Raising a Catholic Family

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Catholics of the 21st Century inhabit a spiritual desert. Under the unrelenting secularism of the modern age, most of the common sources of spiritual nourishment have dried up. Before Vatican II, it was the norm that travelers and residents of the area could stop by the local parish church to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Today, this church is most likely to be locked, but if by some chance, a faithful soul does manage to get inside the church, the Blessed Sacrament may be moved to a side chapel, if it is there at all. Religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter have fallen prey to the same process of secularization.

What has happened is that Catholic culture, which persisted until Vatican II, has collapsed. In most parishes, Catholics have been cut off from divine sources of nourishment as man-made liturgies and coffee parties have displaced sacred forms of worship and devotion. The morality of the larger society in which Catholics live has broken down. We now must survive in a hostile environment.

Raising children, at the best of times, is a demanding task. It often seems that prompt obedience and civilized behavior do not come naturally to children. However, to raise children in this environment takes additional measures. The Irish author, Malachi Martin, has stated that growing up in pre-war Ireland, a child could scarcely fail. If the parents didn't catch the child from falling, then the parish priest, the local policeman, the schoolteacher, or the neighbors certainly would. Today, the whole system seems to be stacked against the family. The tax code, television programs, the school system, etc. all undermine the family rather than reinforce it.

Despite today's crisis of the Church and moral breakdown of the larger society, we must never take the attitude that raising a family is impossible. God never tries us beyond our abilities. If a situation does become impossible, an escape route is provided. When in the Old Testament, the situation in Sodom and Gomorrah became impossible; God provided Lot and his family with a means of leaving the city.

Similarly, in a desert, it is more difficult for plants to grow, but not impossible. However, those plants that do survive have mechanisms to cope with their hostile environment. A cactus preserves its water supply by means of a thick, hard skin, defended by sharp prickles. Incidentally, if traditional Catholics sometimes seem prickly or crusty, it may be the result of their developing, wittingly or unwittingly, defense mechanisms for dealing with the challenges of living in today's de-Christianized society.

In what could be a precedent for our situation, America's sturdy pioneers, who courageously crossed the deserts of the West in covered wagons, had to carry some of their own supplies, while resourcefully acquiring other supplies where they could. They often had to improvise, as their usual sources of goods and services, formerly obtained in the more settled regions of the country, were not available. They usually had only meagre resources and had to cope with numerous dangers. Yet, these pioneers most often succeeded in reaching their destinations. Catholics today who are raising their families and perhaps laying the foundations for a revitalized civilization need to adopt some of the same spirit of self-reliance that enabled the pioneers to succeed in trying conditions.

Catholic families in today's trying conditions need to sustain themselves with frequent prayer and reception of the traditional sacraments. The Traditional Latin Mass is a much stronger expression of our faith than the New Mass and therefore will do much more to sustain us than a watered-down liturgy, which was deliberately designed to be synchronized with the modern world. Attending the Traditional Mass will also get families in the habit of making sacrifices and saying no to the world, two qualities which are essential to salvation. Never has it been more necessary to adopt the Catholic mindset of being in the world, but not of it. The dreadful condition of modern civilization has a value in being a constant reminder that our primary focus should be on our eternal salvation, not on the things of this world.

In addition to nourishing themselves with prayer and the sacraments, families need to erect defenses. Especially in the early stages of a child's development, it is necessary to shelter them from the world's most undesirable influences. A child can be compared to a tomato plant, which must be sheltered from the elements until it grows to a larger size. Children need to be protected from decadent schools and television programs. However, there is a need to do more than erect defenses. Parents who continually block outside influences without providing alternatives will eventually reap a harvest of rebellion and resentment.

Fortunately, the Catholic religion provides a rich treasure chest of devotions, traditions, feast days, literature, and so on. This treasure chest provides families with an alternative to the world's false attractions. It has many of the sources a family needs for spiritual sustenance.

The primary means for using the goods of the treasure chest is to live one's life around the Church calendar. Medieval European life included a rich tapestry of feasts, holy days, processions, and pilgrimages. Although traces of this great civilization remain, most of its glorious heritage has been forgotten. As a result, a primary challenge to using the goods of the treasure chest is that it is often necessary to search for its treasures.

