Instructions for the Catholic Family
The Catholic Family
The ideal of the Catholic family has been once fully realized. There have been many good examples, all more or less approaching the ideal. But all except one must be regarded as having failed, at least in some respects, to achieve the perfection of family life. That one, of course, is the Holy Family of Nazareth. Since, therefore, God has given us the ideal fully realized in the concrete, it is to that rather than the more remote symbols that we must go for our lessons as to what the Catholic family should be. The Word was made flesh to reveal to us the mind of the Eternal Father. In order, then, to learn the mind of the Eternal Father concerning the nature and end of the Catholic family life we cannot do better than turn our thoughts to the little home at Nazareth.
The school of the Apostles was formed by Our Lord during the years of His public ministry. Then, having been organized by Him during His lifetime, it was fully promulgated and endowed with its special gifts after His death, by the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. The purpose of the Incarnation was the salvation of souls. The purpose of the Church was the salvation of souls. The purpose of the first Catholic Family was the salvation of souls. The first and foremost purpose, then, of every Catholic family is to obtain for its members the possession of everlasting life. The family does not exist merely for the sake of the love of husband and wife; nor for the love of parent and children; nor for the acquisition of worldly fortunes; nor for the promotion of the children in business; nor for the material prosperity of nations. All these are lawful and subordinate aims, subordinate to the final aim which is to help immortal souls to get to heaven. This is the first and, in a sense, the only lesson to be learned from the Holy Family of Nazareth; the purpose of the Catholic family is the undoing of sin, the hindrance of sin, the propagation of those truths and virtues which lead to life eternal.
The Ideal Catholic Home
I. The Father
The father’s dignity rests, first of all, upon the fact that Almighty God has bestowed upon him the privilege of cooperation in the greatest natural mystery, the creation of human life. Sons and daughters are his in a sense that nothing else that he may ever possess can be called his own. That thought carries with it an honor that is unique. Even modern society that has striven to forget the sanctity of marriage retains this basic recognition.
The children bear the father’s name. In a far deeper sense than is usually recognized under the term of the law, they are his “dependents.” The close observer notes that quite unconsciously they imitate many of his mannerisms, gestures, modes of thought. But much more than that: if he is a worthy father, and they worthy children, they carry with them through life the training in virtue which he alone can impress on their young minds.
Pope Pius XI approves the clearness of thought and the precision of style of St. Thomas of Aquin in these utterances: “The father according to the flesh has in a particular way a share in that principle which is in a manner universal found in God …. The father is the principle of generation, of education and discipline, and of everything that bears upon the perfecting of human life.”(1) This is not poetry, but stern reality expressed by the Angelic Doctor and commended by Christ’s Vicar to bring order out of chaos in modern education.
The father must dwell on this thought often, lest he lose the spirit which God in His wisdom has determined for the moral development of youth. The mother must carry it deep in her heart, for only in cooperation with this divine plan can she hope to achieve what nature has instilled in her to want to achieve, the perfect mental, moral, physical, and social development of her children. The children must absorb this spirit for upon their understanding of it depend the honor they owe their father by divine command, intelligent obedience, the acquisition of virtue, and a life-long sense of gratitude.
When first dwelt upon, such thoughts are almost frightening. They do mean weighty responsibility, not here alone, but in accounting for one’s stewardship before God’s throne. But God does not demand anything impossible. Fatherhood is a vocation in His service, not to be heeded lightly or frivolously, but with the serious determination of serious men. Since it is a life’s work in His service, God offers His aid at every important step along the difficult road. On the part of the father, He expects cooperation with this grace, which in turns calls for persevering good will, a spirit of sacrifice, conscientious observance of God’s law made known by the Church. The very nature of everything under consideration places a high premium on good common sense.
