“While I was with them, I kept them in Thy Name. Those whom Thou hast given Me have I kept and none of them is lost” (Jn. 17:12). These particular words of Christ strongly resonate in a parental heart, demonstrating how He understands and is the Author of that one, keenly innate, and fundamental desire of every good parent for his children: “I kept them in Thy Name…not one of them was lost.” It is the persevering act of “keeping” that poses one of the greatest challenges that a Christian parent will ever undertake, living in this age of the American Babylon, as author Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has referred to it. The keeping of our children in His Name is unquestionably an art which involves an alert rejection of the secularization of our families and an embrace of virtue and of the supernatural.
The Doctrine of Secularism
Fr. Raoul Plus (1882-1958), a prolific Jesuit with sound insight into what he called the “secularism of Christians,” has relevant words for families today:
“We are not concerned here with refuting the doctrine of secularism. Every Christian ought to know the mind of the Church on this subject; we need not go back to ancient documents, either, to discover it. It is enough to recall the Encyclical Summi Pontificatus issued by Pius XII in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War. The problem now is to determine which of the unfortunate species of secularism has invaded me, my home, my habits…Of course, there is no question of a denial of God or of Christ. But what place do they hold in my family life? In my daily life, in my profession, in my participation in civic affairs? Has it not often happened that in choosing schools or colleges for their children, so-called Christian parents often evidence a utilitarian, materialistic spirit; they give lame reasons for choosing the secular colleges instead of a Catholic college—the teachers are better, the chances for success after graduation are more certain … are they so sure? And even though they neglected nothing of the essential practices of their religion, was it not primarily mere formality rather than solid convictions?…There was a great disparity between their external actions, their attitudes and real prayer, the living knowledge of the gift of God.”
For those concerned with keeping the hearts of their children amidst a secular morass, these are welcome and thought-provoking words!
Many of us have had to overcome deficits in our own upbringing, forging ahead with a combination of grace, instinct, and study, to create what we imagine to be Catholic climates in our homes. Author and professor Jonathan Rummelsburg relates his own experience:
“I grew up in a secular humanist home with highly ‘educated’ parents who were very much the product of the modern age when it came to morality. My parents were good folks, and when I would ask for advice about a particular moral quandary, they would invariably tell me to ‘pick a course of action and make it work.’” This “secular morality” accidentally lined up in several ways with Christian morality, thus making the two hard to differentiate.
Though some might deem such an ethical schema salutary from a Christian point of view, I ascribe the moral decay of this country, in part, to the prevalence of secular morality. I would argue that each successive generation degenerates in virtue where the effort to cultivate explicitly Christian virtues is absent.”
Examining the Different Generations
Scanning the six generations that are presently living today, ranging from the “GI Generation” born between 1901 and 1926 through the “Gen Z” or the Millennial Generation born loosely between the early 1980s through the mid 1990s, it isn’t difficult to subscribe to Rummelsburg’s common sense conclusion. One Pew Research poll conducted in 2013 describes the following landscape: 32% of Americans aged 18-29 identify as “not religious,” compared to 20% aged 30-49, 15% aged 50-64 and 9% of people 65 and older. The decline in moral fiber stares us in the face, and statistics related to the practice of the Faith aren’t necessary for those in the daily fray. Evil is palpable, and Secularism with its vapid indifference to the supernatural has enveloped the daily life of even many a Catholic family.
The conflict between Church and State which surfaced in Hitler’s Germany typifies this attempt to promote a secular morality which numbs the practice of virtue in families and societies. The “Lion of Munster,” the great Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, roared against this phenomenon with stirring words from the pulpit on August 3, 1941. The backdrop for his sermon was the poignant Gospel passage in which Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. After enumerating the ways in which all of the Ten Commandments were regularly scorned in his own city of Munster and Germany as a whole, Von Galen continued with the lament of our Lord:
“‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings, but you willed it not!’ That is the great pain that presses on the Heart of Jesus, that brings forth tears from His eyes. I wanted what was best for you. But you would not!”
Von Galen proceeds to present this polarity between willing the solution and not willing the solutions for our families’ peace and preservation:
“Christians of Munster! Did the Son of God in His omniscience that day see only Jerusalem and its people? Did He weep only over Jerusalem? Is the people of Israel the only people whom God has embraced, protected, and gathered to Himself with a father’s care and a mother’s love? And that would not?…My Christians! I hope there is still time, but the time is urgent! Time for us to recognize, today, on this very day, that which will serve for our peace.”
Before Time Runs Out
We know what befell Jerusalem when time ran out. Flavius Josephus records that when Rome plundered the city in 70 AD, “there was nothing left to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.” Quite literally, “not a stone upon a stone remained.” (Lk. 21:6) Their prophets in the mold of Fr. Raoul Plus and Bishop Von Galen had been scorned as madmen and thrown in prison, while their families continued on with a heart for this world and blindness over the hour of their visitation.
When Christ comes once again in judgement, we ask ourselves intently, “will He find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:8) and will He find virtue in the haven of our families? What will He hear in the songs we sing and what will be the adornments of our home? What will fill both leisure time and empty space, if either of these is left? Will this “living knowledge of the gift of God” that Fr. Plus refers to, have died long ago, having been relegated to a dusty bookshelf, half filled with quaint literature and forgotten spiritual classics? Only time will answer these questions. But with hope, good parents press on, knowing that the victory has already been secured, and that theirs is the calling to make it efficacious.