Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Christian Home: A Guide to Happiness in the Home

Chapter V
Harmony in the Home

Whenever two or more persons are engaged in an undertaking, the importance of harmony for success is universally recognized. Thus if two persons set out on a tour by boat and plan to do their own sailing or rowing, they must agree as to the management of their craft, the route to be taken and their destiny. Otherwise their projected tour will be but the occasion of endless contentions and difficulties, will get them nowhere, and perhaps even end in disaster.

The Married Couple's Destiny

Such precisely is the situation of a young married couple that has launched out on the sea of matrimony. By most solemn vows, they have bound themselves to make the journey through life together. But what is the destination of that journey? What is the nature and purpose of the marriage contract into which they have just entered? What duties devolve upon them by virtue of that contract? What attitude must they take on the question of having children? And in the event that they have children, what obligations have they towards them, and how are these obligations to be fulfilled?

Superficial Harmony

These are questions which every serious-minded couple must be ready to answer, and on which they must be in substantial agreement, if they wish to live in peace and happiness and make a success of their wedded life. I say, if they wish to make a success of their wedded life; for they might live in harmony and attain to a certain measure of earthly happiness even without agreement on the aforementioned questions,--but only at the cost of the real success of their state of life. Thus they might get along in harmony if they agreed to disregard entirely the question of life's destiny and of a future life. In like manner, they might get along harmoniously if, despite decided views or convictions on certain questions; e.g. that of the artificial limitation of the family, one of the two would yield in all practical points to the will of the other. That would be harmony on the surface, harmony in practice, harmony through compromise or even the abandonment of principle, but not that complete, deep-seated harmony of thought and action flowing from the acceptance of the same principles in all essentials, which should be the desire and aim of every Christian husband and wife.

There is no need of perfect agreement in nonessentials; and it is doubtful whether complete accord in every particular would even be desirable For, while a similarity of tastes and talents, of aversions and hobbies might add to the harmony of wedded life, a difference of likes and dislikes in some things offers a better opportunity for the one to supplement the other.

Any couple that accepts the teachings set forth in the foregoing chapters and adopts them as a form of life will I am sure, enjoy in its home the blessing of harmony in fullest measure. Yet, as there are two kinds of disharmony fraught with very especial danger to the family, which are nevertheless quite frequently disregarded, they may well be made the subject of a most emphatic warning and a more extended instruction.

A United Front

The first of these is disharmony, or the lack of unity, in the exercise of parental authority. Children are obliged by the fourth commandment to honor and obey their parents; and parents are required by that selfsame commandment to train their children to become men and women of character and virtue. But if children are to obey, there must be an understanding between the persons who issue the commands; and if the father and mother are to train their children, they must agree as to the object and method of training to be pursued. Self-evident as this principle must appear to every thinking person, it is nevertheless a principle that is often disregarded in practice. The foundation on which the training of children must rest is parental authority; but if that authority is at odds with itself because of opposition between the persons in whom it is vested, the entire fabric reared upon it will be weak and unsteady. In their joint relations to their children, as the divinely constituted bearers of domestic authority, parents must invariably present a united front. Whatever differences of opinion, of personal likes or dislikes they may have, in their dealings with their children these differences must recede into the dark background; so that the children will not even suspect that any such disagreement exists, and in consequence will not be tempted to play one against the other or to appeal from the one to the other.

A Second Helping of Pie

To illustrate by a very common example how easily this principle can be violated, let us suppose that the family is seated at table and little Johnny asks his mother for a second piece of pie. Since he had declined to partake of some other more wholesome but less savory foods, his mother very properly answers, "No." A little later, taking advantage of his mother's absence in the kitchen, Johnny repeats his request to his father, who replies: "Here, you can have my piece, Johnny. I don't care for it anyhow." By acting thus, the father definitely takes sides with the boy against his mother; weakens her authority; neglects an opportunity of training his child; and sows the seed of discord between himself and his wife. The circumstance that the father gave his own piece of pie to his boy does not change the situation. The mother did not refuse the lad's request from a desire to economize by saving a piece of pie, but from the desire to train him to habits of self-control and Christian moderation.

