Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, July 28, 2014

Creating a Catholic Culture in Your Home

The Lord is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourselves close to him so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house.
1 Peter 2: 4-5

We are called to be living stones.  We should strive to be living stones. 

This section is a challenge to write, only because “Creating a Catholic Culture in Your Home” is going to look different for every family.  It’s akin to writing about how to create a comfortable home – the definition of ‘comfort’ is fluid, varying from person to person, family to family.

I’ve written that I believe a Catholic culture is one in which Catholicism is woven into the fiber of life.  It seems to me that this infusion can be split into two aspects: a personal expression of Catholic culture and a societal expression of Catholic culture.

One’s personal Catholicism might be obvious, but it might be subtle, or even hidden.  Obvious signs you are a practicing Catholic: you attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, you have a Mary statue in the garden, you have icons on your walls, etc.  Less obvious expressions of your Catholicism:  it inspires you to volunteer to coach your kids’ baseball teams, run for public office, or to go out of your way to be respectful to cashiers, clerks, or servers you meet outside your home.  It’s not that perfectly nice secular people wouldn’t do these things, but it could be that you choose these things as a result of reflection on how you will live out your faith.

A societal expression of Catholicism, too, can be either obvious or subtle.  Obvious signs that Catholicism has touched a society: beautiful churches that are architecturally obviously Catholic, businesses that  are closed on religious holidays and Sundays, the presence of wayside shrines, crucifixes on display, and the like.  Subtler signs are the things that are so subtly Catholic that the secularists think they invented them out of the kindness of their heart.  Here I channel Thomas Woods and his How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization: universities, hospitals, charitable organizations, international law, or the concept of human rights, to name but a few. That was not the United Nations that gave us all that, folks; it was the Catholic Church’s influence on culture.

Western civilization is not only rich with Catholic identity, its very DNA is Catholic.  Art, science, literature, music, architecture . . . it’s all there.  While Catholics of good conscience can disagree on what makes good art, literature, music, etc., it’s my opinion that the secularization of our culture shows all too well in many aspects of art, science, literature, music, and architecture.

A note of caution here.  I do not believe that creating or reviving a Catholic culture means turning a cold shoulder on the things that aren’t strictly Catholic.  Many years ago, one of my daughters was part of a discussion in which the children were told they should avoid all TV and read only saints’ biographies.  I disagree.  I believe, passionately, in seeing the world through Catholic-tinted lenses.  This means engaging the culture where it is.  There are books, movies, pieces of art that don’t mention God or Christianity once, yet are imbued with lessons in virtue, messages of redemption, or that show the Holy Spirit can work through anyone.  There are also forms of art that purport to be meaningful (things secular, but sometimes things labeled ‘religious’) that are junk.  A person who lives with Catholicism infused into life, who sees the world through Catholic-tinted lenses,  can discern the difference.  I repeat, beauty in art is something about which Catholics of good conscience can disagree.  I’m fine with each person sorting this out for themselves, acknowledging that this isn’t black and white.  Thus, you are free to dislike the works of Jane Austen or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but don’t tell me that I shouldn’t enjoy them because they aren’t Catholic.

There is a book I stumbled upon just recently.  Rebuilding Catholic Culture: How the Catechism Can Shape Our Common Life by Ryan Topping.  I haven’t had the chance to finish it, but I shall borrow from it because something from the Introduction fits perfectly with what I’ve been trying to describe.  In the Introduction, Dr. Topping has this to say about Catholic culture:

We can pray for Catholic renewal everywhere; but all good work begins at home.  Thus, Catholic culture refers to that excellence in thought and manner of life which properly accrues to a people, namely, the Church.  The center is the celebration of the Mass.  Swirling out from this is a way of life elevated and ennobled by the gospel, touching, as it must, upon the artistic, economic, philosophical, and communal dimensions of existence.  At the same time, a culture so defined can take on distinctive forms.  Catholic thought and piety will surely not look the same in America as in Armenia; that our Lady appeared at Guadalupe takes nothing away from the devotion that Europeans give to her at Lourdes.  Every nation can contribute distinctively to this universal human culture; none can flourish apart from it.

 It was fortuitous timing, finding this book just now.  This paragraph proves I’m on to something:

All good work begins at home  =  personal expression
Universal human culture  =   societal expression

Below is a list of concrete things Catholic might do to create a Catholic culture in the home.  This is just the tip of the iceberg; I will be adding more to the blog in part of the ongoing collection of activities, lessons, and spiritual practices.

·         Celebration of Feasts:  celebrate feast days special to your family such as the child’s patron saint day, the Baptismal anniversary, etc.
·         Reclaim Sundays as a special day: Mass and a special meal with a special dessert.  Try to do some fun family-centered activity.  A picnic, movie night, etc.  Some families won’t do any shopping or participate in sports on Sundays. 
·         Mass.  Adoration.  Are you able to add a weekday Mass to your schedule? Attend Adoration as a family?
·         Pay attention to the liturgical calendar and weave the feasts and seasons into daily life.
·         Reclaim Catholic disciplines that have been forgotten, such as Friday fasting from meat.  This practice was never abolished, but merely expanded to include other forms of fasting.  It isn’t easy for young children to fast from food; it’s impossible for children with health concerns, such as food allergies.  That doesn’t mean you cannot fast from screen time or desserts.  
·         Begin the discipline of choosing to fast the day before a feast.  A child once told me, regarding giving up treats, “It’s more special, when you cannot have it all the time.” 
·         Homeschoolers: weave religion into all subjects; interdisciplinary.  All parents: weave it into conversation at dinner, in the car, etc.

My whole reason for the “Children and Prayer” section of this blog is to create a collection of writings about how to raise children to be prayerful, so that they can develop their relationship with God.  Thus, the following quote is a fitting conclusion to the idea of creating a Catholic culture in your home.  It’s from Pope Benedict XVI, from December 28, 2011, on the importance of family prayer:

The house of Nazareth is a school of prayer where we learn to listen, to meditate, to penetrate the deepest meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, drawing our example from Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

The Holy Family is an icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together.  The family is the first school of prayer where, from their infancy, children learn to perceive God thanks to the teaching and example of their parents.  An authentically Christian education cannot neglect the experience of prayer.  If we do not learn to pray in the family, it will be difficult to fill in this gap later.  I would, then, like to invite people to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family, following the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

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