Time has come when the family garden is beginning to yield its bounty that needs stored away for winter time. The red raspberries and blueberries are tightly sealed in their freezer bags. The garlic is hanging to dry. The squash are in full production. The watermelon and cantaloupe are swelling on the vine. The tomatoes are getting the first hint of red. The corn is in tassel and the little ears have started to form. Is your mouth watering yet? It should be, as God gave us the senses of taste, smell, and sight, he also gave us hunger. We concentrate a lot on the food we eat, but do we focus on food for our starving souls, that hunger for God. We have both a body and a soul that hunger.
As a society and as families and individuals we concentrate on making sure we have food on our plate. My wife and I sometimes say we are “foodies”, enjoying the bounty of God’s green earth. Some people even consider themselves connoisseurs of wine or cheese, you name it. We spend hours in gardens or we go to farmers markets and grocery stores and pick out the best we can buy with the money we have. As a foodie, I work hard to make sure what I put in my mouth to feed my earthly body is not junk. All that effort is spent feeding a body that will some day die and become worm food. If I work that hard to feed a dying body do I work even harder to feed my soul and the souls of my family that are eternal?
As St John Vianney insists the only food to feed our soul is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only God can satiate the hunger of our souls. I often try as many of us do to feed my soul with other earthly things. Our society and the evil one tells we can feed our souls with earthly things, but this only leaves us wanting more and feeling empty. I could give examples all day long of things that we can use to try to feed our soul that will leave us empty in the end. Television, mass media, internet, sports, food, cars, materialism, consumerism, pornography, fornication, and the list could go on.
Dr. G.C. Dilsaver states in the opening paragraph of his book The Three Marks of Manhood, “Dark Times, arguably the darkest of times in the annals of Christianity, have descended on both Faith and family at the eclipsed dawn of the twenty-first century. A full blown spiritual plague now rampages through the West and beyond. Pernicious and highly infectious, this plague is promulgated by governmental policies and commercial interests, and its pathogens ride the ubiquitous airwaves of the mass media and incubate in the passive minds of modern men.” Not only do we starve our eternal souls, but as Dr Dilsaver would suggest we endanger our souls with the ills of our society.
As my soul yearns to be fed, what do seek to fill it? The Eucharist, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the only thing that can fill our souls and satiate them. In the Eucharist, we find the true presence of Jesus Christ, who in John 6: 53-56 says, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
As a family we try to attend mass and receive the Eucharist more than just on Sunday. One of the beauty’s of our Catholic Church is that we can be fed daily by God. That doesn’t mean that as a family we make it to Mass every day. As St Frances DeSales suggests in his book The Devout Life, we must respect our state in life and provide what is best for our families. I find that we try to balance feeding our souls at Mass with feeding our bellies with work. On days that Mass is not an option there is always an Act of Spiritual Communion. What matters is the desire to have God in us and allow Jesus Christ to feed our souls.
Just as squash and melons grow in the garden, so must my soul grow an ever increasing desire for Jesus Christ, to love him, to adore him, and to please him. He is the perfect example for which we can follow carrying our crosses toward life after our earthly death. From a place of love for Christ all our earthly struggles begin to take on a new perspective and if tomatoes get a virus it doesn’t matter nearly as much as if my soul catches one. Strive to have more passion for the Eucharist than you do for the food you put in your mouth.
"And he measured a thousand, and he brought me through the water up to the loins. And he measured a thousand, and it was a torrent, which I could not pass over: for the waters were risen so as to make a deep torrent, which could not be passed over." Ezekiel 47:5
Ah, the Great Feast of Pentecost...the coming of the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost is upon us. Some will dress in red to be liturgically correct. Others have spent the past nine days praying the novena to the Holy Ghost, saying from their heart, "Come Holy Ghost!" Some will gather for Confirmations with their local Bishop. Others may simply attend Mass, oblivious to the greatness of this feast. All of us are called to pray.
What is this feast all about? I think the thing that really sticks out to me this year is how the timid, fearful Apostles changed instantly into the bold and fearless preachers and missionaries that converted masses of people, baptizing them in the thousands. Oh how we need a new Pentecost among the leaders of our Church. The recent Gallup poll highlights this need by showing that 9 in 10 American Catholics say contraception is morally permissible. (Gallup) If this doesn't prove the failure of Catholic leadership and catechesis that I don't know what would. Peter was willing to confront the people of his time with the Truth, not counting the cost. Unfortunately, most leaders today are too politically correct for that.
This feast then is the great feast of courage...not just human courage but that which comes from God as an outpouring of His own power. Peter was turned from the man that fled from fear and lied in order to protect his own hide, into the fearless prophet of his time, ultimately offering his life on a cross like his Savior. This doesn't happen of man's own power, it takes Divine movement in a man's heart. Ezekiel was led into the water gradually, first knee deep, and then fully into the flow, symbolizing the immersion in God's grace. How did Peter then open his heart to God's grace, how did he go "deep"?