A Mutual Understanding

Instances of this kind that call for co-operative action on the part of the parents are of almost daily occurrence in families where there are children. Being pleasure-loving like all human beings and as yet too young and inexperienced to value the merits of self-abnegation and restraint, children are everlastingly begging to have this or that, to go here or there, to be permitted to enjoy this or that diversion or amusement. And not only young children present this domestic problem; the problem persists as long as the children are subject to the authority of their parents, and often calls for the most cautious handling when the growing boys and girls have become adolescent sons and daughters. In every stage of the problem, the only proper policy for the parents to adopt is to present a united front wherever the children are concerned. There must be a distinct mutual understanding that one will support the other, and that all important permissions granted to the children by one parent are dependent on the consent of the other. "We will see what mother thinks about it"; "Did mother say you might?"; "I must first talk it over with father" are standing replies which parents will ever have ready if they are bent on promoting the welfare of their children and maintaining harmony in their home.

Strengthening Mutual Love

By thus upholding each other's authority in the presence of the children, father and mother not only increase their children's respect for their parents and each other's influence with the children, but also knit still more firmly the bond of mutual love that makes husband and wife one moral personage. For each single reference to the other's authority is a gracious acknowledgment of the other's equal rights and responsibility in the marriage partnership, and a tacit renewal of the wedding day agreement to live as two souls with but a single thought. Nor will it suffice for the one parent to uphold the other in word while at the same time making no secret from the children that he or she would much rather side with them. It would be hardly less harmful, for example, than open hostility for the father to say: "I'm awfully sorry; but you know how mother is. It's useless for me to say 'Yes' when she says 'No'."

The Chief Disciplinarian

Right from the beginning, therefore, there should be an agreement between the parents on all important questions that concern the management and education of the children. And when new problems arise, or when the parents disagree as to how best to apply their principles to certain practical cases they should discuss the matter out of hearing of the children; and only after coming to an agreement should they inform the children what they have to do. Usually the regulation of most disciplinary matters pertaining to the domestic circle is best left to the mother. She is with the children much more than the father and is less likely to yield to their ill-advised pleadings from selfish motives. The father, returning home from a day's work, is often just as much in a mood to enjoy his children as they are eager to enjoy him; and, unless he is guided by the mother's wishes and rules of discipline for the children, he is very apt, from sheer paternal affability, to undo all the mother's efforts in training the children, make her feel bad, and perhaps even discourage her efforts in the future. For that reason, before conceding the youngsters any privileges on his return home, he should inquire of their mother how they behaved themselves during the day; whether a ride or walk in a park or some other treat would be in order; and the like.

For father and mother always to take each other into consideration, always to stand together like the two pillars of an arch, is to make family life infinitely more agreeable, to share equally its burdens and responsibilities, and in truly constructive fashion to further the training of their children. But if the parents disagree and the children become aware, as they soon will, that they can cajole the one parent into siding with them against the other, then parental authority will be sadly weakened, and domestic harmony will soon give way to a state of tension, then to ill-concealed dissension, and at last to open strife.

The Head of the Family

In case the parents cannot come to an agreement in private on a particular question, then it is the duty of the wife to submit to her husband, so long as no violation of moral or religious duty is involved; for St. Paul says: "Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord; because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church" (Eph. 5, 22). Oftentimes, however, it would be wiser for the husband to yield to the wishes of his wife when there is no principle at stake; and better still perhaps, if the matter does not call for immediate settlement, to seek the advice of the pastor or of some other God-fearing and experienced friend.

Main Cause of Disharmony

The other kind of disharmony that calls for a special warning is disharmony or the lack of unity in religion. It is easy to understand how many of the difficulties of maintaining harmony in the home are removed or lessened, when husband and wife are united by the profession and practice of the true Faith. And by the same token it should be easy to understand that, apart from serious character defects or moral lapses in one of the parents, there is no more frequent cause of dissension and discord in the home than the lack of unity in religion. Yet many Catholics fail to realize this fact, and in consequence make the attempt, which nine times out of ten is doomed to failure, of rearing the stalwart structure of a truly Catholic home on the cleft foundation of a mixed marriage.

