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

Beginning at Home:
The Challenge of Christian Parenthood
By Mary Perkins

Nihil obstat:
William G. Heidt, O.S.B., S.T.D., Censor deputatus.

Imprimi potest:
+ Baldwin Dworschak, O.S.B., Abbot, St. John's Abbey.

+ Peter W. Bartholome, D.D., Bishop of St. Cloud. February 22, 1955.

Copyright 1955 by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota.

Dedicated to the Holy Family -- Joseph, Mary, and Jesus -- in whose home the divine ideal of family life found perfect fulfillment

The Christian Pattern

Along what lines should we try to educate our children? How much of modern civilization should we try to bring them up to accept, how much to reject, how much to reform? How best can we train them for whatever God may want them to do for Him in the unknown world of the future?

Before one is actually immersed in the task of parenthood, the answers to such questions seem fairly simple. "Bring up children along traditional Christian lines...." "Train them in Christian principles..." But when one is faced with the innumerable decisions of daily family life, it does not seem so easy always to determine the "traditional Christian lines" of child training, or to see what "Christian principles" could or should be applied in actual practice.

How much, for example, should you let small boys follow the current local fashions in clothes? in toy pistols? in candy and gum? If you let them be as much like "everybody" as your means permit, short of anything obviously sinful or leading to sin, will you be giving the children the best preparation for not being like "everybody" in things that would be sinful? What is the line and where should you draw it?

In other times, society as a whole guided parents in such "drawing of lines" and it also backed up their authority with its own. There was an accepted way of going about the business of living, there were customs and conventions, there was a definite social pattern which was at least remotely Christian. Parents could usually count on the help of the community in which they lived in giving their children some Christian standards of individual and social behavior.

But today there are few "communities," in the old sense of the word. There are no true social patterns, there are few customs and conventions that will help us in the art of Christian living. We must try to communicate to our children the Christian way of looking at life, the Christian way of dealing with life.

And we must do so while we are living in the midst of a society not exactly opposed to our "point of view" (as an agnostic would call it), but so confused in its own outlook that it confuses us, making it very difficult for us to hold our own point of view clearly or to act in accordance with it consistently. We have to incarnate a Christian way of living in our homes in the midst of a society neither Christian nor truly pagan but secular, that is, disconnected from the influence of God or of "the gods," so far as that is possible.

The Christian culture which we parents must fashion in our homes day by day, then, needs to be at once strong and supple, definite and adaptable. For it must train our children to live as Christians both at home and outside the home, both now and in their future lives.

But how can we best go about such a task? If we tackle it like a picture puzzle, taking pieces of advice even from the most authoritative sources and trying to fit them together, we may find only a puzzle as a result. Unless we ourselves have some blueprint, some master-plan by which to judge whether to adopt Father A's scheme of family prayer, or Sister B's, whether to follow Psychologist X or the equally eminent and Catholic Psychiatrist Y in his ideas on child discipline, we shall let ourselves in for much bewilderment and little Christian peace.

But we do not have to look far to find such a master-plan. We have it right before our eyes in God's own plan for bringing up all His children "in Christ." As we all know, God's method of education is sacramental; He uses visible and tangible things to bring us to the knowledge and love of the invisible; He teaches us how to use our human powers of body and soul, how to use the visible creatures of His universe in His worship and in His service.

He Himself is the great "Sacrament," the visible image of the invisible God, who has made Himself our way and our truth and our life. It is by living a visible human life, by doing a man's work, by suffering and dying as men suffer and die, that He wrought the work of our redemption. And it is in a visible Church, His Body, that He prolongs and fulfills His work through the centuries.

In the life of the Church, Christ teaches us Divine truth through human teachers, by means of human words, in images and stories taken from the visible world and from ordinary human experience. He pours out on us His own life and powers by means of the sacraments and sacramentals, conforming the force and pattern of our lives to His.

These, again, are administered to us by other human beings; their grace reaches us under sacramental signs of visible things and audible, comprehensible words. And we are taught to respond to Him by prayer of our human voices and imaginations and minds and wills to take our part in His work, by loving and serving Him with our human energy and skill as He dwells in our visible fellow human beings. And, finally, summing up our whole lives and the purpose of our lives, we take our part in the visible sacramental sacrifice of the Mass.

God's master-plan, then, is to be found in the work of Christ our Lord Himself, God and Man, His work of redeeming mankind. And our education of our children should surely proceed along these same lines if it is to be truly Christian education. We should make it as far as lies in our power a sacramental education, following and fitting into God's own plan.

