By J. P. Sonnen
“Tolerance will reach such a level that intelligent people will be banned from thinking so as not to offend the imbeciles.”
The Christian family finds itself today in a unique and precarious situation of survival. Catholic beliefs and practices are on trial and pushed ever into the private sector, while the “tolerant” left has become more hostile than ever to Catholic identity.
In some ways present circumstances resemble the eve before the fall of Rome in the fifth century BC, which followed 1,200 years of Roman domination.
The survival of Catholic culture and the informed Catholic family is at stake, while Catholics are hushed and only permitted to vocalize religious feelings that are tolerated in polite society.
There is hope. The Christian era began with a family: the Holy Family of Nazareth. It was in this context that Catholic culture first began, in the collective manifestations of Christ revealing Himself as God in the domestic church.
The Holy Family reflects the natural perennial family structure: father, mother, and children. And so the modern Catholic family can relate. At the very dawn of Christianity, the Holy Family found itself in a precarious position in a more than hostile world.
The Holy Family set out on a long and arduous journey to Bethlehem that was undertaken at the command of the mightiest ruler of the day, the Roman Emperor. During that journey, taken by the first Christian family, Christ came into the world.
In this twenty-first century of Christianity, Christian families are still on a journey of survival, a journey that is also long and often arduous. Only this time it is made at the call of the mightiest King of the world, Christ the Lord. This is the journey to eternity.
This Christian journey is a happy one, and it is taken more properly in the context of family. It is precisely in the family that Catholic culture is best introduced, fostered and preserved by the teaching and example of the parents.
The Christian family will survive amid the onslaught of a hostile world if its members continually return to the point at which the journey into eternity began. This point is the altar at the parish church where the faithful become one in Christ through Baptism and the other sacraments He has given us.
The Christian family also returns to the altar by which it was established in Holy Matrimony, to re-enkindle its ideals and to refresh its spirit. This is where the Christian continually returns.
Through active and fruitful participation in the sacred mysteries of our religion, the Christian family drinks deeply of the primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit. This is how Christian culture is first and foremost preserved in the context of the sacramental life.
Familiarity with the liturgical rites and liturgical life of the Church should be a goal of every serious Catholic. In light of the secularistic society surrounding us and the paganism that pervades the moral order, the traditional liturgical life and liturgical calendar of Holy Mother Church presents itself as a solution to bolster living Catholic culture.
With the rhythms of the seasons, the liturgical life offers sound spiritual training, with Holy Mass at the heart, for the support and source of spiritual strength. To love and appreciate prayer and ritual is a gradual but consistent practice of the interior life that is easily cultivated by the traditional rites of the Church.
In addition, Christian families are meant to be apostles, going forth in a hostile world in a spirit of grace and courage, after proper formation with a sturdy foundation.
Pope St. Pius X once asked his cardinals, “What is most necessary for the welfare of contemporary society?” Some of his cardinals answered by suggesting the building of more schools, while others suggested increasing the number of churches, and another suggested more vocations to the priesthood.
The pope disagreed with all and said, “The most urgent need of the day is to form in every parish a group of lay people who are well informed, resolute and courageous, who are truly apostles.”
The lay apostolate consists in just this: having an educated laity. This is cultivated in the context of the family. Laymen must rise to the occasion and undertake tasks deriving from the mission Christ entrusted to His Church. In order to do this, the layman must be informed, trained, and properly instructed.
Every Catholic lay person today must understand clearly their place in the scheme of things. The lay apostolate is not the hierarchical apostolate. The role of lay people is not to be confused with the role of priests—both have separate and distinct roles.
The mandate of the laity to teach others is distinct from the vocation of priests or bishops. Nevertheless, the work of lay apostles is urgently needed in order to meet the challenges of our times.
Lay apostles must first have sound spiritual training and instruction in religion. The Catholic laity must teach themselves to be skilled in the Faith like never before to help preserve and foster Catholic culture.
One of the most felt needs in the Church today is for a more thoroughly instructed laity in general to teach and instruct other laity. Relatively few laymen are prepared to engage in the lay apostolate because they lack training and proper catechesis.
At the same time, not all Christians are called to engage the world in the same way in a strict sense. Willingness alone is not sufficient. The educated lay apostles must also be able. Lay apostles form an elite not because they are better than others but because they are capable of attracting and influencing others.
Another way of preserving Catholic culture is by promoting virtue in the home. The vocation of the lay person who is working in the apostolate implies virtue. He has to have the right religious and human formation, with sound instruction in the doctrine of the Church, formed with wise and prudent guidance. If he is to face the problems of the world and threats to Catholic life, he must be well prepared to bring the treasures of the Redemption to other souls.
Saint Pius X, referring in particular to the teaching of Christian doctrine, had this to say, “No matter what natural facility a person may have in ideas and language, let him always remember that he will not be able to teach Christian doctrine to children and adults without first giving himself to very careful study and preparation.”
Does it not follow from this that Catholic parents, educators, and apostles must be trained, competent, and fashioned to minister to the world in the capacity of this apostolate?
Lay leaders, formed and fashioned thus, can help better preserve Catholic culture while brining within reach of their pastors a certain number of lost sheep who are wandering and ready to enter the peace and security of the fold. Certain ways are open to the laity that are closed to the clergy, and vice versa.
Finally, no matter how difficult things may become, Catholic culture must be preserved in the context of the juridical structure of the Church. In other words, Catholics must always live and breathe with the Magisterium of the Church and under the guidance of her legitimate shepherds and in full communion with the Church.
Venerable Pius XII had this to say at the canonization of Pius X: “But all these lay people must be and must stay under the authority, the leadership and the vigilance of those who have been established by divine institution as teachers within the Church of Christ. In matters pertaining to the salvation of souls, there is no teaching activity in the Church exempt from that authority and vigilance.”
The mission of the Church is to teach divine truth while Catholic culture preserves and fosters this reality. The Catholic home should inculcate in all its members a love for this religious sprit and a zeal to accomplish this great end of keeping God always in the home and of opening the door to evangelize so as to share this great blessing with others.
The Christian Faith will ever be preserved by passing it on to others one generation at a time, in good times and bad. Therefore, have hope for Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33): “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.”
John Paul Sonnen is an author and history docent. He is also Director of Content at TAN Books and is Managing Editor of TAN Direction. His subjects of interest include Catholic Studies, Christian culture and civilization. His graduate degrees are from the Angelicum in Rome.