A Lawyer's Sad Experience

The following quotation from a letter published in "Our Sunday Visitor" gives the experience with mixed marriages of just one single lawyer; but it will no doubt open the eyes of many of my Catholic readers.

"As an active practicing lawyer in Chicago, handling divorce cases along with my general practice I have had considerable opportunity to make investigation as to the causes of domestic strife leading to divorce among Catholic clients where either party married a non-Catholic; and I am now forced to inquire of you what is being done, if anything, to prevent mixed marriages by Catholic men and Catholic women.

"I ask this question only after having handled approximately five hundred divorce cases and cases involving annulment and separate maintenance, wherein one of the parties was of the Catholic Faith; and wherein I have found that this difference in religious belief was fundamentally the cause of almost all of the discontent, sorrow, and trouble which led to divorce or separation; and that in ninety percent of the mixed marriage cases, the Catholic was confronted with the question of abstaining from receiving the sacraments and living with the spouse, or of separation, in order to be able to follow the teachings of our Faith on the matter of marriage duties and obligations."

A Basic Disagreement

But why does a mixed marriage almost inevitably sow the seed of discord in the home? Because the Catholic party accepts and is obliged to accept the teachings of the Church as the only true standard of moral and religious conduct in every phase of life; whereas the non-Catholic party does not accept that standard. From the very outset, then, there is a basic disagreement concerning the most important thing in life. From the very ground up there is a breach between husband and wife, which no unity of sentiment in other things will ever be able to fill. For, no matter how kind, how considerate, how loving, how free from prejudice, how magnanimous the non-Catholic partner may be, the Catholic spouse that has a truly Catholic mind must forever realize most keenly that, so long as the religious barrier exists, there can be no complete understanding of each other, no full and perfect sympathy; because the things that mean most and are most conducive to happiness for the one mean little or nothing in the life of the other.

Complete Harmony

How much more intimate the union between husband and wife who share the same religious convictions! Arm in arm they go to church; side by side they assist at Mass; and together they seek the consolation of Confession and the spiritual nourishment of Holy Communion. In their attitude towards the question of having children, in the choice of a school, in the questions regarding prayer in the home, Catholic reading, courtship and marriage, religious vocation, and many similar matters, the Catholic couple are in complete accord, because these questions are all decided for them in advance by the teachings of Holy Mother Church.

Innumerable Dissensions

What a rift on the other hand in the life of a couple who do not share the same Faith! What one cherishes and esteems, the other perhaps abhors. What one looks upon as an act of virtue or even as a most solemn duty, the other may despise as silly superstition or a mere idle ceremony. Supposing the mother to be the Catholic party to the marriage, which is the more common case, how keenly will she not feel the lack of religious harmony if her husband insists on unnatural limitation of the family; if he objects to having their children baptized by a Catholic priest; if he insists that three or four years' training in a Catholic school is enough to fulfill his promise to have his children brought up Catholic; if he refuses all money for Catholic books, papers and periodicals; if he objects to all display (as he terms it) of religion by means of Crucifixes, pictures of the saints, or other religious articles in the home; if he discourages prayer at meals and all family devotions; if he protests against sending the children to Mass when the weather is the least bit inclement or disagreeable, or against sending them from home without breakfast when they wish to receive Communion; if he scolds about his sleep being disturbed or having to get his own breakfast when his wife goes to early Mass; if he demands meat at all meals on Fridays and all days of abstinence; if he encourages as broadening, the association of his boys and girls with the children of his own Protestant or even irreligious relatives and friends; if he refuses to call the priest or even denies him admission into the house when some member of the family is seriously ill; if--to put an end to the list--he does any of the thousand and one different things like these that other non-Catholic husbands of Catholic wives have done in the past and are still doing to-day. For these are not purely imaginary cases such as everyone must admit might happen. They are actual cases drawn from stories of mixed marriages in real life.