This question is one for each of us men, how do we open ourselves to the Holy Ghost so as to more and more become what He wishes of us? Let's look at Peter as an example of manly conversion. Here are the bullet points:
1. He acknowledges Christ - "Then he saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? Peter answering said to him: Thou are the Christ." Mark 8:29
2. He is willing to do all for Christ, even foolishly - "then Peter answering, said to him: Behold we have left all things." Matthew 19:27 and "Peter saith to him: Yea, though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee. And in like manner said all the disciples". Matthew 26:35
3. He willingly acknowledges his sin and repents - "And Peter, remembered the word of Jesus which he had said: Before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. And going forth, he wept bitterly." Matthew 26:75
4. He confirms his love for God, multiple times - "He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him; Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee." John 21:17
5. He goes with the other Apostles and the Mother of our Lord and prays - Acts of the Apostles 1:13-14
If you add this to the fact that Peter was one of the Apostles that spent the most time with Our Lord you get the picture of a man given over to God. Peter was not without his faults but he was always a willing servant of God and prayerful...like Ezekiel, he was willing to more than knee deep in God's river. This willingness and prayerfulness opened him up to be receptive to the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. Now this Gift of the Holy Ghost is breathed into us both in Baptism and at Confirmation, just as Christ breathed on His first Apostles (John 20:22). Just as the first Apostles, this Gift may lay dormant for some time until we fully open up to His Grace. For the Apostles it was the first novena, the nine days from the Ascension of Christ to Pentecost. For us, the wait may be years.
As St. Augustine calls us fathers of families, "Coepiscopi" or "fellow bishops", we must be open to God's grace to lead our families. The crisis in the the modern culture cannot be solely blamed upon the ordained bishops, for ultimately our priests are only as good as the families they are borne out of . Fathers of families bear a great responsibility for the state of the modern culture, and as thus, we are called to be prophetic witnesses to a true Catholic mentality and culture. Contraception rates among Catholics will only be lowered through courage and conversion. Once us men open ourselves up to God's grace and are willing to embrace martyrdom, will we be willing to die for our families and be open to the great gift that life is. Accepting God's generous gift of children requires heroic courage and magnanimity in today's dads...it is not for the faint of heart, nor the childish adolescent fathers living for entertainment and modern sporting fantasy. Fear and childishness cannot keep us from entering fully into the river of God.
Modern men, whether they be ordained bishops administering a diocese of thousands of souls, or the newly married young man with his potentiality yet to be realized in fatherhood are called to go deep, to live fully for God, to live devout lives, to live heroic witness to Christ - while not counting the cost. To live anything less, is well, less manly...and certainly, less divine!
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The following is a quote that really convicted me that the sin I commit doesn't just affect me...it also affects my children. As I am duty bound to raise them in the saintly virtues and in the faith, I am also required to give them good example and protect them from "evil company". How does this quote hit you? This is a quote from Fr. Goffine's book, "The Church's Year" - a must have for every family!
"How do parents give scandal?
By giving their children bad example; by excessive anger, cursing and swearing; by avarice, injustice and cheating; by discord and quarrels; by gluttony in eating and drinking; by extravagance and vanity in dress; by sneering at religion, good morals, etc.; by not keeping their children from evil company, but sometimes even bringing them into it; by not punishing and endeavoring to eradicate their children's vices. How much parents sin through such scandals, cannot be expressed; at the Day of Judgment their children will be their accusers!"
Lately, I have been really busy. Spring has sprung and with it...LIFE! With the end of the school year comes vegetable gardens, chicken butchering, the ongoing battle with taming the weeds on our little corner of the 28 acres, and the inevitable run-in with ticks, bees, and dive-bombing barn swallows. This is also the time designed by God for us to pray the traditional novena to the Holy Ghost.
Spring always has a powerful effect on me. I chalk it up to my farming ancestors and the need to work harder and longer during these weeks of planting. The windows of opportunity to get seed in the ground are small, and the farmer is ever aware of the quality of the soil and sun. Spring is the time God has set for planting, not only in the field of the earth, but also in the field of eternity. We celebrate the joy of Easter, but ultimately, the Holy Ghost is coming to finally give life to the seed that was planted on Good Friday ("unless a seed falls to the ground and die..."). Pentecost is the great feast of establishing the Kingdom of God in the power and courage that was hidden in the hearts of Peter, John, and the rest of the Apostles.
I have often had a problem with those that have called recent years or events, "a New Springtime". Whether it was Pope John Paul II calling for a new springtime in the Church or those calling the modern revolutions in the east, the Arab Spring. It always struck me as odd...in the Church it seemed like the hem was coming loose and more and more dissent was becoming metastasized in the Church (think Georgetown today?!) How was this a Springtime? As to the Arab Spring, well, it may well become a Christian Autumn in the Middle East. All of this being said, I have recently reflected upon springtime and may see what the Holy Father was trying to inspire.
