentic witness of those who live it" (No. 2030).
But our children face a greater challenge than we did in making the right kind of friends, for two reasons. One is that fewer families send their children to Catholic schools. It's harder to find and cultivate Catholic friends when they are not concentrated in one place.
The other is that even among self-identified Catholics, attachment to the faith is a looser thing than it was a few decades ago. If you want to find friends who are not just baptized but in love with the faith, you need to be as intentional as you are about choosing a spouse.
What my mother didn't tell me was how much harder it is to help your adult children sort out things like this. You don't have good intelligence about suitable candidates for friendship.
You can't set up play dates. You can't enforce no contact orders. All you can do is offer advice. And you shouldn't even do that unless you are asked for it.
The other thing she didn't tell me was that, once it's out of your hands, you just have to trust what you've done with your children. They may turn out to be wiser than you.
She probably didn't say that because at the time, it would have gone to my head. Today, it's a more humbling thought.
The writer is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington. Catholic University's website is www.cua.edu.