by Catherine Doherty.
Marriage is a vocation, a call from God, to two people to become one, to found a home, and to beget, bear, and raise children. In this glorious and hard vocation, husbands and wives are called to become saints and to do all in their power to make saints of their children.
The greatest enemy of any vocation is a divided heart. Yet how many married people (or anyone else for that matter) have a whole heart? Or to put it another way, how many married people are wholeheartedly trying to live this call of theirs as it should be lived, by serving God through it?
If they were doing so, then problem children, problem youth, and marital problems would almost vanish and, as the parents grew in holiness—which is love—these problems would in truth vanish.
What do I mean by a divided heart? I certainly do not mean adultery or obvious physical neglect of any marital or home duty. No, I simply mean trying to straddle what cannot be straddled.
One example would be, "trying to serve God and mammon," that is, trying to follow Christ while striving for secondary values such as money, power, position, or status.
The restoration of the home and of families begins with an examination of conscience.
The first question is this: what is our attitude toward each other?
Husband and wife, usually people who do not know each other very well, fall in love and get married. What do they really know about this glorious, beautiful vocation?
Priests undergo long years of preparation in seminaries. Religious, nuns and brothers, do, too, in novitiates. But who gets preparation for marriage? Where is its novitiate? Ideally, preparation for marriage should begin in childhood, by seeing the example of one’s parents.
When people marry, they are "in love" but do they love? Do they understand that their vocation is a vocation to love and to love so well that their children will learn to love just by being their children?
Do they understand that love is not selfish or self-centered, that it forgets the pronoun "I"? Do they comprehend that love is total surrender? Do they comprehend that, in marriage, to love is to surrender to one another for love of God and for each other? On the answers to these questions depends so much.
Take the idea of rights. True, before the law, husband and wife have certain rights. This is as it should be, for life is complex and human nature is human nature, but in marriage rights should be relinquished for the sake of love.
It is not only in marriage that this is necessary. A nun might be a citizen of a nation whose citizens have the right of free travel and movement. Yet because of her love of God, she voluntarily encloses herself in a strict cloistered convent. She has surrendered her right for love’s sake. So it is for husband and wife.
The man and woman leave parents and home and cleave to one another, becoming one flesh (Gen 2:24). This means a surrender, a giving of oneself until the two are not only one flesh, but one mind, one heart, one soul as well.
For those who understand this—and alas, how few they are—the veil of faith becomes gossamer thin, especially at Communion, when husband and wife become one in the heart of Christ. For those who believe, this is where their oneness is most felt.
So many parents complain to us about their children. They come to seek advice about many things, but especially about counteracting what they call "the influence of the environment."
What is the key to combating the prevailing culture, which is overwhelmingly secular? Fundamentally, the answer lies within the souls of parents.
A searching examination of conscience must be undertaken. This searching might lead, from the worldly point of view, to dire consequences, for it might well revolutionize the lives of husbands and wives. It has to be a thorough examination, without illusion, without compromise.
Together husband and wife must face themselves and see themselves as clearly as possible. Such an examination of conscience must begin with fervent prayer.
Here are some key questions to ask:
What are your dreams and ambitions? What are your ideas of recreation and fun? Is there a warm understanding of youth in your home? A deep love of youth? A remembrance of your own youth with its joys and difficulties? Is your home a place where the youngsters of the block feel at home and want to come?
Do you take seriously your most awesome and holy vocation? Or do you bear with it because you have to? Do you, the wife, continually complain about your lot, disparaging housework and all your daily chores, giving your children a distorted impression?
Is your home a place of peace and love? Does that peace and love radiate into every nook and corner and spill over into friends and neighbors?
Are you trying to keep up with "the Joneses" or with Christ?
Do you say one thing and then do what you want?
Do you look at life with God’s eyes or with the blurred, cynical eyes of the world?
Are family problems and discussions discussed and solved as God would wish them to be?
Are you teaching your children that the sole goal of their life on earth is to become saints?
One could extend this litany on and on. Yes, an examination of conscience must go deep, for only then can anyone counteract the baleful influences of the environment.
If your home is Christ-centered, if it is a place where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is loved and cherished, if the goal of the whole family is sanctity (which is the goal, or should be, of all Christians) and if life is lived and evaluated according to this goal, then the neighborhood environment does not matter.
In fact, a family like that, in any given neighborhood, will change that neighborhood.
— Excerpted and adapted from Dear Parents, pp. 1–18.
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