Dedicated to the
Holy Family -- Joseph, Mary, and Jesus -- in whose home the divine ideal
of family life found perfect fulfillment
The Christian Pattern
Along what lines
should we try to educate our children? How much of modern civilization should
we try to bring them up to accept, how much to reject, how much to reform?
How best can we train them for whatever God may want them to do for Him in
the unknown world of the future?
Before one is actually immersed in the task of parenthood, the answers to
such questions seem fairly simple. "Bring up children along traditional Christian
lines...." "Train them in Christian principles..." But when one is faced
with the innumerable decisions of daily family life, it does not seem so
easy always to determine the "traditional Christian lines" of child training,
or to see what "Christian principles" could or should be applied in actual
How much, for example, should you let small boys follow the current local
fashions in clothes? in toy pistols? in candy and gum? If you let them be
as much like "everybody" as your means permit, short of anything obviously
sinful or leading to sin, will you be giving the children the best preparation
for not being like "everybody" in things that would be sinful? What is the
line and where should you draw it?
In other times, society as a whole guided parents in such "drawing of lines"
and it also backed up their authority with its own. There was an accepted
way of going about the business of living, there were customs and conventions,
there was a definite social pattern which was at least remotely Christian.
Parents could usually count on the help of the community in which they lived
in giving their children some Christian standards of individual and social
But today there are few "communities," in the old sense of the word. There
are no true social patterns, there are few customs and conventions that will
help us in the art of Christian living. We must try to communicate to our
children the Christian way of looking at life, the Christian way of dealing
And we must do so while we are living in the midst of a society not exactly
opposed to our "point of view" (as an agnostic would call it), but so confused
in its own outlook that it confuses us, making it very difficult for us to
hold our own point of view clearly or to act in accordance with it consistently.
We have to incarnate a Christian way of living in our homes in the midst
of a society neither Christian nor truly pagan but secular, that is, disconnected
from the influence of God or of "the gods," so far as that is possible.
The Christian culture which we parents must fashion in our homes day by day,
then, needs to be at once strong and supple, definite and adaptable. For
it must train our children to live as Christians both at home and outside
the home, both now and in their future lives.
But how can we best go about such a task? If we tackle it like a picture
puzzle, taking pieces of advice even from the most authoritative sources
and trying to fit them together, we may find only a puzzle as a result. Unless
we ourselves have some blueprint, some master-plan by which to judge whether
to adopt Father A's scheme of family prayer, or Sister B's, whether to follow
Psychologist X or the equally eminent and Catholic Psychiatrist Y in his
ideas on child discipline, we shall let ourselves in for much bewilderment
and little Christian peace.
But we do not have to look far to find such a master-plan. We have it right
before our eyes in God's own plan for bringing up all His children "in Christ."
As we all know, God's method of education is sacramental; He uses visible
and tangible things to bring us to the knowledge and love of the invisible;
He teaches us how to use our human powers of body and soul, how to use the
visible creatures of His universe in His worship and in His service.
He Himself is the great "Sacrament," the visible image of the invisible God,
who has made Himself our way and our truth and our life. It is by living
a visible human life, by doing a man's work, by suffering and dying as men
suffer and die, that He wrought the work of our redemption. And it is in
a visible Church, His Body, that He prolongs and fulfills His work through
In the life of the Church, Christ teaches us Divine truth through human teachers,
by means of human words, in images and stories taken from the visible world
and from ordinary human experience. He pours out on us His own life and powers
by means of the sacraments and sacramentals, conforming the force and pattern
of our lives to His.
These, again, are administered to us by other human beings; their grace reaches
us under sacramental signs of visible things and audible, comprehensible
words. And we are taught to respond to Him by prayer of our human voices
and imaginations and minds and wills to take our part in His work, by loving
and serving Him with our human energy and skill as He dwells in our visible
fellow human beings. And, finally, summing up our whole lives and the purpose
of our lives, we take our part in the visible sacramental sacrifice of the
God's master-plan, then, is to be found in the work of Christ our Lord Himself,
God and Man, His work of redeeming mankind. And our education of our children
should surely proceed along these same lines if it is to be truly Christian
education. We should make it as far as lies in our power a sacramental education,
following and fitting into God's own plan.
