Monday, January 21, 2008

The Home as a Spiritual Center

by Michal Semin

One of the main reasons the totalitarian forces of the modern era virulently attack the family is because the home was, is, and God willing, will remain, a place of the most fundamental religious and spiritual life. The modern agnostic state wishes to step between the parents that might still cling to some outdated prejudices of the "opium of masses" and the children, thus securing the transfer of the children’s loyalty from their parents to the alien tutors coming from outside the home. This process can be tracked well before our time. In earlier centuries, the family and the home were the natural place for wholesale formation, both secular and religious. The Church always had a role in supervising the parents in both their daily theoretical and practical catechesis, but it was always the orbit of home that provided the setting for learning, praying, and growing in virtue.

With the advent of modern democracy, the primary place of formation changed. Compulsory schooling was erected, work became driven out of home, and with the rise of the doctrine of the rights of the individual, the family slowly but steadily was dissolving into a group of individuals all pursuing their own visions of life and career. The society became more and more leveled to one common denominator–the primacy of the individual–and the family little by little became subjected to the state by indoctrinating the children in the false sciences and philosophies of modern man. In the words of Solange Hertz, "where everyone is equal and one size fits all, democratic absurdities have free play." Mother and father became equal–read "same"–and the family was soon changed from ecclesiola headed by the father to a democraciola headed by no one.

A little bit of Catholic theology: Tampering with the family and its place in the created order bounds with sacrilege, for the home is a figure on earth of the Godhead in heaven. God is one, but He is not one Person. God is a FAMILY of three Persons, which are the source of all that is. Fashioned after the Trinitarian model, the human family generates because the Godhead generates. "Shall not I that make others to bring forth, myself bring forth, saith the Lord? Shall I, that give generation to others, be barren?" (Isa. 66:9). In their order of being, the human trinity of father, mother, and child represents the three divine Persons who dwell as one in the Most Blessed Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. A particular reason why Satan, the fallen angel of the highest order, persecutes and wants to destroy the family is because the human family reflects the Divine Family. Also, Lucifer’s ambition "to be like God" was unrealizable by the very nature of his angelic constitution. We never speak of families of angels, but only of "choirs," for there is no other affiliation between them. Each was created as if he were a species in himself, whereas every man since Adam, patterned on the Sacred Humanity of Christ, comes into being as part of a family. In other words, God’s image is found not only in man as an individual person, but it is also reflected in his family relations.

Here we find a special reason why Christ has elevated human marriage to the level of a sacrament. The family is not only the building block of society, that is a fundamental unit in the natural order, but also the building block of the supranatural order, that is the Church. In the words of Pope Pius XI in his encyclical on Christian marriage Casti Connubii: "But Christian parents must also understand that they are destined not only to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, indeed not only to educate any kind of worshippers of the true God, but children who are to become members of the Church of Christ, to raise up fellow-citizens of the Saints, and members of God’s household, that the worshippers of God and Our Savior may daily increase." The family is, therefore, not only the source of the State, but the source of the Church as well, whose Mother is the Virgin Mary and whose Paterfamilias is her husband St. Joseph. Their divine Son is the Mystical Body in all its members.

Now comes the last theological note: the union of husband and wife is the extension of the union of Christ and His Church; the household becomes what tradition calls ecclesia domestica, the domestic church. With husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the Church with wives subject to their husbands as the Church is subject to Christ, both are charged with implementing in their common life their daily petition to the Father: "Thy Kingdom come!"

From this theological reflection we can more easily understand not only the natural benefits of healthy and stable family life, but especially its religious character.

The wholesale secularization of modern life with all its social evils goes hand in hand with the secularization of family. The family disconnected from God finds itself in a spiritual vacuum. For this is not something that she can bear for a long time; she either finds the resources for an authentic revival or falls apart generating chaos of monstrous proportions.

What practical steps has the Catholic family to consider in order to become again a source of hope for our future? I propose the following three (though I am fully aware that much more can be added to these):

1. Sanctification of Sunday.

2. Fathers regaining the role of heads of the family and leaders of the family’s religious life.

3. Regular celebrations of religious feasts.

1) Christian Sunday (Dies Dominica, Kyri·kÈ) is threatened more and more both from without and from within–from without through the systematic efforts of the enemies of Christianity and from within through the mediocrity and superficiality of the Christians themselves who are making of Sunday merely a day of rest, relaxing from work only by seeking entertainment. Let us remind ourselves with the words of the prophet Osee: "I shall cause all her joy to cease, her feast days and her Sabbath, and all her solemn feasts." The words of Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei sound a similar warning: "How will those Christians not fear spiritual death, whose rest on Sundays and feast days is not devoted to religion and piety, but given over to the allurements of the world! Sundays and holidays (holy days!) must be made holy by divine worship which gives homage to God and heavenly food to the soul....Our soul is filled with the greatest grief when we see how the Christian people profane the afternoon of feast days...."

Sunday must become again the day of the Lord, the day of adoration, of prayer, of rest, of recollection and of reflection, of happy reunion in the intimate circle of the family. Sunday encompasses two main things: first, the fatherhood of God. God is obviously the center of this day. That is why we are obliged to go to Mass, to the Holy Sacrifice, and we are to desist from servile labor, put it aside in order to be freed up to that which is more sublime and spiritual, to liberate mind and soul. The denial of sanctifying Sunday comes to be a denial of Resurrection because Christian Sunday is a continuance of the apostles’ meeting on the day of the Resurrection, which is the keystone of our Faith. Sunday is the day which conquers death.