The importance of living one's life as much as possible around the Church calendar cannot be exaggerated. By doing so, we not only nourish our souls, but we also vanquish any tendency for day-to-day life to become monotonous. Living one's life around the Church calendar adds fun to family life, helping to defeat the previously mentioned spectres of resentment and rebellion.

It is necessary to use the traditional rather than the new calendar. In the new calendar, modern men have had the audacity and pride to expunge great saints such as St. Christopher and St. Philomena. They have disrupted the rhythm of the calendar by arbitrarily shifting saints' days from one date to another, thus disrupting long held religious observances. As is often the case with disruptions, many Catholics simply lapsed from the observance of the feast day rather than continue it on a different date.

There is a logic to the traditional calendar, as the celebration of a saint's feast day generally falls on the date of his or her death. Catholic families need to obtain a traditional Church calendar from one of the many available sources.

The Church calendar can be observed at two levels. At the general or macro level, a theme can be observed for each month of the liturgical year. For example, November is the month of the holy souls. During each day in November, one can pray the litany for the faithful departed. A day in November is an appropriate occasion to visit a cemetery and pray for the souls of the family's deceased relatives. At a more detailed or micro level, Catholics are blessed with an abundance of saints' days and other feasts such as the Feast of Christ the King. With so many available feast days, a family should not attempt to be too ambitious, but should select perhaps three or four feasts each month to celebrate.

Of the several sources that exist for developing a program of celebrating feast days, the most obvious is to simply participate in the activities of an active traditional parish. This source alone is not likely sufficient to fill the program. Most families do not live close enough to a traditional parish to go there on a daily basis. Even a traditional parish is unlikely to celebrate more than a fraction of the available feast days. Outside of Sunday, most celebrations of feast days must originate in the home.

In celebrating feast days in the home, a family should start by purchasing one of several available guidebooks. One such guidebook is A Book of Feasts and Seasons, by Joanna Bogle. These guidebooks represent an excellent source of ideas, but again are not sufficient to complete a family's program. A family should adapt its program to its own needs, selecting feast days most appropriate to its ethnic background, occupation, interests, and spiritual needs. The guidebooks' suggestions for activities can be adapted to a family's own situation. To make a program of celebrating feast days work, it is necessary to exercise the quality of inventiveness.

When celebrating feast days, it is necessary to balance serious and more light-hearted activities. It is absolutely essential to practice devotions and do readings for each feast day. At the same time, light-hearted activities assist in building a child's love of the Faith. Traditional celebrations of feast days included both elements of seriousness and levity. An example of a light-hearted activity is for the family to enact skits from the lives of the saints. An effort should be made to celebrate at least some feast days with other families. It is critical for traditional Catholics to avoid living in isolation. Children need to socialize and be part of a larger society. Living too isolated an existence can later be a cause of defection from the Faith.

Our family frequently celebrates feasts of patron saints of countries. In addition to devotions and readings, our activities include drawing and coloring the country's flag, locating the country on the map, preparing its foods, and playing its folk or sacred music. Through this process, our children receive education lessons without their realizing it. These activities serve as a reminder of the truly international character of our faith.

Local ethnic associations can act as an excellent resource for celebrating feast days. Traces of our once great Christian civilization are actually quite common and families should make use of them. Our family has attended Toronto's annual Swedish Christmas fair. This event's main highlight is the St. Lucia Pageant, which features a teenage girl dressed as St. Lucy in white robes, a red sash, and a crown of candles on her head, attended by a girls' choir singing holy songs. Other events we have attended include the Dutch Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas Day celebrations, the St. Patrick's Day parade, and the Queen Victoria's Day parade, which features a St. George dressed in armor riding on horseback. In addition to holding events, ethnic associations can serve as a source of information about the traditions and customs of their nation.

The important principle is to strive to live around the traditional Church calendar. Putting this principle into action assists Catholic families in safeguarding the salvation of their children and defending them from the world's false attractions. Living around the traditional Church calendar acts to rebuild a Catholic culture family by family and is a step towards realizing the vision of a thoroughly Christian society.

This article was published in the Catholic Family News, MPO 743, Niagara Falls, NY 14302. A few minor modifications have been made to the original article.

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