Friday, October 23, 2015

The Catholic Family

Last in a Series on Catholic Marriage and Parenthood

 Fr. Thomas J. Gerrard

The Holy Family
Juan Simón Gutiérrez (1634-1718)
The ideal of the Catholic family has been only once fully realized. There have been many good examples, all more or less approaching the ideal. But all except one must be regarded as having failed, at least in some respects, to achieve the perfection of family life. That one, of course, is the Holy Family of Nazareth. Since, therefore, God has given us the ideal fully realized in the concrete, it is to that rather than the more remote symbols that we must go for our lessons as to what the Catholic family should be. The Word was made flesh to reveal to us the mind of the Eternal Father. In order, then, to learn the mind of the Eternal Father concerning the nature and end of the Catholic family life, we cannot do better than turn our thoughts to the little home at Nazareth.

The school of the Apostles was formed by Our Lord during the years of His public ministry. Then, having been organized by Him during His lifetime, it was fully promulgated and endowed with its special gifts after His death, by the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. The purpose of the Incarnation was the salvation of souls. The purpose of the Church was the salvation of souls. The purpose of the first Catholic Family was the salvation of souls. The first and foremost purpose, then, of every Catholic family is to obtain for its members the possession of everlasting life. The family does not exist merely for the sake of the love of husband and wife; nor for the love of parent and children; nor for the acquisition of worldly fortunes; nor for the promotion of the children in business; nor for the material prosperity of nations. All these are lawful and subordinate aims are subordinate to the final aim, which is to help immortal souls to get to heaven. This is the first and, in a sense, the only lesson to be learned from the Holy Family of Nazareth: the purpose of the Catholic family is the undoing of sin, the hindrance of sin, the propagation of those truths and virtues which lead to life eternal.

The child Jesus grew in wisdom and age and grace in the eyes of God and of men. Although possessing the Beatific Vision, and consequently all wisdom, knowledge, and grace, yet Jesus deemed it expedient to acquire an experimental knowledge of things, to learn from Joseph and Mary the great truths about religion, and how to apply them to the development of the spiritual life. Jesus was the foundation of all grace. He was knowledge itself; He was wisdom itself; but He chose that His wisdom and knowledge and grace should be manifested gradually. He chose to undergo that laborious education to set the example to all Christian families, to show them that it was only by constant teaching and learning that Christian character could be formed. The Christian mother, then, assiduously watches for the first dawn of conscience in her child. She knows, or ought to know, that first impressions are the most effective and most lasting. She delights to take her child on her knees and teach it to pray. Her pride is to show her friends how her little one can say the Our Father and the Hail Mary. At length, the time comes when the child must be sent to school. There must be no question about the character of the school, it must be Catholic.

The Catholic school will undoubtedly possess a Catholic atmosphere. The constant or frequent presence of priests or religious, the Catholic prayers, the statues and the fixtures, all tend to keep before the mind of the child the fact that he is a Catholic.

Now the Catholic home ought to be at least as Catholic as the Catholic school. There ought to be prominent signs about the house that it is the abode of a Catholic family. There is a feeling in some families, having pretensions to be up-to-date and fashionable, to regard a religious picture in the drawing-room as out of place. This feeling is generally the fruit of worldliness. It Is also, in a measure, due to the large number of inferior pictures which flood the market, those cheap lithographs of the Pope or the bishop, which are a compliment to neither. A zealous father of a Catholic family will make an endeavor to hang up one or two good and really artistic religious pictures. They give a tone to the house, impressing the faith on the minds of the members of the family, and expressing the faith of the family to visitors.

More important even than Catholic art is Catholic literature. These are days when everybody reads or, at least, is supposed to read. And it is notorious that Catholics do not buy books as they should. Our Holy Father has warned us that, unless we support a good Catholic press, it will be useless for us to build schools and churches. Now, the Catholic Church is not wanting either in excellent writers or in excellent publishers. Our book stores are rich in devotional, scientific, and recreational literature. The crying shame is that so little of this finds its way into the Catholic family. Heads of Catholic families, therefore, ought to see to it at once that there is a shelf for religious literature, that there is a regular subscription to some monthly or quarterly Catholic journal, and, especially among the working classes, a subscription to some Catholic weekly newspaper. It is chiefly through the press that the members of the family learn their relationship to other institutions in the world. The secular press keeps them provided with political news and so constantly reminds them of their civic duties. But the secular press is not an ideal medium for showing the Catholic his duty to the State.