The Pre-nuptial Pledge

But some young lady who is contemplating a mixed marriage may say, on reading the foregoing paragraph, that she would make adequate provision against all such possible evil consequences by demanding a solemn promise of her future husband never to interfere with her or her children's practice of religion. In doing that, she would be doing only what thousands of Catholic girls have done before; for the Church requires such a promise as an indispensable condition every time she tolerates a mixed marriage. But it is notorious how lightly these pre-nuptial pledges are broken, and how sadly these thousands of Catholic wives of non-Catholic husbands have been disillusioned when the time came for the promises to be redeemed. To make a promise and to keep it are two quite different things. In many cases, too, the non-Catholic party never had any intention of keeping his promise; or, if he did, he maintained afterwards that changed circumstances gave him the right to change his mind. So it may very easily happen that not many moons have passed since the honeymoon before the wife finds obstacles placed in the way of the performance of so simple and fundamental a duty as the hearing of Mass on Sunday. And even should the wife be gifted with such exceptional strength of character and devotion to her Faith as to practice her religion in defiance of her husband, what would become of domestic harmony?

Children of Mixed Marriages

Yet even more deplorable than its effects upon domestic harmony will be the effects of a mixed marriage on the education of the children. As set forth in the first chapter of this book, the religious education of the child should begin in earliest childhood, even in infancy, by surrounding the impressionable young heart with an atmosphere of religion and instilling into its daily expanding intelligence the idea that nothing in this world matters so much as the love and service of its God and Creator. But how can a uniform and lasting impression of this kind be made on the child, when its father and mother, whose combined actions create the atmosphere of the home, are not in agreement on the importance of religion? Certainly, if the mother is not a Catholic, the child will stand little chance of receiving any religious education before it is sent to school. But even if the mother is a Catholic, the child's religious training will be one-sided; because it will lack the support of the father's good example.

Exceptions are Few

Some mixed marriages, it is true, do turn out well, apparently, despite the initial handicap to religion and domestic harmony that ordinarily attends them. But it must be admitted that those are exceptions. The preponderating testimony of experience is against mixed marriages as the cause of loss of interest in religion or of complete loss of Faith on the part of the Catholic consort or of the children.

Something Often Overlooked

But there is still another objection to mixed marriages, the explanation of which will, I trust, make my unmarried readers still more determined never to contract a marriage that would introduce disharmony into their future homes. Very many Catholics, I dare say the great majority of them, are of the opinion that a Catholic is forbidden to marry a non-Catholic in much the same fashion as he is forbidden to eat meat on Fridays, namely, merely by a positive law of the Church; and that the only practical difference between a Catholic marriage and a mixed marriage lies in the fact that the latter may not be celebrated in church nor without a dispensation. That idea is entirely wrong. The eating of meat is not wrong in itself, and the Church has never condemned the eating of meat; but she condemns mixed marriages and abhors them not only as dangerous to the Faith of the Catholic party and the children, but also because entering into such a marriage involves the participation by a Catholic and a non-Catholic in the same sacred rite.

This is a point that many Catholics do not know or entirely overlook. They know quite well that they are not allowed to take an active part in a Protestant religious service; and that to assist as bridesmaid or groomsman at a Protestant wedding is forbidden under mortal sin. Yet the degree of a bridesmaid's participation in a wedding is small compared with that of the bride herself; because, for a Catholic, marriage is a sacrament, and the bride and groom actually administer the sacrament of Matrimony to each other, the priest being only the Church's official witness. It is this intimate commingling in a religious rite by a Catholic with a heretic which is the reason why the Church does not permit a mixed marriage, except for a grave reason, even if it were certain that this or that particular mixed marriage involved no danger to the Faith of the Catholic partner or of the children.

