As luck would have it, I heard genuine slate ones were to be had from a dismantled school a mere 30 miles away. Deo gratias! It was, believe it or not, the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, so I crudely credited her with this windfall. Fetching the thing would provide a most suitable pilgrimage in her honor. Off we went.
I’ll come to the point quickly, as I think our Lady did: when we got home with the monster carefully packed in the trunk of the car, it was split. It was so split that not one portion of it was usable. We didn’t return for another. In the first sickening sight of cracked slate, a luminous message had been communicated, wordless but efficacious. No room in our house was ever converted into a classroom. We never dared.
Transmitting the Faith live and kicking from parent to child does seem to depend a lot on what you don’t do. Like the Ten Commandments, most of the directives prove to be negative. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no gods except Me!”
Any parent tempted to think his home is his idea, to do with as he pleases, heads a house of slavery. He doesn’t know the first thing about religion and couldn’t even teach it in CCD. Before creating His Church, God laid it out in natural form in the human family. Each in its own way follows the same divine pattern used in the beginning in Eden, and each is subject to divine laws which may not be broken without mortal penalties.
A Christian home is furthermore a cell of the Mystical Body of Christ, a whole church in miniature, an ecclesiola, as St. John Chrysostom so goldenly put it. By its very nature it partakes of the promises Christ made to the greater Ecclesia. Whatever the world says, the home is here to stay. Founded on the same rock as the Church, it too shall withstand the gates of hell as long as it remains in union with Peter. And like her it will teach its children, and through them the world.
As a true communion of saints, the home has many more members than those immediately visible. Generations of its deceased relatives may be dependent on its prayer and good works to hasten their entry into the Beatific Vision. In return, although no longer able to merit for themselves, these ancestors may and do offer efficacious supplication for their descendants on earth in the Church Militant. God’s gifts are without repentance. Once a parent, always a parent, not only in the Church Suffering, but even more so in the Church triumphant. The ancestors intercede for their families before the throne of God along with our patron saints, not to mention the angelic spirits assigned by God to the members on earth. All have a vested interest in what instruction the children are receiving!
As in the Church, the members of any given family are predestined. They are created and chosen by God, not man, to occupy a certain place in this particular family and not in that one, with these brothers and sisters and not those, and with these selected two appointed parents. No one has the slightest control over the personnel of his family, least of all the parents, who must get acquainted with their children as they would anyone else as they arrive on the scene. Please God, all were at least permitted to be born!
There are house rules we must follow, and these weren’t laid down by us either. We are commanded to honor father and mother as God’s representatives, and to welcome each child as we would the Son of God. We must, furthermore, all love one another as He loved us. The Sacred Heart has told us He wished to rule as the invisible but real head of every household. In any program for teaching the Faith in the home these facts must be kept in mind.
Because the family is a divinely created organism existing in its own right, obeying its own inner laws, it cannot be subjected to organizations serving other gods without incurring the wrath of its Creator. Any attempt to manipulate its membership artificially by legislation, birth control, genetics, euthanasia, indoctrination or other human engineering is an attempt to displace God as Creator and Lord of the home. It is doomed to ultimate failure by destroying the society supporting such practices.
It’s to weep the way the home has permitted itself to be invaded and dictated to by self-appointed experts. Mothers deprived of the technical assistance whereby they might nurse their sick at home meekly allow themselves to be ordered out of hospital rooms where their nearest and dearest are relegated. Schools have literally torn children away from their parents, setting themselves up as despots decreeing even what time they may spend together, let alone imposing curricula in no way subject to parental control. Private industry—and some government overseas agencies—assume without question that hiring the husband and father automatically entitles them to the extra-curricular services of wife and children, even dictating their social contacts.
In every case the organization, which originally sprang from the home and was designed to fill its needs and implement its apostolate in the world, has in fact turned upon it and is preparing to displace it entirely in pursuit of its own mindless ends. Generations of fathers have been encouraged to put careers ahead of family duties, relegating the bulk of parental responsibility to their wives. Now even these are joining them in the ranks of the enemy, swelling the work force of the world while even their newborns are left to the tender mercies of daycare centers and experimental social projects. That many such travesties are church-supported proclaims the depth of the disorder.
