Over many years we've walked many miles with many families. Our shared goal: Form our children to be intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. Become the best versions of ourselves. Sainthood. Heaven.
Mindful of our own shortcomings and blind spots, we've been very attentive to what works, and what does not. And why. We are actively in the ring. We're constantly adjusting. The reason we haven't written the book yet: the verdict on our parenting is out until our children meet their Maker.
Nonetheless, we find value in identifying and raising key questions for our collective prayer and consideration, that we might be "iron sharpening iron." (Prov. 27:17)
Recently I was in a late-night conversation with some very intentional, "in the game" dads. Some of my closest, younger brothers in Christ. Both have younger, larger families. Both are evident disciples of Jesus Christ. Both are actively servant-leading their wives and children (Eph. 5).
Both of these men had powerful conversions in life. Both experienced the bankruptcy of a "loosey goosey" moral world, based more on what one feels than on what is true. Both observed a similar quality in many parish liturgies. Both came to discover and appreciate the critical importance of reverence in ritual.
Both associated such reverence somewhat strictly, though not exclusively, with the Tridentine Mass (Latin). As evidence, one of the dads shared the conversation his family had following a reverent Mass. It essentially concerned how pious and proper the altar servers were, along with other aspects of the liturgy.
Sharing the high importance and value of good ritual, I felt the need to impart big-brotherly caution: If our measure of liturgy is more about ritual than relationship... than our deeper encounter with Jesus Christ... than His present, transforming power in our lives, we may run the risk of forming our children not to be worshipers of God, but worshipers of liturgy in the name of God.
Please note, this has nothing to do with ritual forms themselves. I have great affinity for the transcendent beauty of the Extraordinary Form (Latin / Tridentine Mass), as I do with the incarnate accessibility of the Ordinary Form ("Novus ordo") celebrated with great reverence. If we're Catholic, both are legit.
There's no need to draw further attention to the too-often tragic absence of reverence and encounter often evidenced in "Novus ordo" (Ordinary Form) parishes.
However, there is perhaps too little attention drawn to what can happen among those devoted to the Extraordinary Form, an insulating culture of self-righteous, judgmental, externalism that can result in forming "whitewashed sepulchers" (Matt. 23:27)-- to whom Jesus said, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." (Matt. 15:8)
I shared with my brothers my experience spanning many different communities over time: A number of devout, pious Catholic families-- very attentive to all matters orthodox, many of whom home school (like us), who recognize their homes are "ecclesia domestica" (domestic churches), which are adorned with evidence of such reverence (like ours)... also evidence to a prominent degree children who go astray during high school or shortly thereafter.
I shared with them what Extraordinary Form pastor-friends have shared with me regarding the wholeness of marriages and families entrusted to them.
Recently I asked one to rate the "wholeness" of the marriages and families in his community. While it varied, he confirmed that while they all were very devout, pious and orthodox-- on a scale of 1-10, the spiritual and human health was no greater than a "6."
As my pastor-friend thought further, he commented that most of the marriages exhibited a high level of imbalance, offering these some prominent examples:
- Overly domineering mothers who alone seem to “run the ship”
- Too many dads who are observant, but seem to be on the sidelines
- Some dads who exhibit a controlling, militaristic harshness
- More energy and effort in appearing holy than in actually becoming holy
- A suspicion, or even antipathy, towards “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”
- Formulaic understanding of evangelization based upon (reducing relationship to) knowledge and behavior conformity
- “Formulaic children” who may be perfect in form, but lack authenticity, the kind that derives from the life-journey of sincere questioning and more fully, personally owning one’s faith (“The glory of God is man fully alive.” St. Irenaeus)
- Surprising prominence of cultural double-standards evidenced in immodest dress, immoral media consumption, language and behavior outside of “church” settings
He commented that beyond the surface, and general commitments to remain faithful, a number of those marriages were in crisis. He confirmed that, in disproportionate numbers, the children lacked a kind of foundation equipping them to live it out when they reached high school and beyond.
Beyond our extensive ministerial experience, this does strike close to home. My wife and I have 17 siblings between us, which is to say, 17 families. While there certainly have been relational tragedies among our "Novus ordo" brothers and sisters, of the three who were "high ritual," two ended in divorce. Most of the 16 children (between the two) continue to have notable, moral struggles in their life-choices. (Without sharing sensitive details, both were largely due to vices of the dads.)
Where do you go with this? Few have presented the norm with such clarity and eloquence as Pope Benedict in his "Jesus of Nazareth" trilogy. In so many words, the heart of ritual and religion is relationship with Jesus Christ. Please note: We're not saying "no religion" nor "no ritual." We're saying that the heart of these is relationship.
We're saying that participating in Mass, even with exacting precision, piety and reverence... without the underlying relationship, reduces the Mass to a facade. A lie. Meant to be an occasion of real encounter and transformation, ritual without relationship leaves us all the more frustrated at the unfulfilled promise.
And it gives poor testimony to the world around us, a world so yearning for this purpose of liturgy, the yearning of their deepest souls... the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
The great news: We can be transformed. (Rom. 12:1-2)
Lord, have mercy on us all! Each of us are sinners, without which we wouldn't need a Savior! May we not be deceived by the Enemy, particularly in the fundamental Way given to draw us into greater intimacy with our God and Savior, Jesus Christ!
[If you yearn for greater unveiling and grounding in your marriage and family, find out more at MassImpact.us.]