Speaking from the fullness of his “Own paternal heart,”(2) Pope Pius XI, who often referred to his title of Father of Fathers, has called attention to the following duties of fathers. Pope Leo XIII reminds them that they are “the head of the family”(3), which is more a duty than an honor, and speaking of the marriage bond, calls the father “the ruler of the family and the head of the woman.”(4)
Commenting on the Condition of Labor, Pope Leo terms “the family the society of a man’s own household,”(5) and stresses that “the right of property which has been proved to belong to individual persons must also belong to man as the head of the family.” This follows logically because “it is a most sacred law of nature that a father must provide food and all necessaries for those whom he has begotten, as well as what is necessary to keep them from want and misery in the uncertainties of this mortal life.”(6)
“The father’s power is of such a nature that it cannot be destroyed or absorbed by the State, for it has the same origin as human life itself.”(7) It is the paternal instinct which turns the child with confidence over to the Church for education, certain of finding the protection of family rights.(8) The father is the natural instructor for his son in the facts of life.(9) In the full program of domestic education the father is cautioned to have great care that he make the right use of his authority.(10) The Pope says that normally the vocation to the priesthood will be the result of example and teaching of a father “strong in faith and manly in virtues.”(11)
Examples could be multiplied, but these indicate the dignity and the seriousness of the father’s vocation in God’s service.
2. The Mother
As the father is the head of the family, the mother is its heart. Although her educational influence is of an entirely different nature from that of the father, her vocation is equal in importance to his. In fact, the memory of most grown sons and daughters will attest that she has had far more to do with the shaping of their character than he. But so necessary are both that if either is lacking for any cause whatever, the education of the children is seriously, and sometimes fatally, handicapped.
It is significant that in describing homes in which vocations for the priestly and religious lives are developed, Pope Pius speaks of the father as “strong in faith and manly virtues,” but of “a pure and devoted mother.”(12) Elsewhere: “As the father occupies the chief place in ruling, so the mother may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.”(13)
It is to be noted, however, that His Holiness speaks of supernatural love, not of the tender maternal love-instinct upon which the supernatural is built. Natural love, which is excellent in itself, and offers the possibility of untold good, may even at times be a hindrance, when mothers are imprudent and cannot keep the children in truly obedient subjection, refuse what is harmful, punish if necessary, or where they selfishly abuse it and over-emphasize it and make it a wedge of separation from the love of father.
This supernatural love is the beginning of all the finer instincts of the children. Its delicacy and tenderness exercise the strongest appeal. Of it are born, for example, piety, modesty, purity, fear of the Lord, all learned at the mother’s knee.
The worthy mother is usually at home with her children all day long. Often she is, for whole days, their only companion. But there is a far deeper mystery to the entire process of education in virtue than mere association. The mother is by nature more closely attached to her children. As in babyhood the child was incapable of taking solid food but was nourished by its mother, so in the early formative years, nature has determined that it is she who must nourish it in virtue. Even in mature and advanced years, the appreciation of these natural facts is only intensified. There is no finer instinct in the world than a grown man’s mature love for the mother who bore him, and nourished him, and trained him in virtue.
Every human being has a supernatural destiny–to be worked out in time. He must be educated “for what he must be and what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created.”(14) That education is the result of the combined efforts of both parents. But in its youngest years, the child will be almost exclusively under the mother’s guidance. Her efforts are to produce effects which will have their final reckoning only in eternity.
On the morning of her marriage, the priest prays for this holy vocation, which must be entered upon only after serious thought and conscientious preparation. The nuptial blessing, bestowed after the Pater Noster of the Mass, is primarily for the bride. The graces for which the priest implores Almighty God are in preparation for her duties. Among them may be selected:
“May she be true and chaste . . . dear to her husband .. . wise . . . long-lived and faithful. . . . May she fortify her weakness with strong discipline . . . be grave in demeanor and honored for her modesty . . . well taught in heavenly lore. . . . Let her life be good and sinless.”(15)
As the educator and trainer of immature minds entrusted to her by God, the mother’s vocation is difficult. It calls for many qualities that are virtues in themselves. The burden is lightened by the ease of moulding the child’s mind and will. But to train them calls for zeal, painstaking effort, patience in weariness, and the humility that joyfully stoops to the level of the child. It is hard work, and the temptation must come at times to abandon the effort and take life easy. Only the seriousness of the undertaking and the knowledge that it is done for God can sustain the untiring effort demanded. “Let the children be, and do not hinder them from coming to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew, 19: 14)
3. The Children
The relationship between the children and their parents is briefly told. The fourth commandment of God expresses it in six words: Honor thy father and thy mother. Obedience, honor, balanced respect, gratitude. They sum up the duties of the child.
The father has a beautiful example in St. Joseph, the head of the Holy Family. Mothers strive to imitate Mary of Nazareth. But the Boy Jesus Himself has left a divine example to be copied by sons and daughters. And again, that is recorded briefly by the Evangelists: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was “subject to them.” (Luke, 2: 51. Gospel of the feast of the Holy Family.)