Springtime is a time for planting, fertilizing, growth, new life, etc, etc etc. To use some old scholastic philosphical terminology, Spring is the great time of potentiality. The seed holds within it potential to become a verdant head of lettuce. The egg holds within it the potential to become a chick, then a full grown chicken, and then dinner for my family. The Apostles held this potentiality in themselves from Christ breathing on them in the upper room. We hold potentiality within us from our Baptism to become all that God desires of us. As Christian men, we hold within ourselves the great potential to become the priest, prophet, and king of our family and of turning our little corner of the world to the good God that has made us.
All of this potential is what ultimately makes Spring great. I often laugh at the image of the pessimistic farmer (yep, they are all around). What is funny is that, although he may be pessimistic, he still tills...he still plants...he still fertilizes...and yes, he still harvests the crop in due season. Many of us may also be pessimistic in our attitudes about ourselves, our kids, our wives, our families. We seem to be stuck and can't change our ways. We are stuck in our addictions to entertainment, food, pleasure, and selfishness. Spring tells us, "Don't give up...just plant some seed...watch it grow!" God is telling us, "If you have died with me, so you shall be raised up with me." All the potentiality of our Baptism is there, waiting for us to pray and act. Pentecost will see the great germination of the seed of our Baptism if only we will let it grow.
Here is a recent article I stumbled across on manly purity and pornography. He makes an excellent point.
It really doesn't matter how many times I have prayerfully read"The Imitation of Christ" cover to cover, it still has an incredible way of kicking me in the pants each time I pick it up. This work by Thomas a Kempis is so rich and deep a well of spiritual water that we ought to continually go back to it for nourishment. Just last night I picked it up for a little reading before falling asleep and was surprised to be as convicted as if I had just knelt down to St. Pio for Confession.
What was it that struck me? It might seem strange for a father of seven to say, but it was Chapter XX, "On the love of solitude and silence". On the surface one might chalk up this chapter to being only practically applied to the religious monk or nun, however, this rich food has enough for even a secular man like myself. I quote:
"Seek a suitable time for thy meditation, and think frequently of the mercies of God to thee. Leave curious questions. Study such matters as bring thee sorrow for sin rather than amusement. If thou withdraw thyself from trifling conversation and idle goings about, as well as from novelties and gossip, thou shalt find thy time sufficient and apt for good meditation."
I admit that I used to see this in a different light back in the days of studying theology at Franciscan University. Curious questions to me seemed to be the philosopher's favorites, "Will we have clothes in heaven?" or "Will my dog be with me in heaven?" Those were amusing times. Now, with seven children and a bit more responsibility I don't really have time to think on such "amusing" questions. How then does this strike me right between the eyes?
My "curious questions" and "trifling conversation and idle goings about" is mainly online news and facebook junkie-ism. Does it matter to my eternal salvation if Ron Paul wins the Pa Primary or if Brambles stock loses 14 cents in a day of trading? Does the meal that someone just ate or the game someone just played cause me to move closer to my eternal reward? The fact for me is that I spend TIME on all of these things. Time spent. Period. Time used up, never to return. I can't get back those 45 minutes I spent reading useless news about Syria and the retired space shuttle.
For the business operator, time management is one of the most important areas to manage properly. Lost time is lost work, lost revenue, lost productivity, etc. If one cannot get a firm grasp on managing time properly, business will inevitably suffer serious consequences. Deadlines will not be met, orders lost, opportunities missed. The owner that lacks this skill will also lack the ability to plan for the future and develop a vision for the company, because he will always spend his time putting out fires that could have been prevented.
In family life, it is much the same. If I don't manage my time at home, there will be lost opportunities, missed moments, and typically frustrated family members. If I spend my small amount of time on useless amusements and "trifling" and "idle" novelties I will inevitably run out of TIME! I will be like the useless servant that failed to invest his time and instead hid it in the ground...he lost the little he had! So it may be Facebook, online news, professional sports, movies, or games that use up our limited supply of time. Whatever it is, one can never say one does not have enough time, only that it may be poorly used.
As men we have immense responsibilities and time should be a very special one to us. Most of us that work, work outside the home and so we spend less time at home than at work. This should give us pause to ponder how we spend this time with our family. Do we spend it on ourselves? or do we spend it on God and our family? Thomas a Kempis says that if we would give up the useless pastimes we would indeed have the time we need (and most likely desire) for things of faith and family!
Blessed Good Friday. Last night our family assisted at the Holy Mass of Maundy Thursday where we were reminded of the great need for priests. Father also reminded us of the great void left by those not fulfilling their calling to spiritual fatherhood - both at the Altar of God as well as the threshold of the home. With that in mind I am posting Pope Pius XII's address to a group of Italians supporting large families. I believe the calling spoken of in the Holy Father's message is the "cup" that must be accepted by today's Christian couples as they state emphatically with Christ, "Not my will but Thine be done!"