We should try to teach the children the invisible truths of the faith by
means of the visible things around us, by means of the visible actions of
daily life; we should try to give them the habit of seeing all created things
as, in some way or other, signs of the power and wisdom and love of God.
We should try to train the children to make the thoughts and words and actions
of daily life true signs of their love of God, able to be offered with our
Lord's sacrifice in the Mass.
Such a plan of education may seem very obvious and trite until we begin to
think out some of its possible implications. For example: as things are,
most of us think we have done everything possible to sanctify our family
meals by the three-times-a-day effort to say grace. But suppose that we began
to follow out the sacramental implications of our family meals...
In the holy Eucharist, Christ's own body and blood, His life and His grace,
our gift of ourselves together in Him to God, and God's gift of Himself to
us, are all made present under the signs of bread and wine, human food and
drink. And, as modern scholars tell us, the basic design of the Mass is that
of a Jewish family meal. Our family meals, then, are meant to teach us and
our children about the banquet of the holy Eucharist. Our food and family
meals are meant to be the humble human reflections of the sacred meal of
the holy Eucharist, which itself is a reflection of the eternal feast of
In the light of these facts, imagine a meal which the father earned by a
piece of "sharp business" in which he did somebody out of the price of a
day's food; a meal consisting of food which the mother obtained by pushing
in ahead of ten other people for a bargain at the supermarket; which she
prepared in a temper and shoved onto an untidy and not-too-- clean table;
food which looked like something else and contained virtually no real
nourishment; a meal to which the children come completely unwashed, knocking
each other over in their hurry; a meal eaten in uncharitable silence, or
to the accompaniment of mother's complaints about the neighbors.
Such a meal obviously bears no relation at all to the Table of God. It is
not a sign capable of teaching the children anything about God's banquet.
It will certainly give them no notion at all of why heaven should be compared
to a feast. Such a meal is a completely secular activity, un-Christian, hardly
But think of the possibilities inherent in our family lives if both the
bread-winner and the bread-maker were trying to make each meal and everything
connected with it more and more fit to be a humble human sign and reflection
of the banquet of the holy Eucharist. The cooking and preparation of meals,
the day-by-day, year-by-year, often seemingly hopeless task of training the
children to cleanliness and decent table manners would take on real purpose
and point, and so would the even more long-drawn-out and difficult job of
training them to happy and interesting and charitable table conversation.
Let us suppose, for instance, that the price of the meal is earned by the
father's running a small hardware store as a real neighborhood service, making
available to his neighbors at just prices the things they need for daily
living; or, for that matter, by any other honest job that in some way honestly
" contributes to human welfare. Suppose that the mother bought the materials
for the meal from a neighborhood grocery and vegetable store, the owner of
which was also trying, according to his lights, to serve his neighborhood
rather than make a fortune.
Suppose, further, that the mother, letting the children help her as much
as their age and ability allowed, did her best, with whatever real food the
family could afford, to prepare a meal that would both nourish her family
and please them. Suppose that she served it carefully and lovingly; that
the children acted, not like little angels, but like little
Christians-in-the-making, with standards of hand-washing, orderly eating
and Christian behavior that they did not always live up to, but were at least
Suppose, too, that an attempt was made really to pray grace before and after
the meal; that the conversation at the meal was taken part in by everyone,
according to his age, that the children were learning to attend to each other's
mental and spiritual needs for interest, love and attention, and to each
other's physical needs for salt or butter. Such a meal would be a truly Christian
family meal, a real sign in its own order, of the Eucharistic banquet.