Communication with a Heretic

It will give the reader a better idea of how the Church detests the active participation of her children in a sacramental rite with a heretic, if we observe how she legislates regarding it in other cases. Such a communication with a heretic occurs also when a Catholic receives sacramental absolution or Holy Communion from a validly ordained but heretical priest; and so averse is Mother Church to such an act that only in danger of death does she permit a Catholic to request absolution and to receive Holy Communion at the hands of such a priest. It is evident, therefore, that there must be a grave reason for permitting any religious communication of that kind with a heretic; and that holds also for participation with a heretic in the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Permitted Only for a Grave Reason

This is another point that is commonly overlooked or not understood. A Catholic must have a grave reason for entering a marriage with a non-Catholic and a dispensation for such a marriage may be granted only for a grave reason. It is not enough that the couple want to get married and are willing to sign the pre-nuptial pledges. By no means. The first requisite is that there must be some weighty reason for permitting an exception to the general law of the Church forbidding mixed marriages. Only when serious ground for making such an exception exists, may a dispensation be granted,--and even then only on the further condition that the usual promises regarding the practice of religion be given in writing.

The Church Not Too Severe

From the foregoing explanation, it should be abundantly clear to any Catholic that the Church is by no means unreasonable or too severe in her opposition to mixed marriages. To adopt any other attitude would be for her to underrate the sanctity of Christian matrimony, which Christ raised to the dignity of a sacrament, and to underestimate the preciousness of the Faith, which it is her duty to preserve and propagate. And as all those who are so fortunate as to be blessed with the priceless gift of the true Faith are obliged to take the same attitude as the Church on all questions of Faith and morals, the attitude of the Church towards mixed marriages must be the attitude also of all her loyal children.

No Lofty Idealism

It follows, therefore, that in asking you, dear reader, to accept the Church's position on mixed marriages as your own, I am not making an appeal for anything extraordinary or heroic. There is no lofty idealism, far beyond the reach of ordinary mortals, in taking such a stand. It is nothing but plain Catholicism. Any other attitude is unchristian and opposed to the teaching of our holy Faith. That a Catholic should woo and wed only a Catholic is not a sublime ideal, which the Church expects to see realized only in her most perfect children. The marriage of a Catholic with a Catholic is the general rule for all, the only truly Catholic union; the only union the Church positively sanctions and approves.

Every other conjugal union that a Catholic enters into, no matter how securely braced with excuses, cautions, and dispensations, is at best only tolerated,--tolerated as a lesser evil, either to right some wrong already done or to avert some impending greater evil.

The Chief Occasion of Mixed Marriages

I trust that every young man and every young woman who reads what I have here written, will be so deeply impressed by the undesirableness of mixed marriages as to resolve not only never to contract a mixed marriage but also to avoid the chief occasion that leads to such a marriage; namely, the companionship of non- Catholics. To mingle freely in a social way with non-Catholics and to say that one is earnestly determined never to marry a non- Catholic is like paddling down the rapids of Niagara with the determination not to strike a rock. The Catholic youth or maiden, therefore, that is in earnest about avoiding a mixed marriage will make no dates with a non-Catholic and accept no invitations to non-Catholic social affairs.

Falling in Love Not Inevitable

But what if a Catholic falls in love with a non-Catholic? A Catholic should not fall in love with a non-Catholic! There are persons, it is true, who maintain that falling in love is something that simply happens and is entirely beyond a person's control; but such an idea of love is opposed to reason and to common sense. Human love is not merely a passion that bursts forth spontaneously upon the perception of a suitable object. It is also a voluntary activity of the will; and hence it is subject to the control of the will, which can check and even extinguish a passion for a person whom one's reason declares to be an undesirable or even impossible partner in marriage the poor hired man from falling in love with the daughter of his rich master? Is it not the consideration of the impossibility of a marriage that prevents many a one (not all, alas!)from falling in love with a person already married or bound by the vow of virginity or celibacy? Why, then, should the consideration of the evils of a mixed marriage not suffice with the grace of God to prevent a Catholic from falling in love with a non-Catholic? No, even though the human heart is a strange and willful creature, it is not so intractable that, with due precautions, it cannot be restrained from desiring forbidden fruit. Hence the Catholic boy or girl who starts out with the correct Catholic attitude that mixed marriages are forbidden fruit, and who does not court danger by mixing socially with non-Catholics, will keep from falling in love with a non-Catholic without extraordinary difficulty.