THE LARGE FAMILYBeloved sons and daughters, Officers and Representatives of the Associations for Large Families-of Rome and of Italy, this visit of yours has to be listed among those that bring deepest pleasure to Our heart.
You are well aware of the lively interest We have in family life, of how We never miss an opportunity to point out its many-sided dignity, to re-assert its rights and defend them, to inculcate the duties it involves—in a word, We make it a key-point of Our pastoral teaching.
It is this same anxious interest in families that makes Us agree so readily to spend at least a few moments with family groups that come to Our home (whenever the duties of Our office do not make this impossible), and this is why, on occasion, We consent to be photographed in the midst of them, so as to leave some kind of lasting record of Our joy and theirs.
Father of the human family
The Pope in the midst of a family! Isn't that right where he belongs? Isn't he (in the loftiest spiritual sense of the word) the Father of the whole human family that has been reborn in Christ and in the Church? Is it not through him, the Vicar of Christ on earth, that the wonderful plan of creative Wisdom is put into effect — a plan that has conferred on all human fatherhood the destiny of preparing a chosen family for heaven, where the love of the One and Triune God will enfold them in a single eternal embrace and give them Himself as the inheritance that will make them perfectly happy?
A triple testimony
But you do not represent just any families at all; you are and represent large families, those most blessed by God and specially loved and prized by the Church as its most precious treasures. For these families offer particularly clear testimony to three things that serve to assure the world of the truth of the Church's doctrine and the soundness of its practice, and that redound, through good example, to the great benefit of all other families and of civil society itself.
Wherever you find large families in great numbers, they point to: the physical and moral health of a Christian people; a living faith in God and trust in His Providence; the fruitful and joyful holiness of Catholic marriage.
We would like to say a few words about each of these points.
Surely, one of the most harmful aberrations that has appeared in modern society with its pagan tendencies is the opinion of those who are eager to classify fruitfulness in marriage as a "social malady," and who maintain that any nation that finds itself thus afflicted must exert every effort and use every means to cure the disease. This is the basis for the propaganda that goes under the name of "planned parenthood"; at times it is promoted by persons and organizations who command respect because of their positions in other fields, but who, unfortunately, have taken a stand in this matter which must be condemned.
Sad as it is to realize how widespread doctrines and practices of this kind have become, even among the traditionally healthy classes, it is comforting to see indications and proofs of a healthy reaction in your country, both in the legal and in the medical fields. As you know, article 31 of the current Constitution of the Italian Republic, to cite just one source, pays "special attention to large families," and the prevailing teaching among Italian doctors is along a line of opposition ever more strongly against birth-control practices.
This does not mean that the danger has passed and that we have destroyed the prejudices which tend to make marriage and its wise norms submit to the aims of reprehensible pride and selfishness on the part of society or of individuals. We particularly deplore that section of the press that every so often takes up the question once again with the obvious intention of confusing good people and drawing them into error with misleading evidence, questionable polls, and even falsified statements from some cleric or other.
Obedience to nature's laws
On the part of Catholics, We must urge the wide dissemination of the principle, firmly founded on truth, that the only way to protect the physical and moral health of the family and of society is through whole-hearted obedience to the laws of nature, or rather of the Creator, and most of all by fostering a sacred, heart-felt respect for them.
In this matter, everything depends on the intention. You can multiply laws and make the penalties heavier; you can give irrefutable proofs of the stupidity of birth-control theories and of the harm that comes from putting them into practice; but as long as there is no sincere determination to let the Creator carry on His work as He chooses, then human selfishness will always find new sophistries and excuses to still the voice of conscience (to the extent it can), and to carry on abuses.
Now the value of the testimony offered by the parents of large families lies not only in their unequivocal and forceful rejection of any deliberate compromise between the law of God and human selfishness, but also in their readiness to accept joyfully and gratefully these priceless gifts of God—their children — in whatever number it may please Him to send them.
This kind of attitude frees married couples from oppressive anxieties and remorse, and, in the opinion of outstanding doctors, creates the ideal psychological conditions for the healthy development of children born of the marriage. For, right at the beginning of these new lives, it eliminates all those worries and disturbances that can so easily leave physical or psychological scars on the mother or child.
Apart from exceptional cases and We have had occasion to speak of these before — nature's law is basically one of harmony, and it leads to discord and contradictions only in cases where its normal operation is upset by particular circumstances which are for the most part abnormal, or by deliberate opposition from a human will. There is no eugenics that can improve upon nature: it is good as a science only so long as it aims at gaining a profound knowledge of nature's laws and respects these laws — although in some cases it may be wise to dissuade people who suffer from serious defects from getting married (cfr. Enc. Casti connubii, Dec. 31, 1930: A.A.S. 22 (1930) p. 565).
