One day, when I found the not so uncommon scene of an argument between a few of my children, I called them together and gave them a talking to. I do believe that that moment was a moment of grace. When talking to them, I found myself struck with how important it was to impress upon my kids that our home is where it counts, and that our thoughts, words and actions at home are more important than any that we might do outside of it. I gave them simple reasons why, but Our Lord in His goodness seemed to afterwards want to teach me more about this important point. I found much to confirm and ponder on this topic in three interesting places: the work of G.K. Chesterton, the life of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, and the novel Theopholis by Michael O’Brien.
Here is what Chesterton has to say about family life in the home, “When we defend the family…we mean that it is the theatre of the spiritual drama, the place where things happen, especially the things that matter.” He describes the family as a small community where our companions are chosen for us as opposed to a large community where we can choose our companions. He goes on to explain the advantage of the small community by depicting two very different persons; first a local village worker, let’s say a blacksmith and second, a world traveler in a world travelers club. The village blacksmith engages his neighbors constantly, both personally and in business. He has to be aware not only of the ins-and-outs of the lives and personalities of his neighbors from whom he earns his daily bread, but also must be aware of larger national issues that might affect the fascinating microcosm that he lives in. However, the world traveler in the world travelers club surrounds himself with those who think and live just like him. In this narrow existence the world traveler “says he is fleeing from his street because it is dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing from his street because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting; it is exacting because it is alive.” He proposes to go hunt lions in Africa. In actuality, engaging a lion for this world traveler is far less terrifying than engaging old Ms. Simpson with the crooked nose who might need his help or scold him. What a great mental picture of why being committed and active in home and family is not living in a small world but a large universe. In it we engage reality!
Many times, the best religious come from good homes because traditional communities and orders are modeled after the family e.g. titles like Abbot (Abba or Father) Mother, brothers and sisters. This is not an accident. As Catholics we understand that the family is made after the pattern of the Trinity. The family structure and hierarchy just works, so of course these religious communities adopt a similar organization. It makes sense then that young people from traditional Catholic families are more open to this possible call and if they are called into the religious life they tend to thrive because the way of life is familiar (literally).
In our present American, immoral, consumerist culture, it can be very hard for families to find examples of faithful, traditional Catholic families to look up to. We should consider looking to traditional religious communities to help us. Just as they have been patterned after a traditional familial hierarchical structure, we can structure ourselves like them. I know I have had to stop in my tracks sometimes as a mother and ask “what would a Mother Superior do?” or “Would that book be appropriate on the shelves of a monastery?” or “Is this an opportunity to show obedience to God by obeying my superior (husband)?” or “Am I using my authority lovingly and to good ends or am I lording it over my children?” St. Augustine actually calls fathers the Co-Episcopi or brother bishops in the domestic church. This is something beautiful and rich to ponder. It raises the bar and raises the dignity of family life.
St. Therese is a wonderful example of how her young home life aided her in becoming the Saint that we look up to so much. Her “little way” was not revealed to her by an angel, it was taught to her by her family in the use of sacrifice beads. It was during these younger years that she learned the horror of disappointing her father with her pride and where she developed a repugnance of disappointing her Heavenly Father with pride. She watched, and became aware of that same father’s quiet, hidden sacrifices (abstaining from wine). It was in her home where she watched her sisters take on the huge task of being other “mothers” to her and her father. It was during these years that she learned the value of prayer and was given a heart for poor sinners. She prayed intensely for the conversion of a particular sinner who was condemned to death, and it seems the Lord wanted to impress upon her the importance of her prayers by granting her the consolation of knowing that the man was spared from hell. The Martin family made home “count”. Would we have a St. Therese of the Child Jesus if they did not?
Nazareth. The name of that town is enough to cause a quiet to rest on the soul and a mental gazing at the little home of the Holy Family. The writer and iconographer, Michael O’Brien, did some of this gazing and incorporated fictional glimpses of the Holy Family’s home life into his novel, Theophilos. Here are a few of these glimpses. Mary being watched by teen girls who recently lost their mother as she attentively makes a small cake with such care and attention for a feast day. Thinking that the cake was for Joseph and Our Lord they were surprised to find it on their table. Joseph, on finding that a boy of their village no longer had a father to take him to synagogue, humbly and quietly takes this on. Jesus as a young man teaching a mentally handicapped youth how to make bricks for fire out of dung so he can support himself and his mother. This process took a long, long time of patient teaching. The mother upbraids the Lord and wonders why he would teach her broken son a trade that was so disgusting and that would bring more ridicule. The Lord expresses that these bricks will provide light and heat to others and earn pay for food, also, that this work would not blemish the young man’s pure heart. These are just a few of the glimpses. Was the hidden time in Nazareth wasted? Never! The Holy Family made home “count”.
There seems to be a false or mistaken sense of being an active and participating Catholic. We run from Mass to Youth Group to Confession to works of charity to prayer groups etc. Don’t get me wrong! All of these things can be good, but must be ordered. Why do we do them? We receive Jesus our food (Communion) and ask his forgiveness (Reconciliation) to strengthen us to grow in virtue. Where is the God given place to grow in these virtues? Home! Where we offer charity and compassion to Jesus in, as Mother Teresa would say, the distressing disguise of the poor [aka our family] and then offer God true worship. Then this full life should spill over into youth group, charities, etc. if there be time.
In conclusion, we should make home the best place this side of heaven because Home is Where it Counts!
posted by Mrs. Fifelski