Family Table Talk
Is there such a thing as a vocation to the single life for those who would prefer to get married but, due to various circumstances, do not?
God is not trumped by circumstances. Those who do not marry can do a great deal of good which they could not accomplish otherwise. Theirs is an invitation to a higher spiritual life, joyful in its own way. Certain vocations lend themselves to the single life, such as education, healthcare, and missionary work.
Fr. de Chivré said beautiful things on the single life (see older issues of The Angelus.) He explains that there is an order of redemption and that a soul has a mission and a relationship with God before its masculine and feminine aspect. The most important thing is our spiritual life, whichever state in life we come to undertake. Nobility and status consist primarily in intimacy with God.
Some may look at the question in another form, asking essentially this: “Is it okay for me to remain single simply because I shun the responsibility?” No! We are called to make a difference for other souls. It is not a question of running away from our call and saying: “You know what? I have listened to these conferences on the family and forget it! A family means too much suffering and work!”
Is faith such an important element in choosing the children’s school that academics don’t matter?
Various elements enter into the education of your child. Your obligation is to educate your child in every aspect. When you are deciding which is the best school, you weigh many factors, and this includes whether or not the child’s faith will be reinforced in that school. Academics are very important as well, and a competent Catholic individual needs the education and training resulting from solid academic study. You have to have the right balance. Another consideration in choosing the school: a child in class with a teacher who wants to be there teaching is more enriched and benefited than a child with a teacher who just fulfils a job to make a living, and God knows that our SSPX school teachers do not make money! On the other hand, if your child is not learning at the chosen school, it would not be the right instinct to reassure yourself and simply say: “At least his soul is saved.”
How is it possible to strike a balance between forming children both in the fear and in the love of God?
Here, we need to distinguish the term “fear.” There is a fear that I may be beaten but there is also a good fear: the respectful and filial fear which I owe my father.
Correction is essential to any education. There is a need for the sense of mystery and awe for the father who has not yet used all his strength. That strength is used to punish but also to protect the weak and foster their growth.
A true father must correct his child and yet remain paternal. So the question may be how he chastises. To punish harshly and selfishly will crush the child. Punishment needs to elevate him to the good, so that at some point, the child understands that the punishment is not only penal but also corrective.
Morality and purity need to be instilled in children. Why does Catholic education make frequent use of literature which may have problematic scenes or authors?
The principle we need to invoke here is one which Pius XI takes from St. Basil: “The good teacher imitates the bee which takes the good and leaves the rest.” As St. Ambrose says: “Do not leave without taking in the gold of the Egyptians.” In other words, we cannot deprive ourselves of the wealth of the classics, which fed our forefathers. Abandoning the classics because we find there a “slight taint” would be tragic. In our schools, we take into account the maturity and judgment of the child. Else, we would have to exclude all of Shakespeare, for example, which has much “low humor.”
Whether we like it or not, children, all children, are exposed to evil as they grow up, even if it is in the form of billboards on the highway or magazines at the checkout of the grocery store. Living in a bubble is unhealthy.
The best way to prepare children is to administer the preparation in a controlled way. It is necessary to inoculate children via vaccines to confront disease, and, thus, we can prepare them by inoculation to confront evil. Also, in the masterpieces of literature, good is presented clearly as good and evil as evil. In this way your children learn to distinguish between good and evil and to form moral judgments on human actions.
Another crucial choice for parents is whether or not to allow children to pursue studies at the college level. Any advice on this matter?
This issue perhaps confuses two issues: the natural need to grow in knowledge, and the unconscious assumption that college life is a dangerous place for souls. Going on to university is a hazard for every young person, and probably more so for men than for women, who tend to be more responsible at the same age. There is always a risk because one has all the liberties of adulthood without its full competence and maturity. Going away from the home, released from all kinds of protections, is a real challenge. We must also consider this: just because young college students may sleep at home and attend college by day does not mean they are protected. They may have a very different life there by day, as if you had, in fact, sent them away.
It seems that many who fall away from the Faith do so between the years of 18 and 30. Is there anything in particular that parents can do for children in this age group?
It is a highly vulnerable age period. In ancient times, Aristotle had already complained about its vulnerability. To wish to eliminate the risk, one would have to eliminate human nature. You cannot tame the torrent, but you can build bridges over it. You ought to maintain that relationship with the prodigal child or children as best as you can. And under the right circumstances, they will return.
We need to realize how a cultural life in the home and the love of literature and history, more than talking about the trivial, superficial, or worldly news, can protect your children. Discussing universal ideas and principles in your daily conversation will greatly impact your children. It will be the meeting of the minds and, after the crazy twenties, the children will have maintained that relationship with you. It will not be your pretending that they are eleven that will get them to stay with you when they grow up.