Physical and moral health
Again, good common sense has always and everywhere looked upon large families as a sign, a proof, and a source of physical health, and history makes no mistake when it points to violation and abuse of the laws governing marriage and procreation as the primary cause of the decay of peoples.
Far from being a "social malady," large families are a guarantee of the moral and physical health of a people. Virtues flourish spontaneously in homes where a baby's cries always echo from the crib, and vice is put to flight, as if it has been chased away by the childhood that is renewed there like the fresh and invigorating breath of spring.
So let the weak and selfish take their example from you; let the nation continue to be loving and grateful toward you for all the sacrifices you have taken upon yourselves to raise and educate its citizens; just as the Church is pleased with you for enabling her to offer, along with you, ever healthier and larger groups of souls to the sanctifying activity of the divine Spirit.
In the modern civil world a large family is usually, with good reason, looked upon as evidence of the fact that the Christian faith is being lived up to, for the selfishness that We just pointed out as the principal obstacle to an increase in the size of a family group cannot be successfully overcome without recourse to ethical and religious principles.
In recent times we have seen how so-called "demographic politics" have failed to achieve any noteworthy results; it is easy to see why, for the individual interest will almost always win out over the collective pride and selfishness which this idea so often expresses, and the aims and methods of this policy debase the dignity of the family and the person by placing them on the same level as lower species.
The light of Christianity
Only the divine and eternal light of Christianity gives full life and meaning to the family and this is so true that right from the beginning and through the whole course of its history, large families have often been considered as synonymous with Christian families.
Respect for divine laws has made them abound with life; faith in God gives parents the strength and vigor they need to face the sacrifice and self-denial demanded for the raising of their children; Christian principles guide them and help them in the hard work of education; the Christian spirit of love watches over their peace and good order, and seems to draw forth from nature and bestow the deepest family joys that belong to parents, to children, to brothers and sisters.
Even externally, a large, well-ordered family is a kind of visible shrine: the sacrament of Baptism is not an exceptional event for them but something constantly renewing the joy and grace of the Lord. The series of happy pilgrimages to the Baptismal font is not yet finished when a new one to Confirmation and first Communion begins, aglow with the same innocence. The youngest of the children will scarcely have put away his little white suit among the dearest memories of life, when the first wedding veil appears to bring parents, children, and new relatives together at the foot of the altar. More marriages, more Baptisms, more first Communions follow each other like ever-new springtimes that, in a sense, make the visits of God and of His grace to the home unending.
Trust in God
But God also visits large families with His Providence, and parents, especially those who are poor, give clear testimony to this by resting all their trust in Him when human efforts are not enough. A trust that has a solid foundation and is not in vain! Providence — to put it in human words and ideas — is not a sum total of exceptional acts of divine pity; it is the ordinary result of harmonious activity on the part of the infinite wisdom, goodness and omnipotence of the Creator. God will never refuse a means of living to those He calls into being.
The Divine Master has explicitly taught that "life is worth more than food, and the body more than clothing" (cf. Matt. 6, 25). If single incidents, whether small or great, seem to contradict this, it is a sign that man has placed some obstacle in the way of divine order, or else, in exceptional cases, that God has higher plans for good; but Providence is something real, something necessary since God is the Creator.
The so-called problem of overpopulation of the earth is partly real and partly unreasonably feared as an imminent catastrophe for modern society; but undoubtedly the rise of this problem and the continued failure to arrive at a solution of it is not due to some mix-up or inertia on the part of divine Providence, but rather to disorder on man's part — especially to his selfishness and avarice.
With the progress that has been made in technology, with the ease of transportation, and with the new sources of energy that are just beginning to be tapped, the earth can promise prosperity to all those who will dwell on it for a long time to come.
As for the future, who can foresee what new and unsuspected resources may be found on our planet, and what surprises may be uncovered outside of it by the wonderful scientific achievements that have just barely begun? And who can be sure that the natural rhythm of procreation will be the same in the future as it is now? Is it not possible that some law that will moderate the rhythm of expansion from within may come into play? Providence has reserved the future destiny of the world to itself.
It is strange to find that the fears of some individuals are able to change well-founded hopes for prosperity into catastrophic spectre at the very moment when science is changing what used to be considered the dreams of wild imaginations into useful realities.
So overpopulation is not a valid reason for spreading illicit birth control practices. It is simply a pretext used by those who would justify avarice and selfishness — by those nations, for instance, who fear that the expansion of others will pose a danger to their own political position and cause a lowering of the general standard of living, or by individuals, especially those who are better off, who prefer the greatest possible enjoyment of earthly goods to the praise and merit of bringing new lives into existence. The final result is that they break the fixed and certain laws of the Creator under the pretext of correcting supposed errors on the part of His Providence.