Obedience is of the divine law, for by it parents are believed to hold the place of God Himself in the lives of their children. Numerous other virtues and habits are good and holy, and many observe them with great fruit. But unless sons and daughters progress in intelligent submission, they will not please God nor advance in anything virtuous. God has not called them to great and heroic undertakings, but to the simple and humble perfection of learning from their natural teachers, their parents.
Young men and women, still under obedience to their fathers and mothers, often complain today that they are not understood, and that parents do and say things that “get on their nerves.” Certainly parents do and say things that are unpleasant! So does the State. So does the Church. God does the same thing. In fact, it is only because they are doing God’s own will, which has no guarantee of being agreeable, that their commands are found to be unpleasant.
Honor is shown by the proper respect and deference for parents. It calls for proper address and titles. It makes the boy and girl proud for the world to know their parents, and never to feel the slightest shame or embarrassment at their clothes, their employment, uncultured speech, or anything else except open and manifest sin.
Gratitude is an attempt to repay parents for their sacrifices. It is only an attempt, for full payment is impossible. It seeks to show itself by full interest in the home, in all that concerns father and mother, brothers and sisters. Its possessor does not find his principal pleasure among friends acquired outside the home circle. One who is truly grateful to parents is not bored with home life, silent, sullen, irritated by younger brothers and sisters, while amazingly gracious to outsiders. Gratitude prompts pleasing companionship, helps to realize the dream of a home that father and mother have worked for, makes for a sympathetic understanding of parents’ wishes.
Prayer for a Catholic Family
God of goodness and mercy, we commend to thy all-powerful protection our home, our family and all that we possess. Bless us all as thou didst bless the holy family of Nazareth.
O Jesus, our most holy Redeemer, by the love with which thou didst become man in order to save us, by the mercy through which thou didst die for us upon the cross, we entreat thee to bless our home, our family, our household. Preserve us from all evil and from the snares of men; preserve us from lightning and hail and fire, from flood and from the rage of the elements; preserve us from thy wrath, from all hatred and from the evil intentions of our enemies, from plague, famine and war. Let no one of us die without the Holy Sacraments. Bless us, that we may always openly confess our faith which is to sanctify us, that we may never falter in our hope, even amid pain and affliction, that we may ever grow in love for Thee and in charity toward our neighbor.
O Jesus, bless us, protect us.
O Mary, Mother of grace and mercy, bless us, protect us against the evil spirit; lead us by the hand through this vale of tears; reconcile us with thy divine Son; commend us to Him, that we may be made worthy of his promises.
Saint Joseph, reputed father of our Saviour, guardian of his most holy Mother, head of the holy family, intercede for us, bless and protect our home always.
Saint Michael, defend us against all the wicked wiles of hell.
Saint Gabriel, obtain for us that we may understand the holy will of God.
Saint Raphael, preserve us from ill health and all danger to life.
Holy Guardian Angels, keep us day and night in the way to salvation.
Holy Patrons, pray for us before the throne of God.
Bless this house, Thou, God our Father, who didst create us; Thou, divine Son, who didst suffer for us on the cross; Thou, Holy Spirit, who didst sanctify us in baptism. May God, in his three Divine Persons, preserve our body, purify our soul, direct our heart, and lead us to life everlasting.
Glory be to the Father, glory be to the Son, glory be to the Holy Ghost. Amen.
(Indulgence 200 days Leo XIII)
1. Pope Pius XI, “On the Christian Education of Youth,” in Five Great Encyclical, (New York: Paulist Press, 1940), p. 45.
2. Ibid., p. 61.
3. Pope Leo XIII, “On the Condition of Labor,” in Five Great Encyclical! (New York: Paulist Press, 1940), p. 6.
4. Pope Pius XI, “On Christian Marriage,” quoting Pope Leo XIII, ibid., p. 85.
5. Pope Leo XIII, “On the Condition of Labor,” ibid., p. 5.
6. Ibid., p. 6.
7. Pope Pius XI, “On the Christian Education of Youth,” quoting Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Nova-rum, ibid., p. 46.
8. Ibid., p. 47. 9. Ibid., p. 56. 10. Ibid., p. 59.
11. Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Letter “On the Catholic Priesthood,” December 20, 1935, in Catholic Mind, February 8, 1936, p. 74.