Catholics of the
21st Century inhabit a spiritual desert. Under the unrelenting secularism
of the modern age, most of the common sources of spiritual nourishment
have dried up. Before Vatican II, it was the norm that travelers and residents
of the area could stop by the local parish church to make a visit to the
Blessed Sacrament. Today, this church is most likely to be locked, but
if by some chance, a faithful soul does manage to get inside the church,
the Blessed Sacrament may be moved to a side chapel, if it is there at
all. Religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter have fallen prey
to the same process of secularization.
What has happened is that Catholic culture, which persisted until Vatican
II, has collapsed. In most parishes, Catholics have been cut off from
divine sources of nourishment as man-made liturgies and coffee parties
have displaced sacred forms of worship and devotion. The morality of the
larger society in which Catholics live has broken down. We now must survive
in a hostile environment.
Raising children, at the best of times, is a demanding task. It often
seems that prompt obedience and civilized behavior do not come naturally
to children. However, to raise children in this environment takes additional
measures. The Irish author, Malachi Martin, has stated that growing up
in pre-war Ireland, a child could scarcely fail. If the parents didn't
catch the child from falling, then the parish priest, the local policeman,
the schoolteacher, or the neighbors certainly would. Today, the whole
system seems to be stacked against the family. The tax code, television
programs, the school system, etc. all undermine the family rather than
Despite today's crisis of the Church and moral breakdown of the larger
society, we must never take the attitude that raising a family is impossible.
God never tries us beyond our abilities. If a situation does become impossible,
an escape route is provided. When in the Old Testament, the situation
in Sodom and Gomorrah became impossible; God provided Lot and his family
with a means of leaving the city.
Similarly, in a desert, it is more difficult for plants to grow, but not
impossible. However, those plants that do survive have mechanisms to cope
with their hostile environment. A cactus preserves its water supply by
means of a thick, hard skin, defended by sharp prickles. Incidentally,
if traditional Catholics sometimes seem prickly or crusty, it may be the
result of their developing, wittingly or unwittingly, defense mechanisms
for dealing with the challenges of living in today's de-Christianized
In what could be a precedent for our situation, America's sturdy pioneers,
who courageously crossed the deserts of the West in covered wagons, had
to carry some of their own supplies, while resourcefully acquiring other
supplies where they could. They often had to improvise, as their usual
sources of goods and services, formerly obtained in the more settled regions
of the country, were not available. They usually had only meagre resources
and had to cope with numerous dangers. Yet, these pioneers most often
succeeded in reaching their destinations. Catholics today who are raising
their families and perhaps laying the foundations for a revitalized civilization
need to adopt some of the same spirit of self-reliance that enabled the
pioneers to succeed in trying conditions.
Catholic families in today's trying conditions need to sustain themselves
with frequent prayer and reception of the traditional sacraments. The
Traditional Latin Mass is a much stronger expression of our faith than
the New Mass and therefore will do much more to sustain us than a watered-down
liturgy, which was deliberately designed to be synchronized with the modern
world. Attending the Traditional Mass will also get families in the habit
of making sacrifices and saying no to the world, two qualities which are
essential to salvation. Never has it been more necessary to adopt the
Catholic mindset of being in the world, but not of it. The dreadful condition
of modern civilization has a value in being a constant reminder that our
primary focus should be on our eternal salvation, not on the things of
In addition to nourishing themselves with prayer and the sacraments, families
need to erect defenses. Especially in the early stages of a child's development,
it is necessary to shelter them from the world's most undesirable influences.
A child can be compared to a tomato plant, which must be sheltered from
the elements until it grows to a larger size. Children need to be protected
from decadent schools and television programs. However, there is a need
to do more than erect defenses. Parents who continually block outside
influences without providing alternatives will eventually reap a harvest
of rebellion and resentment.
Fortunately, the Catholic religion provides a rich treasure chest of devotions,
traditions, feast days, literature, and so on. This treasure chest provides
families with an alternative to the world's false attractions. It has
many of the sources a family needs for spiritual sustenance.
The primary means for using the goods of the treasure chest is to live
one's life around the Church calendar. Medieval European life included
a rich tapestry of feasts, holy days, processions, and pilgrimages. Although
traces of this great civilization remain, most of its glorious heritage
has been forgotten. As a result, a primary challenge to using the goods
of the treasure chest is that it is often necessary to search for its
The importance of living one's life as much as possible around the Church
calendar cannot be exaggerated. By doing so, we not only nourish our souls,
but we also vanquish any tendency for day-to-day life to become monotonous.