It would be more reasonable and useful if modern society would make a more determined, universal effort to correct its own conduct, by removing the causes of hunger in the overpopulated or "depressed areas," through a more active use of modern discoveries for peaceful aims, a more open political policy of collaboration and exchange, a more far-seeing and less nationalistic economy; above all, by reacting to all suggestions of selfishness with charity, to those of avarice with a more concrete application of justice.
God is not going to ask men for an accounting of the general destiny of mankind; that is His business; but He will demand an accounting of the single acts that they have deliberately performed in accordance with or against the dictates of conscience.
As for you, parents and children of large families, keep on giving a serene and firm testimony of your trust in divine Providence, and be assured that He will not fail to repay you with the testimony of His daily help and, whenever necessary, with those extraordinary helps that many of you have been happy to experience already.
And now a few words on your third testimony — words that may give new strength to those who are fearful and bring you a little comfort.
Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church; happiness flowers in them and sanctity ripens in favorable soil. Every family group, even the smallest, was meant by God to be an oasis of spiritual peace. But there is a tremendous difference: where the number of children is not much more than one, that serene intimacy that gives value to life has a touch of melancholy or of pallor about it; it does not last as long, it may be more uncertain, it is often clouded by secret fears and remorse.
Happiness in a large family
It is very different from the serenity of spirit to be found in parents who are surrounded by a rich abundance of young lives. The joy that comes from the plentiful blessings of God breaks out in a thousand different ways and there is no fear that it will end. The brows of these fathers and mothers may be burdened with cares, but there is never a trace of that inner shadow that betrays anxiety of conscience or fear of an irreparable return to loneliness, Their youth never seems to fade away, as long as the sweet fragrance of a crib remains in the home, as long as the walls of the house echo to the silvery voices of children and grandchildren.
Their heavy labors multiplied many times over, their redoubled sacrifices and their renunciation of costly amusements are generously rewarded even here below by the inexhaustible treasury of affection and tender hopes that dwell in their hearts without ever tiring them or bothering them.
And the hopes soon become a reality when the eldest daughter begins to help her mother to take care of the baby and on the day the oldest son comes home with his face beaming with the first salary he has earned himself. That day will be a particularly happy one for parents, for it will make the spectre of an old age spent in misery disappear, and they will feel assured of a reward for their sacrifices.
When there are many children, the youngsters are spared the boredom of loneliness and the discomfort of having to live in the midst of adults all the time. It is true that they may sometimes become so lively as to get on your nerves, and their disagreements may seem like small riots; but even their arguments play an effective role in the formation of character, as long as they are brief and superficial. Children in large families learn almost automatically to be careful of what they do and to assume responsibility for it, to have a respect for each other and help each other, to be open-hearted and generous. For them, the family is a little proving ground, before they move into the world outside, which will be harder on them and more demanding.
All of these precious benefits will be more solid and permanent, more intense and more fruitful if the large family takes the supernatural spirit of the Gospel, which spiritualizes everything and makes it eternal, as its own particular guiding rule and basis. Experience shows that in these cases, God often goes beyond the ordinary gifts of Providence, such as joy and peace, to bestow on it a special call — a vocation to the priesthood, to the religious life, to the highest sanctity.
With good reason, it has often been pointed out that large families have been in the forefront as the cradles of saints. We might cite, among others, the family of St. Louis, the King of France, made up of ten children, that of St. Catherine of Siena who came from a family of twenty-five, St. Robert Bellarmine from a family of twelve, and St. Pius X from a family of ten.
Every vocation is a secret of Providence; but these cases prove that a large number of children does not prevent parents from giving them an outstanding and perfect upbringing; and they show that the number does not work out to the disadvantage of their quality, with regard to either physical or spiritual values.
Vigilance and action
One last word to you, Directors and Representatives of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and of Italy.
Be careful to imprint the seal of an ever more vigilant and fruitful dynamism on the action that you intend to carry out in behalf of the dignity of large families and for their economic protection.
With regard to the first of these aims, keep in line with the directives of the Church; with regard to the second, you have to shake out of its lethargy that part of society that is not yet aware of its social responsibilities. Providence is a divine truth and reality, but it chooses to make use of human cooperators. Ordinarily it moves into action and comes to our aid when it has been summoned and practically led by the hand by man; it loves to lie hidden behind human activity. While it is only right to acknowledge that Italian legislation can legitimately boast of being most advanced in this area of affording protection to families and especially to large families, We should not close our eyes to the fact that there are still a considerable number of them who are tossed back and forth between discomfort and real privation, through no fault of their own. Your action must aim at bringing these people the protection of the laws, and in more urgent cases the help of charity. Every positive achievement in this field is like a solid stone set into the structure of the nation and of the church; it is the very best thing you can do as Catholics and as citizens.