Sins against the gentle inspirations of grace are long behind us. Sins against the Commandments are being taken in stride. All that remains to fill up our measure of iniquity are sins against nature itself, now being committed in the name of science and progress. When we refuse to accept even the way we are made, we pronounce the final non serviam against the Creator.
With this state of affairs, transmitting the Faith becomes mainly a matter of reaffirming the obvious. Only the home can do it, because the home is about the only place left where the obvious can still be seen and recognized with the naked eye.
The last Council urged us to regain our footing by a radical return to the charisms of founders, so let’s begin with mother, the very personification of the home. The whole family begins in her. Mothers are designed not only to bear life, but also to nourish and sustain it after it leaves the womb. “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that nursed you” was spoken under inspiration in praise of the Mother of the Church herself. Like all great truth, it celebrates the obvious.
Due proportion kept, it applies equally to the mother of the humblest ecclesiola, who is, like her exemplar, both mater and magistra. The first doctrinal milk must flow from her, from her very being, as it does from the Church. It’s hardly coincidence that the decline in home teaching has kept pace with the disappearance of breast-feeding. Both are symptoms of the same irresponsible motherhood, rooted in a denial of nature. Even animals know they must feed and teach their young, but as prepared formulas and plastic bottles substitute for mother’s breast, so classrooms and audio-visual aids are expected to substitute for the living teaching of the home.
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There is nothing so intimate as transmitting the Faith. It can be done only person to person, in an atmosphere of supernatural love. Where this is missing, it degenerates into just so much information to be conveyed—into teaching religion. Luckily secular schools don’t concern themselves with teaching the Catholic Faith; but with the breakdown of Church schools, Catholic parents will be forced to teach it themselves or watch the world bring their children up pagans. Those who do take up the obligation soon realize, as many have already, that not only are they capable of it, but that they are indeed specially endowed for the task by nature and grace.
I don’t know why it is, but almost everyone talks down to parents, especially to mothers. As single girls they may have excelled as Madison Avenue executives or Sanskrit scholars, but just let them settle down to devote themselves exclusively to their families, and it’s immediately assumed they know nothing and are out of touch with everything. This is very odd, inasmuch as the housewife produces every professional in the world, lays the groundwork for every science, and plies every trade at grassroots level. Being out of touch with the world doesn’t mean being out of touch with reality. Quite the contrary! Calling the housewife an ignoramus would do little harm, if only she didn’t believe it.
“This place was made by God, a priceless mystery; it is without reproof,” runs the ancient Mass for the dedication of a church. Unabashedly applying it to the ecclesiola, we can continue, “O God, from living and chosen stones you prepare an everlasting place for your majesty. Hear the prayers of the people who call upon you!”
God hears parents. If the Faith can’t be taught in the home, it isn’t Catholicism, and can’t be taught anywhere. That’s where it started in the beginning. It’s not God, or his Church, but pedagogical bureaucrats who have made it so complicated—or abstruse, as the case may be—that only trained technicians can handle it.
The same self-appointed experts who have helped demolish CCD and parochial schools are now turning their sights on our living rooms. Catechetical congresses have already discovered a brand new apostolate in “Home Religious Education.” Canned lessons are being prepared for benighted parents to dole out to their children, on the just barely implicit premise that mothers (and fathers) are incompetent teachers of their own children. Soon whole batteries of tapes, records, filmstrips and other audio-visual paraphernalia will be cluttering every room in the house.
Not that technology shouldn’t benefit the home. Already it would be feasible to transfer the bulk of schooling to the fireside via TV, tapes and microfilm, thereby effecting a significant reintegration of home life. The Faith, however, isn’t a school subject, and can never be successfully taught like one. Like sex education, it’s altogether special, and has already suffered cruelly from being crammed into secular molds by those who should know better. The fruits to this approach are woefully apparent.
Outside services could in fact be very helpful in teaching religion at home; above all, parents need orthodox doctrine aimed directly at them. This they have a right to demand from the appointed teachers of the Church, for parents in the home share fully in the pastoral office under the Magisterium as teachers of the children in their care, and in the ecclesiola as in the Ecclesia, governing power and teaching power are indissolubly one. They must not be divided by pedagogues who have experienced home life only as children in it and never as parents in charge.