Conversion of the Non-Catholic Partner

And now a word also to those of my readers who have contracted a mixed marriage and who are still living with a non-Catholic partner. No matter how unpleasant the reading of this chapter may have been for you, you must not be disheartened. You cannot, it is true, alter the past; but you can do a great deal to mend matters for the future. Whether your marriage has been one of those exceptional ones that have turned out well despite the lack of harmony in religion; or whether it has further corroborated the wisdom of the Church in condemning such unions, your duty is the same: you must endeavor to bring about the conversion of your partner to the true Faith. It was with the understanding that you would fulfill this duty that the dispensation for your marriage was granted. But even if Canon Law did not stress this obligation, you should nevertheless be solicitous for your Consort's conversion for his, or her, own sake, no less than for the sake of religious harmony in the home.

Prayer Alone Not Sufficient

But how can this most desired event be brought about? By earnest and persevering prayer; by the constant force of your own good example; by occasional invitations to read Catholic literature and to attend Catholic services and sermons; and--not to be forgotten!--also by prudently intimating, on opportune occasions, your own great desire that your non-Catholic partner embrace the true Faith. You must not expect Almighty God to do everything. In dispensing His graces and especially the blessing of the true Faith, He makes use also of human means and human agents. And the most natural as well as the most suitable agent He could employ to convert your partner in marriage is yourself. Why, then, this timid reticence on the subject of religion? If you persist in depending exclusively on prayer, you may be held responsible for your consort's long delayed conversion and for his or her loss of innumerable priceless graces. Such was the woman who on the day of her husband's conversion exclaimed to him: "This is the happiest day of my life. I have been longing and praying for this day for many years." To which her husband replied: "That is strange. Then why did you never intimate to me that you longed for me to become a Catholic?"

Enthronement of the Sacred Heart

Among the supernatural means of obtaining the conversion of a wife or husband, one that I would recommend most strongly is devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and in particular that form of this devotion known as the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the home. This consists in setting up an image of the Sacred Heart with appropriate solemnities in the home, and in consecrating the family to the Sacred Heart in permanent recognition of His Kingship over the home. The fruits of the Enthronement have been simply marvelous in all parts of the world. Men who had never gone to Confession in their lives, high- degree Freemasons, have humbly made their Confession after the Enthronement had been performed in their home at the request of a wife or daughter.

To all, therefore, whose home life is marred by the lack of unity in religion or by any other kind of disharmony, as well as to those who wish to preserve the harmony that has hitherto prevailed, I say: Invite a priest to perform the act of Enthronement in your home. Consecrate your family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Renew that consecration from time to time, especially on the first Friday of each month; and in the spirit of that consecration regard the Sacred Heart as the King and intimate Friend of your family. Make Him the confidant of your joys as well as of your sorrows, your failures as well as your successes. Let Him be your support in trial, your comfort in sorrow, your refuge in distress. Let His principles govern your family life as well as your private and public life; and then you, too, most assuredly, will realize the truth of those loving promises which the Sacred Heart of Jesus revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque:

"I will bless the houses wherein the image of my Heart shall be exposed and honored.

"I will give peace to their families

"I will give them all the graces necessary for their state.

"I will shed abundant blessings on all their undertakings.

"I will comfort them in all their trials."

Chapter I: Necessity of Religion in the Home
Chapter II: Prayer in the Home
Chapter III: Catholic Atmosphere in the Home
Chapter IV: Good Reading in the Home
Chapter V: Harmony in the Home
Chapter VI: Necessity of Home Life

Back to Domestic Church: The Catholic Home
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