We should try to teach the children the invisible truths of the faith by means of the visible things around us, by means of the visible actions of daily life; we should try to give them the habit of seeing all created things as, in some way or other, signs of the power and wisdom and love of God. We should try to train the children to make the thoughts and words and actions of daily life true signs of their love of God, able to be offered with our Lord's sacrifice in the Mass.

Such a plan of education may seem very obvious and trite until we begin to think out some of its possible implications. For example: as things are, most of us think we have done everything possible to sanctify our family meals by the three-times-a-day effort to say grace. But suppose that we began to follow out the sacramental implications of our family meals...

In the holy Eucharist, Christ's own body and blood, His life and His grace, our gift of ourselves together in Him to God, and God's gift of Himself to us, are all made present under the signs of bread and wine, human food and drink. And, as modern scholars tell us, the basic design of the Mass is that of a Jewish family meal. Our family meals, then, are meant to teach us and our children about the banquet of the holy Eucharist. Our food and family meals are meant to be the humble human reflections of the sacred meal of the holy Eucharist, which itself is a reflection of the eternal feast of heaven.

In the light of these facts, imagine a meal which the father earned by a piece of "sharp business" in which he did somebody out of the price of a day's food; a meal consisting of food which the mother obtained by pushing in ahead of ten other people for a bargain at the supermarket; which she prepared in a temper and shoved onto an untidy and not-too-- clean table; food which looked like something else and contained virtually no real nourishment; a meal to which the children come completely unwashed, knocking each other over in their hurry; a meal eaten in uncharitable silence, or to the accompaniment of mother's complaints about the neighbors.

Such a meal obviously bears no relation at all to the Table of God. It is not a sign capable of teaching the children anything about God's banquet. It will certainly give them no notion at all of why heaven should be compared to a feast. Such a meal is a completely secular activity, un-Christian, hardly even human.

But think of the possibilities inherent in our family lives if both the bread-winner and the bread-maker were trying to make each meal and everything connected with it more and more fit to be a humble human sign and reflection of the banquet of the holy Eucharist. The cooking and preparation of meals, the day-by-day, year-by-year, often seemingly hopeless task of training the children to cleanliness and decent table manners would take on real purpose and point, and so would the even more long-drawn-out and difficult job of training them to happy and interesting and charitable table conversation.

Let us suppose, for instance, that the price of the meal is earned by the father's running a small hardware store as a real neighborhood service, making available to his neighbors at just prices the things they need for daily living; or, for that matter, by any other honest job that in some way honestly " contributes to human welfare. Suppose that the mother bought the materials for the meal from a neighborhood grocery and vegetable store, the owner of which was also trying, according to his lights, to serve his neighborhood rather than make a fortune.

Suppose, further, that the mother, letting the children help her as much as their age and ability allowed, did her best, with whatever real food the family could afford, to prepare a meal that would both nourish her family and please them. Suppose that she served it carefully and lovingly; that the children acted, not like little angels, but like little Christians-in-the-making, with standards of hand-washing, orderly eating and Christian behavior that they did not always live up to, but were at least aware of.

Suppose, too, that an attempt was made really to pray grace before and after the meal; that the conversation at the meal was taken part in by everyone, according to his age, that the children were learning to attend to each other's mental and spiritual needs for interest, love and attention, and to each other's physical needs for salt or butter. Such a meal would be a truly Christian family meal, a real sign in its own order, of the Eucharistic banquet.

No matter if such an occasion were to look and sound much like any other family meal where small children are present--a more or less messy affair, with the children occasionally spilling things, using their fingers instead of their forks, interrupting the parents' conversation in spite of rebuke, and the parents occasionally becoming short-tempered in the effort to eat and educate at the same time.

None of this would affect the main point, that the parents are trying as best they can, in the light of the sacramental significance of the holy Eucharist, to align everything concerned with their daily bread toward the requirements of full and fruitful participation in that banquet which is the sign and pledge of the everlasting wedding-feast of heaven. (In any case, God Himself has made the material signs of heavenly realities necessarily crude and, in a sense, unworthy of those realities, so that we would take them as signs and signs only and not as the realities themselves. St. Thomas points out that Holy Scripture uses crude rather than 'noble' things as the basis for its figures and metaphors for this same reason. We parents, then, have no need to be ashamed of the crudity of our living picture-language, our daily family life in all its messiness, awkwardness, seeming confusion and lack of perfection. For if we are trying to order all its elements in the light of what marriage signifies--the union of Christ and the Church, and toward our all achieving that union through our daily family lives-- then, surely, we have the 'one thing necessary.')

Trying, then, to think and act along such "sacramental" lines should begin to give us some real standard by which to judge the food we buy (and some real reason to make it worth the trouble of growing it ourselves when possible); by which to decide how and where to buy it; by which to see how best we can spend our time and energy in preparing it...and so on.