Nothing can be brought into the home that isn’t there already, at least potentially. Every successful pedagogical technique was first taken from the home and artificially adapted to the classroom, never the other way around. The genius of Maria Montessori lay precisely in grasping this truth, rendering classroom instruction more fluid and less artificial. As far as it went, hers was an inspired return to origins.
Any home can outdo Montessori if it will. There in natural state are found all the elements of the best classroom, painstakingly transferred from the home over the years. What is modern coeducation, for instance, but a clumsy approximation of home atmosphere where both sexes have always lived and learned together? But schools are hopelessly far behind. At home, it’s still possible to address many different ages at once, and let them address one another as God intended. Is there a practice sillier than incarcerating 30 or so children all the same age in one room to teach them something?
See where rationalism has led us. The modern school is an artificial environment found nowhere in nature and prepares students for nothing but more artificiality. It prepares them, for instance, for suburbia, where people of one income level are herded together, or for other forms of totalitarian regimentation like the concentration camp. It hardly prepares them for real life.
In the natural God-grown community, the outlines of the Ecclesia can always be discerned. All ages and both sexes mingle, and each individual shows forth some particular gift in his relation to the others. Varying levels of development are evident, with no segregation based on I.Q., size and weight, income or other arbitrary norms. There is, in other words, true unity based on true distinctions, as in the triune God-head in whose image we are created. Because the home is so constructed, each one is unique.
In such an atmosphere “methods” mean little, for what works in one home will be completely foreign to the spirit of another. Parents must realize the wealth of obnoxious pedagogical overhead they are privileged to do without. Divesting themselves of the hardened preconceptions acquired from their own artificial schooling may prove difficult at first. Those who allowed themselves to be soughed out of their homes to teach other people’s children in classrooms will certainly fare the worst. How few of us have known the joy of studying Scripture at home, where all ages take part, where the younger share insights with the still younger, and the dumbest may amaze us all!
The house itself bespeaks the home as magistra. The very plumbing illustrates the mysteries of grace. Holy images and pictures on the wall reveal its visible ecclesiola, house of God, holy and awesome. The Eucharist is shadowed at every meal, the Sunday roast as victim proclaiming both supper and sacrifice. How could a child instructed at home look at the meat immolated on his plate and believe the Mass is merely a banquet? The Cross is embedded in the very bones of the house, in rooftree and window mullions; the youngest dweller can be shown from a thousand props that the whole world around him is fashioned on the lines of Calvary.
How is it possible not to teach the Faith of the Apostles at home? That so many of us are unable to, certainly isn’t for lack of teaching aids. Could it be we’re trying to teach a different faith? One not rooted in nature, but in the disciplines of a corrupted world? Where there are so many gods, the teaching would necessarily become very unwieldy!
Religious instruction for children apart from the home is a modern phenomenon rendered necessary only by the rise of rationalism and scientism, the breakdown of natural community, and last but not least, the Protestant revolt. If parents would resume their proper role in today’s structural wreckage, they have only one job to do, really: they must restore their home to its true character as a center of contemplation in the world. Such was the home in the beginning when God walked there in the cool of the day, and where He walks, everything necessary comes with Him.
Nothing less than a deep interior renewal can reinstate parents as teachers. Catechesis is after all only a means to contemplation, or its agent. Let’s not get unduly wrapped up in the mechanics. Before shopping for texts and tapes, let’s enlist the help of the family angels whose duty it is to enlighten those confided to them. Patron saints, ancestors, parents and children must all join them in what is truly an ecclesial family affair. No matter how educated we get, we can never get around the Lord’s dictum that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Every tree is known by its fruit.
God’s house, he told us, is the house of prayer for all nations. It’s designed to produce and nourish the life of God Himself, as the home in Nazareth did, and as the Church continues to do. With the progressive neglect of the liturgy, prayer and pedagogy have gone sadly separate ways. They must be reunited in the home as in the Church, for their goal is the same. The patriarch Job found it good to offer a holocaust for each of his children, saying, “Perhaps my sons have sinned in their hearts and affronted God.” He was at grips with the fundamentals of parenthood.
We have the divine promise that the Spirit of truth will teach us all the truth, but unless the sins of the family are forgiven and expiated, how can we expect the divine Educator to teach in its very bosom? He is the only religion teacher.