Especially in the matter of education, the Catholic need to know the bearings between the mind of the Church and the mind of the State. And he ought to know this, not only on general principles, but also in the application of those principles to the particular circumstances of his country. He must know what the bishops have said, what the government has done to this or that particular school or college, and what the government proposes to do with schools and colleges in the future. In a word, he must be alive to his duties as a Catholic citizen. The family life is the foundation of true citizenship. Since, therefore, the Catholic press is the means by which the Catholic learns the bearings between the family, the Church, the State, the Catholic press ought to be an institution in every Catholic household.
And Jesus went down with them, and came to Nazareth and was subject unto them.
Order is said to be heaven's first command. If, on the other hand, love be said to be the first and final law of heaven, the statement must be qualified by making the love a well-ordered love. Even sin is only disordered love, the love of something contrary to the Divine Will. So also in the family life, love must be the ruling principle, but it must be a well-ordered love. Our Lord, therefore, in order to teach us this lesson, went down with His parents to Nazareth, and was subject unto them. Nowhere outside the bosom of the Blessed Trinity was a triple love so perfect as that love between Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Yet St. Joseph was the head and ruler of the family. It was St. Joseph who was told to fear not, but take Mary to be his spouse. It was St. Joseph who was told by the angel to arise and take the Child and His mother and flee into Egypt. It was St. Joseph who was divinely commanded to return and take Mary and Jesus to Nazareth. Although Mary was so much spiritually exalted over Joseph, yet Joseph was to be the ruler of the family. And although Jesus was so much spiritually exalted over Joseph and Mary, yet in the family He was to be subject to both.

Here, then, is the rule for the Catholic family. The father is to be supreme ruler, the mother is to rule in her sphere under him, the children are to be subject to both. Moreover, the subjection of the children is not to be a slavish subjection, but a filial subjection. It must be informed by love rather than by fear. There must, of course, be a certain fear present in the children, but a reverential fear, a fear by which one is afraid of offending love, rather than a fear by which one is afraid of punishment. Further, the obedience of children is not unlimited. If parents command anything contrary to divine law the duty of the children is to disobey. In cases of doubt, however, the presumption is in favor of the parents. But wherever there is a question of family interest or domestic arrangements the will of the parents must be obeyed. It is not for children to say which school they shall go to, to say where the family shall take up its abode, to say at what hour the family shall dine, to say what time they shall come in at night. These are points upon which children frequently mistake their place in the family, points in which they are obviously subject to their parents.

There comes a time, too, when children grow up. The relationships between them and their parents then become somewhat modified. Nevertheless, there still remain the duties of reverence and love. The children are free to choose their own states of life. In this they are not bound to follow the wishes of their parents, but they are bound to consult their parents and to weigh the considerations which they put forth. Then, later, when the parents are overtaken with old age, the children are bound in cases of necessity to support them.

From the principles of order and superiority and subjection in the family there arises the duty of the parents, and especially of the father, of providing for the material well-being of the children. There is an impression prevalent that worldly success and Roman Catholicism are not compatible. And it is certainly true that in many Protestant communities the Catholic is at a disadvantage. That is only an extra reason why Catholics should make themselves more proficient in their respective trades and professions. If a Catholic lawyer, or doctor, or engineer excels in his own vocation, then Protestant, Jew, and Infidel will engage him in preference. And if he shines in his Catholicity as he does in his profession, then the cause of Catholicity will benefit in proportion.

The father of the Catholic family, therefore, must provide his children with a good secular education. The school must be Catholic, but it must likewise be efficient in its secular subjects. Piety must come before worldly success, but it need not be allowed to supplant it. We have schools in abundance, schools as efficient as any secular schools in the country. There is no need to go outside the Church, though there may be need to use discrimination within the Church. And this discrimination is the office of the parents of the family.

We may sum up, then, the principles of Catholic family life thus: The family is the foundation of the State, and the strength and purity of the State depend on the strength and purity of the family. The family, however, is not the foundation of the Church, but is rather the child of the Church, taking its instructions from the Church, and existing primarily for the same end as the Church, namely, the salvation of souls. It should, therefore, be Catholic in its faith, Catholic in its hope, and Catholic in its love. The Catholic faith will be fostered by ceaseless attention to the Sacraments, to Catholic education during youth, and Catholic instruction through the press during manhood. From Catholic faith and hope will spring Catholic love. This will be made ever more and more fruitful by being kept in order, the father and mother ruling by love, the children obeying through love. The endeavor must be made to carry these Catholic principles into the world of business and professions, and to show to the non-Catholic world that religion and intellectual efficiency are not incompatible; nay, to show that only by the observance of the law of religion can the family, and consequently the State, achieve the perfection which it desires.

(Photo: Dave Crenshaw)

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