Second: it is a day to be together as family of God’s children. A little reflection for dads: to desist from labor does not mean to sleep on the couch, obviously. Sometimes it is enormously difficult, after a week of intense work, we naturally seek, at least most of us, privacy, seclusion, tranquility. Here, however, is our family waiting for us, the wife andthe children want to be with us. If we evade that, we are going to lose our family, we are going to lose our children. It is all very simple. It is a question of investment of time. At the end of the 20th century there is nothing in the society which is going to help us to do this well. They are going to make us work 70 hours a week, and when we come home on Sunday, the only day we may have some freedom, we are just too tired. This is the absolute must, even if it is only on sheer will power and we force ourselves on our last lag of energy, we must invest our time with this family we have been given.

2) A fatherless Western society is one of our most urgent social problems. Over the past 200 years, fathers have moved from the center to the fringe of family life. The industrial revolution and the modern economy have taken men out of their families, and the vacuum has been filled by a steady feminization of the home. Increasingly, says Fr. Kenneth Novak in the foreword to an excellent book Fatherhood and Family, men have looked outside the home for the meaning of their maleness. Masculinity has become less domesticated, defined less by effective fatherhood and more by individual ambition and achievement. The role of fatherhood, continues Fr. Novak, has been diminished in three ways. First, it has become smaller. Fewer things are defined as a father’s distinctive work. Secondly, fatherhood has been devalued. Third, and most important, fatherhood has been decultured–stripped of any authoritative social content or definition. It castrates fathers from being the builders and preservers of Catholic culture.

How is this related to the religious life of the family? Too often it becomes a fact of family life that the one who leads the prayers is the mother and not father. The reasons for that are obvious. Mom spends most of the time with the children and during the day she prays with them and teaches them faith and good manners. It becomes a problem, however, when this evolves in excluding father from taking a decisive part in the religious life of the family. St. Augustin has a whole sermon on this, that the role of the father in a family is analogous to the role of the bishop in the diocese or the parish priest in his parish. This all derives from the notion of parenthood invested with authority over the entrusted flock. This authority, obviously, is rooted in Christian love which prepares one to lose his own life for the salvation of souls of those given to him. It is a sad but interesting fact, which proves my point here, that along with the crisis in fatherhood in the family, there is a serious crisis of priesthood in the Church. Eliminative celibacy, ordaining women to the priesthood, and lay involvement in liturgy all has very much to do with the blurring of the identity of fatherhood.

It is crucial that men and women realize the importance of father’s role in the family, including its religious aspect. Father is to be again the magister in his household. As the master he is invested with authority to teach, he has a teaching office; he should read the catechism, he should kneel down and pray with his children. To this I want to add one important note on family prayer: Pray together! Too many parents send their children into bed and tell them "don’t forget your night prayers." What develops is that "prayers are for children" and when children think they are grown up at 13 or 14, they are not going to pray anymore, because mom and dad don’t pray.

French Cardinal Pie, inspiration to the saintly Pope Pius X, says in his Christmas Homily in 1871 the following words:

Is not ours an age of mislived lives, of unmanned men? Why?...Because Jesus Christ has disappeared. Wherever the people are true Christians, there are men to be found in large numbers, but everywhere and always, if Christianity wilts, the men wilt. Look closely, they are no longer men but shadows of men. Thus what do you hear on all sides today. The world is dwindling away, for lack of men; the nations are perishing for scarcity of men, for the rareness of men...I do believe: there are no men where there is no character; there is no character where there are no principles, doctrines, stands taken; there are no stands taken, no doctrines, no principles, where there is no religious faith and consequently no religion of society. Do what you will: only from God you will get men.

3) In addition to nourishing themselves with prayers 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. We could spend days talking about the dangers of T.V., bad music and ugly (false) "art" and the importance of the encounter with beauty in good music and true art. Fortunately, the Catholic Faith 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 resources 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. The importance of living one’s life as much as possible around the Church calendar cannot be exaggerated. It feeds the souls, vanquishes any tendency for day-to-day life to become monotonous, adds joy and fun to family life. The Church calendar can be observed on two levels. At the general or macro level, a theme can be observed for each month of the liturgical year. At a more detailed or micro level, Catholics are blessed with an abundance of saints days and other feasts such as the 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. When celebrating feast days, it is necessary to balance serious and more light-hearted activities. Both build a child’s love of the Faith.

Also, it is very instructive and helpful to have religious articles in your home. They can be a great help in your daily battles. They may reflect the liturgical year and upcoming feasts and lead the whole family to live a life integrated and deeply rooted in Faith. What we believe has to be practiced and presented to our senses. That is the way God created us, so we use the material, tangible things to remind us about matters spiritual and eternal.

And don’t forget about the importance of family meals. Eating and drinking is not merely an act of nutrition, but symbolizes a spiritual truth, a symbol of the heavenly banquet for which we strive in our daily lives. It is very important that the family has common dinners as much as they can. A typical example of the distracted and fragmented life we live today is the loss of common meals; each member of the family is eating on his own, at a time he finds appropriate, and just to fill his stomach with anything that can serve this purpose.

Michal Semin is co-founder and president of The Civic Institute of The Czech Republic, which promotes the traditional virtues of a free and ordered society. He is also founder of the Czech Society for Home Education and chairman of Una Voceóthe Society of Catholic Tradition.

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