I WROTE yesterday about how in the former lands of Christendom, which are now facing an “eclipse of God,” we have an increasing sense of what it means for Christians to be pilgrims, to be travelling through a strange land.
Well, it seems to me that this sense is especially potent for those of us striving to live an authentic Catholic family life.
Of course, parents fighting to instill chastity and holiness in their children are going to feel that sense of strangeness as the posters, ads, and television programs around us bombard our minds with impure images and examples of gross immorality. It’s because of these types of influences that I’m a firm proponent of that unpopular notion of sheltering one’s children, as in protecting children from evil they’re not prepared to handle.
But beyond these negative influences of the dominant culture, the Catholic family is going to feel the loneliness of the pilgrim precisely because of the lack of authentic culture around us.
Living in the post-Christian West we’re so accustomed to anti-culture – as in, culture divorced from Christ – that it’s easy for some of us to forget that culture is not meant to be something to avoid. It’s meant to have a positive influence, ultimately to inspire us to holiness.
Christian Culture, in fact, is essential to family life because it is the soil in which the love of Christ can grow. But the less Christian the family’s surrounding culture is, the more deliberately the family has to create it for themselves. And that means making an effort to be different: “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Family life is hard enough as it is, isn’t it?
But the family’s challenge is all the more difficult because we’re not just dealing with a dominant culture that is severely anti-Christian; we’re also enmeshed in a Catholic culture that has rejected much of its own patrimony. The Church is suffering from a massive crisis of Catholic identity.
Not only have we given up such distinctive marks as Friday abstinence, but even kneeling is on the outs and in some quarters we seem to be losing the age-old practice of genuflection. It certainly doesn’t make for easy Catholic family life when you have to teach your child to bless himself with holy water while few others around him are setting the example.
Sadly, the Church is failing dismally to even pass along the basics of the Faith to its children let alone those traditional Catholic practices that so distinguished and vivified us in past generations.
When Jenna and I were married, four and a half years ago now, we had been blessed with the witness of our own Catholic upbringing, but also by that of many holy homeschooling families who had taken on the harrowing sacrifices required to raise their children up in the Faith. It was important to us from the beginning to make our home a true domestic Church with family traditions, practices, and rituals that flow from the heart of our Faith.
One area where we’ve devoted special attention over the years, which I mention because it’s timely, is Advent. If there’s any time of the year when Catholics are going to feel like pilgrims in a strange land, it’s those four weeks leading up to Christmas when everyone around you is breaking out the egg nog and lighting up the trees while you’re there just waiting expectantly.
The problem with waiting until Dec. 25th for Christmas, though, is that by the time Dec. 26th rolls around everybody’s Christmased out! By Dec. 28th you’re already getting sideways looks from cashiers when you wish them “merry Christmas.” So there we are again, feeling like strangers because we’re celebrating Christmas in Christmas.
But still, we love celebrating Advent. From our very first year of marriage – Jenna was still expecting our first actually – we put up a Jesse Tree with construction paper ornaments.
Over the years they got wrecked up pretty badly, so my lovely wife has taken on the harrowing task of painting a whole new set in the next couple weeks. I’m excited because I think they’re beautiful.
The Jesse Tree is our tree for Advent, because our tradition is that we don’t actually set up our Christmas tree until Dec. 24th, and we decorate it together as a family, transferring all the Jesse Tree ornaments too. Then we wait to light up the tree until right before Christmas Eve Mass so that it’s gleaming as we walk in the door.
There’s this real sense, after waiting expectantly for weeks, that the Light of the World has finally entered our home. Baby Jesus is finally here! It’s a moment I look forward to every year. (I explained our reasons for waiting to plug in the Christmas lights more fully at LifeSite a couple years ago. Check the piece out here.)
So as we move into Advent, I pray that you and your families would have a holy season of expectation. Please pray for us as well, that our hearts would be ready to receive our Infant Saviour.
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.