We need to stress the importance of the integrity of the Catholic family life. Too often, life is compartmentalized: there is religion, and there is everyday life. Compartmentalization cannot work because the children, however little when they absorb it, are still affected by it as they become older. It is the integrated atmosphere that shapes their minds, hearts, and souls. Then, when it comes to movies, TV, and other entertainments, ideally, they will instinctively ask themselves: “Do these fit the Faith or not? Is this relaxation encouraging charity in the home?” When children go out into the world, they have already been formed; they already have a vision. They are inexperienced, but they do have the tools and God’s grace. And, because you are wise, they know that their parents are not far away.
Some have theorized that higher education is improper for Catholic women? Can you address this claim?
The problem is often worded like this: “Higher education is for ‘career-oriented’ individuals. But a woman is not to be a career person; therefore, she is not to pursue higher education.” Yet, the woman, no less than the man, needs to develop her mind because she, as well, is a born educator. When she does not follow education in a formal sense in college, she is still working on it by reading literature in her domestic setting.
If we fulfill our duty in our schools and seriously give students a solid high school education, our children will be less fragile in facing life. They won’t so much need education at a higher level. The general level of education now is substantially lower than it had been in previous eras. Just imagine that the programs at St. Mary’s one hundred years ago had a very demanding level of composition in Latin and Greek.
We tend to ask ourselves: What type of college? What type of education? And why do you wish to pursue this? The liberal arts at the college level is no waste of time. A certain depth of soul is attained by studying the works that comprise a college liberal arts course of studies. This attainable depth is greater and much more accessible at college than at the age of fifteen. It is amazing to see how the students mature after even two years of college, at the age of 19 or 20. They profit so much more. They know who they are, where they come from, and what they are about. They are so much more ready for the world. A place like St. Mary’s can be a great help.
What about recreation and competitive games for young ladies?
The popes have strong words against women’s sports in public, as this runs counter to modesty. There is a Catholic sense of mystery inherent in women, with the truer sense shown by wearing the veil. Hence, it does not seem correct for women to completely exteriorize themselves. The girls are taking their definitive form, which is that of a gentle but strong woman, whose mission is to become the peacemaker. Out there in the world, there are many championships between schools for the sake of beating the others and boasting that one’s team is the best. The competitive spirit, in which one wins by dominating, is not helpful for a girl. When she is at school, competition translates to: “I am better than you”; at the parish level, it is: “My family has to shine.” Scouting and camping are less competitive and more constructive, and they are true schools of courage. The SSPX frequently organizes volleyball tournaments which are mainly geared at socializing and enjoying each other’s company.
Boys are different. They play in teams and even if playing becomes rough at times, when the game is over, they leave after shaking hands and that is all. Girls do not do that: they are sensitive and become deeply offended.
In society at large, one of the reasons birth control is advocated is because of the perceived danger of over-population. How can a Catholic respond to this?
The objection to unrestricted population growth runs thus: “The planet cannot support the present population, and so, having children is irresponsible.” Well! We do not know what God’s ultimate plan is, and to pretend to command problems of that magnitude is sheer presumption. It has been said that wherever the Our Father is prayed, people suffer no hunger.
We cannot sacrifice human life for the physical world: this would be sacrificing the higher for the lower. Perhaps much of the problem of wealth and human needs is a question of distribution and, more deeply, of selfish calculation: “I have a lot and I want even more.” This is the real problem over and beyond the number of children you have. Selfishness is behind this exaggeration. People do not think about heaven. They do not think what life is all about. They want to get as much as they can out of life on earth.
By way of conclusion, can you recommend a particular book or two on any of the topics from this weekend’s conference?
Raising a family is too broad a topic to narrow down to a manual. It is a lifelong project that does not stop once the children move out of the house. Consistent and routine learning and readjusting are necessary in order to become an assertive and resourceful parent.
It is important to get away from mundane and daily duties. Get above material concerns. Strive for that vision of peace which Archbishop Lefebvre had. Work on your soul. Read spiritual books to feed your spiritual life, for instance The Mass of St. Pius V explained by Fr. de Chivré, or The Spiritual Life by Archbishop Lefebvre.
Fr. Iscara was asked how, among so many books of history available out there, he was able to steer the right course. He explained that the more you read, the more apt you are to see what is good and what is not; and what is in line and what is out of line. So, by broadening your reading rather than just studying one author, soon enough, you will acquire a comprehensive picture. If you are short of time, two excellent sources are the books of James Stenson on education, and Fr. Edward Leen’s What is Education? On the question of family itself, there is Georges Kelly’s The Catholic Family Manual.