Now suppose that many families were to try to act in such a way. What vast areas of human life would, slowly, begin to be restored in Christ! And our children, trained in such sacramental thinking, would grow up, with God's help, to be far ahead of their parents in thus seeing and judging our whole commercial system, our whole way of life, in the light of Christ and in knowing how best to go about acting in and for that light in the foggy world of today.1

And here, surely, is the proper task of the Christian laity--to sacramentalize daily human living and all the materials and actions and occupations bound up with it. Priests "mediate" between us and God; they bring us the grace of Christ In the sacraments, the sacramentals, by their prayer, and they offer us to God with Christ in the Mass. And we, the "laos," the people of God, are, analogously, to "mediate" between the mystical Body of Christ and the un-Christened world of men and things. We are to help to bring not only our own children, but also our non-Catholic neighbors to Baptism, to Christ.

We are to build the houses that the priest will bless, and live in them in the power of that blessing. We are to take days and weeks and years and re-order them to that pattern of holy human living that the liturgy of the Church lays out. We are to work in all the rightfully human occupations of modern living and re-order them and all the material things they involve, to the life and service of Christ's members, and so to the glory of God. And thus we shall be doing our own part in re-establishing all things in Christ, in extending that consecration of the world which our Lord inaugurated by His coming.

It is not easy, of course, to see how many of the fields of modern human life can best be sacramentalized--how some of them can be sacramentalized at all. But it is not so hard to see how home life can be made more Christian and more "Christening," for here we are dealing with the comparatively simple fundamental facts of human life: eating, sleeping, dressing, housework, play.

If we parents begin here, as well as we can, with the light and grace of Christ, we shall see more clearly as we go along what can be done in our immediate neighborhoods. We shall see how best to unite our own brains and influence in Catholic family action of one sort or another. We shall begin to see how to extend the influence of Christ into streets and stores, farms and factories.

If we train our children to sacramental thinking, in sacramental living, we shall, certainly, be educating them along truly traditional Christian lines. Moreover, children so educated should be able to see, far more clearly than we do now, how modern life can and may be made holy, re-oriented to Christ. So we shall be training them both for their next ride in a street-car, and for their future work for Christ. And so we shall be giving ourselves, here and now, the plan, the norm, we need for judging the applicability of good specialist advice to our particular needs, and for making the innumerable small decisions of daily family life.

Let us, then, take some of the elements of daily life that have been made to seem most secular by the spirit of our times, and consider how we can best go about the work of restoring them in Christ, of integrating them into a truly Christian home life, and a truly Christian home education.

First of all, human beings. These have been thought about and written about and discussed from so many un-religious angles that we need, perhaps, to begin by re-thinking out the implications of the fact that our children and ourselves and all our fellow human beings are primarily children of God, redeemed by Christ, made to share in His work on earth and in His glory forever in heaven.

Next, things and places. We need to think out once more and explicitly what is the truly Christian attitude towards these.

That work also has been divorced from any connection with God's plans or providence is all too obvious as soon as we think of the ways in which the majority of modern men spend the greater part of their working lives. And from the general consent of Christians to this state of affairs comes the un-Christian idea that only the special chosen few who are priests and religious 'have a vocation'--the rest of God's people just 'have jobs.'

These elements of our ordinary lives, then, we will consider in the chapters of this book, not because they include every phase of life, or because considering them goes to make up a complete program of education, but because they are the elements which seem to need explicit re-integration into the whole plan of Christian life and into the full joy of Christian living, if we are to begin in our homes to restore all things in Christ.

Discussion Topics

1. What can be done to awaken children to the spiritual significance of food and of meals? What methods can be recommended for getting children to come to meals on time and to be orderly during meals?

2. How often should religious topics be introduced during family meal conversation? Who should lead the prayers before and after meals?

3. Discuss the meaning of the phrase, "sacramentalizing daily human living." To what extent do we succeed in achieving this ideal in our own American community, and in what ways do we fail?

4. Is it possible to sacramentalize one's individual family life with- out first changing the general environment in which the family lives?

5. Does the approach of the author seem too idealistic to be practical in our busy modern world? How does one determine what is "practical"?

Study Questions

1. Why is it more difficult today than it was fifty years ago for parents to follow a "Christian pattern" in rearing children?

2. What is the meaning of the statement that "God's method of education is sacramental"?

3. What is the difference in the part played by the mother, by the father and by the children in preparing a truly Christian meal?

4. What are some of the differences between a monastic family meal and a Christian family meal?

5. What is the function of the laity in a secular world?

The Christian Pattern
Our Neighbors
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and Play
Redeeming the Times
Sex Education
Attaining Our Ideals


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