Calling down the divine protection upon your families and those of all Italy, placing them once again under the heavenly protection of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, We impart to you with all Our heart Our paternal Apostolic Blessing. Pope Pius XII
A roll of the eyes. A side-ways glance. A secret gesture. A behind-the-scenes mocking. Blowing off a request. Ignoring. Slighting. Avoiding.
Some people have made the above a modern art-form of spousal warfare. It may be done in public, for the approval of other men or women, or it may be done in the privacy of your own home. It may even be done in front of one's children. The question is...why?
As a business person I see this quite a bit in my day-to-day dealings with employees. You make a simple request as their employer and you get a snicker, a roll of the eyes, and later you learn they were complaining to another associate about the request. "I am not going to clean the restrooms...I am a licensed professional...I didn't go to school so that I would have to clean the bathrooms!" Later, you will discover that either they "sucked it up" and cleaned the restrooms or they just refused and will wait to see if you hold their feet to the fire. It seems that the art of avoidance has reached epic proportions! Of course this happens both from the rank and file to the leaders in management.
I have always appreciated people that were straight-forward and "frank". While some may be put off by this directness and bluntness, I have always preferred the more direct route. This of course has caused me no little trouble, but it has also been a great blessing. My team, my children, and of course my wife, all know exactly what I am thinking and know what to expect from me (most of the time!). I have been nicknamed the hammer for being so direct and blunt, unfortunately, this can also be seen as conceded, prideful, and egotistical. I continue to learn how to be a better leader, while at the same time being clear and forthright.
This desire for "frankness" has also led me to question why so many spouses willingly "throw their spouse under the bus"? Why do we attempt to make our spouses look bad, silly, and out-of-control? I see this quite a bit when I am mulling around with other men. Some men have developed the idea that it is somehow manly to belittle their wife in public. (I also have seen many wives do the same thing, so ladies, you are not off the hook!) I have been part of uncomfortable discussions that are revealing disturbing details of homes that are less than ideal Christian homes where there are constant passive-aggressive power plays. Why would any man (or woman) want their spouse to look bad? What about the whole, two in one flesh thing? Isn't your spouse a reflection on you?
In business I hear many managers complain of troubling associates. They complain that Suzie isn't doing her job, or Tommy never comes in on time, or Joe refuses to learn a new program. Then comes the question, "Well, what are you doing about it?" You get the shy, "Well, I yelled at them." or "I told them once about it...but they just won't so I gave up." or better yet, "I wrote them up and stuck it in their file!" (Of course, they never showed the associate the write-up and never discussed it with them...how helpful is that!? All of this is avoidance, the inability to confront a wrong. Ultimately, it is a fear of disapproval and a lack of compassion for the person. Leaders must learn true compassion, that is, to suffer with the person, while at the same time confronting the bad behavior, and coaching them to the established goals.
It is no different in the home, albeit, when you add love, you add a whole new dimension. As men and fathers we must always have true compassion for our charges, that is our wife and children. We must learn to suffer with them, but that doesn't mean taking their place. Sometimes we must allow our spouse, (or children) to go through a time of suffering in order to grow as Christians. Pregnancy is a time when the mother must suffer, and yet the father is often powerless to "change" anything. This does not lessen his need to be compassionate to his wife. He must suffer with her internally. This compassion does lead to better leadership and he can then serve in his manly capacity to alleviate what suffering he can. This compassion also has a very important role in leadership.
Compassion in leadership, particularly in the home means that the husband and father will have a solid understanding of the suffering taking place in his domain. He will not slough off the little battles that his wife goes through every day to cook, clean, and tend to the children. He will understand how much she does, how hard she works, and how much she suffers. This compassion helps him to know just how much his manly leadership is needed. His exclusive devotion to his wife leads him to be a bastion of strength, fortitude, and decisiveness. She needs him to make decisions, set goals, and guide the family through the turbulent waters of the modern world. She needs him to be bishop, doctor, manager, friend, mentor, guide, and of course, totally devoted to her. What she doesn't need is someone that mocks her and tries to make her look bad in front of his friends.
Ultimately, when a spouse belittles the other spouse in front of others, he or she is flaunting their own failures. They are bragging about how poor of a spouse they are and how sickly the home current is. They are saying that leadership in the home is lacking, both spiritually and physically. The be-littler is saying, "I am a failure and my home is a mess, isn't that funny?!" No, I am sorry, it is sad...let's pick up the reins and try again. After all, practice makes perfect and giving up accomplishes only failure.
So, I am entering a new phase in life. No, it isn't middle age, although it isn't far off. It is that stage when I watch my oldest son throw my youngest son up in the air and am finally learning not to panic. It is the stage when I honestly can't believe my son will soon start to shave. Yes, it is the stage of being a newly christened father of a teen, or as I prefer to say, a new adult man!