Living one's life around the Church calendar adds fun to family life,
helping to defeat the previously mentioned spectres of resentment and
is necessary to use the traditional rather than the new calendar. In the
new calendar, modern men have had the audacity and pride to expunge great
saints such as St. Christopher and St. Philomena. They have disrupted
the rhythm of the calendar by arbitrarily shifting saints' days from one
date to another, thus disrupting long held religious observances. As is
often the case with disruptions, many Catholics simply lapsed from the
observance of the feast day rather than continue it on a different date.
There is a logic to the traditional calendar, as the celebration of a
saint's feast day generally falls on the date of his or her death. Catholic
families need to obtain a traditional Church calendar from one of the
many available sources.
The Church calendar can be observed at two levels. At the general or macro
level, a theme can be observed for each month of the liturgical year.
For example, November is the month of the holy souls. During each day
in November, one can pray the litany for the faithful departed. A day
in November is an appropriate occasion to visit a cemetery and pray for
the souls of the family's deceased relatives. At a more detailed or micro
level, Catholics are blessed with an abundance of saints' days and other
feasts such as the Feast of Christ the King. With so many available feast
days, a family should not attempt to be too ambitious, but should select
perhaps three or four feasts each month to celebrate.
Of the several sources that exist for developing a program of celebrating
feast days, the most obvious is to simply participate in the activities
of an active traditional parish. This source alone is not likely sufficient
to fill the program. Most families do not live close enough to a traditional
parish to go there on a daily basis. Even a traditional parish is unlikely
to celebrate more than a fraction of the available feast days. Outside
of Sunday, most celebrations of feast days must originate in the home.
In celebrating feast days in the home, a family should start by purchasing
one of several available guidebooks. One such guidebook is A Book of Feasts
and Seasons, by Joanna Bogle. These guidebooks represent an excellent
source of ideas, but again are not sufficient to complete a family's program.
A family should adapt its program to its own needs, selecting feast days
most appropriate to its ethnic background, occupation, interests, and
spiritual needs. The guidebooks' suggestions for activities can be adapted
to a family's own situation. To make a program of celebrating feast days
work, it is necessary to exercise the quality of inventiveness.
When celebrating feast days, it is necessary to balance serious and more
light-hearted activities. It is absolutely essential to practice devotions
and do readings for each feast day. At the same time, light-hearted activities
assist in building a child's love of the Faith. Traditional celebrations
of feast days included both elements of seriousness and levity. An example
of a light-hearted activity is for the family to enact skits from the
lives of the saints. An effort should be made to celebrate at least some
feast days with other families. It is critical for traditional Catholics
to avoid living in isolation. Children need to socialize and be part of
a larger society. Living too isolated an existence can later be a cause
of defection from the Faith.
Our family frequently celebrates feasts of patron saints of countries.
In addition to devotions and readings, our activities include drawing
and coloring the country's flag, locating the country on the map, preparing
its foods, and playing its folk or sacred music. Through this process,
our children receive education lessons without their realizing it. These
activities serve as a reminder of the truly international character of
Local ethnic associations can act as an excellent resource for celebrating
feast days. Traces of our once great Christian civilization are actually
quite common and families should make use of them. Our family has attended
Toronto's annual Swedish Christmas fair. This event's main highlight is
the St. Lucia Pageant, which features a teenage girl dressed as St. Lucy
in white robes, a red sash, and a crown of candles on her head, attended
by a girls' choir singing holy songs. Other events we have attended include
the Dutch Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas Day celebrations, the St. Patrick's
Day parade, and the Queen Victoria's Day parade, which features a St.
George dressed in armor riding on horseback. In addition to holding events,
ethnic associations can serve as a source of information about the traditions
and customs of their nation.
The important principle is to strive to live around the traditional Church
calendar. Putting this principle into action assists Catholic families
in safeguarding the salvation of their children and defending them from
the world's false attractions. Living around the traditional Church calendar
acts to rebuild a Catholic culture family by family and is a step towards
realizing the vision of a thoroughly Christian society.
This article was published
in the Catholic Family News, MPO 743, Niagara Falls, NY 14302. A few minor
modifications have been made to the original article.