This stage is a whole new world that other parents have been prepping me to dread for years. "Enjoy them when they are little" I was told over and over again. "It goes by fast!" I was reminded throughout the past 14 years. Of course the pessimists always added, "It all goes downhill from here!!!" I always took this to mean that teenagers were horrible, wretched beasts that tormented even the best Christian home. They were vile, smelly, selfish goblins sent to punish the sins of my own youth...right?
Well, now I am here, watching my son become a man. He has not had to go through many of the horrible experiences I went through that formed me into a rebellious teen. We are not having to go through the fights over hair, clothing, music, and friends that tore my relationship with my own parents asunder. In fact, so far, so good, as the cliche goes.
As this blog is about manhood, I would be remiss to not include some thoughts on fathering a young man. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I already see so much of myself in my son. What else will he imitate? Am I providing a good model for him to imitate? Am I myself imitating Christ, so as to model true Christian Manhood for all of my children? Let's face it, at some point we realize that we are soooo much like our own fathers, for good or ill. It is tied to the way we learn. Sure we can choose to live differently, especially if we were raised in a less than ideal family. But most of us, will at some point come to the conclusion that much of what we do as a knee-jerk reaction is based on what we learned from our own parents.
So, will my son learn to be a coffee fanatic? Will he enjoy homemade guacamole as much as I do? Will he be struck by motorcycle flu every spring, and yet fight his way through until the weather finally gives up the ghost? Will he love jazz? Will he love to paint? Will he love his spouse more than life itself? Will he pray ardently for his children? Will he love to read and learn something new everyday? Will he pray? Will he learn to love?
The biggest question on my mind these days is: Do I give him enough to imitate to truly live a life given over to Christ and to love God with his whole heart, soul, and strength?
The battle for purity is life-long and involves numerous skirmishes...some won, some lost. One must first face up to the fact that purity requires manly strength and commitment to the battle. One can never shy away from the battle, or indeed the battle is lost.
This battle for purity may be likened to defending a castle stronghold. How so? Well first, if we are true men of Christ we should, by our faith and life of grace built a strong wall of defense in our life. This involves disposing of the enemy so that he no longer is able to abide within our castle (or cloister?). This wall is also our insulation from the onslaught of the world, meaning that we have pushed the world from our souls in a way that keeps our kingdom free from its influence. This wall of defense is built stone by stone through a lifetime of gracefilled commitment to Christ and faithful living out of the call of our King.
Secondly, the wall is only as defensible as its points of entry. Do we leave our castle vulnerable by leaving the gate wide open and unguarded? Are the sentries on guard and walking the top of the wall and turrets to keep an eye out for advances of the enemy? Is our castle supplied with the necessary provisions to endure a siege of the Enemy? Have we added defenses to our wall to ensure the impenetrability of our fortification?
These questions related to the battle for purity should make us think that a castle's defense is only as strong as its weakest point of entry. The famous Trojan Horse allowed the enemy to penetrate within the city's fortified walls. If our gate is unbolted and unguarded, our castle shall soon fall. In other words, are entire spiritual life can come crashing down in one instant by failing to bolt the gate...by failing to keep watch! Who among us has not experienced the frustration of a committed life of grace thrown away on a fleeting moment of weakness?! That is a lost battle.
Most often, it is not a great struggle, but rather a shock, as if we didn't see it coming...why, usually because the little acts of faith, hope, and charity had given way to little acts of selfishness, laziness, pride, and self-love. We fail to bar the gate when we refuse to do the right, and most often hard thing by choosing instead to hang on to selfish comforts like entertainment (think TV, movies, music etc.) Watching a 2 hour movie causes a man to embrace pacifism for a brief moment and allow his virility to be squandered on fantasy. Four hours of watching football also wastes a man's energy and virility and something fleeting and meaningless. These seemingly "little" things slide the bolt back on the castle gate, leaving it wide open for the entrance of the Enemy.
While the gate may be bolted, if the wall is not watched and a sentry posted, the wall runs the risk of being overrun. While a strong wall is a great benefit in the battle, the Enemy can easily scale it with his machines of war. We may keep our wall strong by avoiding fruitless entertainment, and by building a strong wall through faith and penance, but without the sentry all may be lost. The "sentry" is a life of prayer and study. Prayer, as Christ hinted to in the Garden of Gethsemane, is watchfulness. By dedicated time and effort to our relationship with Christ we grow more watchful for the little attacks of the Enemy. If we were to fall asleep and not keep watch with Christ, as did Peter and the other apostles, we run the risk of losing site of the vision Christ has for us. We may run away, just as Peter and John did, when attacked.
Men, the bottom line is this: The battle is won through little means. The skirmishes and attacks will continue until the day we breathe our last. These battles require our fortifications to be strong, but also our preparations to be wise. If we tend to the "small" things, our victory is assured. FIGHT ON!