No matter if such an occasion were to look and sound much like any other
family meal where small children are present--a more or less messy affair,
with the children occasionally spilling things, using their fingers instead
of their forks, interrupting the parents' conversation in spite of rebuke,
and the parents occasionally becoming short-tempered in the effort to eat
and educate at the same time.
None of this would affect the main point, that the parents are trying as
best they can, in the light of the sacramental significance of the holy
Eucharist, to align everything concerned with their daily bread toward the
requirements of full and fruitful participation in that banquet which is
the sign and pledge of the everlasting wedding-feast of heaven. (In any case,
God Himself has made the material signs of heavenly realities necessarily
crude and, in a sense, unworthy of those realities, so that we would take
them as signs and signs only and not as the realities themselves. St. Thomas
points out that Holy Scripture uses crude rather than 'noble' things as the
basis for its figures and metaphors for this same reason. We parents, then,
have no need to be ashamed of the crudity of our living picture-language,
our daily family life in all its messiness, awkwardness, seeming confusion
and lack of perfection. For if we are trying to order all its elements in
the light of what marriage signifies--the union of Christ and the Church,
and toward our all achieving that union through our daily family lives--
then, surely, we have the 'one thing necessary.')
Trying, then, to think and act along such "sacramental" lines should begin
to give us some real standard by which to judge the food we buy (and some
real reason to make it worth the trouble of growing it ourselves when possible);
by which to decide how and where to buy it; by which to see how best we can
spend our time and energy in preparing it...and so on.
Now suppose that many families were to try to act in such a way. What vast
areas of human life would, slowly, begin to be restored in Christ! And our
children, trained in such sacramental thinking, would grow up, with God's
help, to be far ahead of their parents in thus seeing and judging our whole
commercial system, our whole way of life, in the light of Christ and in knowing
how best to go about acting in and for that light in the foggy world of today.1
And here, surely, is the proper task of the Christian laity--to sacramentalize
daily human living and all the materials and actions and occupations bound
up with it. Priests "mediate" between us and God; they bring us the grace
of Christ In the sacraments, the sacramentals, by their prayer, and they
offer us to God with Christ in the Mass. And we, the "laos," the people of
God, are, analogously, to "mediate" between the mystical Body of Christ and
the un-Christened world of men and things. We are to help to bring not only
our own children, but also our non-Catholic neighbors to Baptism, to Christ.
We are to build the houses that the priest will bless, and live in them in
the power of that blessing. We are to take days and weeks and years and re-order
them to that pattern of holy human living that the liturgy of the Church
lays out. We are to work in all the rightfully human occupations of modern
living and re-order them and all the material things they involve, to the
life and service of Christ's members, and so to the glory of God. And thus
we shall be doing our own part in re-establishing all things in Christ, in
extending that consecration of the world which our Lord inaugurated by His
It is not easy, of course, to see how many of the fields of modern human
life can best be sacramentalized--how some of them can be sacramentalized
at all. But it is not so hard to see how home life can be made more Christian
and more "Christening," for here we are dealing with the comparatively simple
fundamental facts of human life: eating, sleeping, dressing, housework,
If we parents begin here, as well as we can, with the light and grace of
Christ, we shall see more clearly as we go along what can be done in our
immediate neighborhoods. We shall see how best to unite our own brains and
influence in Catholic family action of one sort or another. We shall begin
to see how to extend the influence of Christ into streets and stores, farms
If we train our children to sacramental thinking, in sacramental living,
we shall, certainly, be educating them along truly traditional Christian
lines. Moreover, children so educated should be able to see, far more clearly
than we do now, how modern life can and may be made holy, re-oriented to
Christ. So we shall be training them both for their next ride in a street-car,
and for their future work for Christ. And so we shall be giving ourselves,
here and now, the plan, the norm, we need for judging the applicability of
good specialist advice to our particular needs, and for making the innumerable
small decisions of daily family life.
Let us, then, take some of the elements of daily life that have been made
to seem most secular by the spirit of our times, and consider how we can
best go about the work of restoring them in Christ, of integrating them into
a truly Christian home life, and a truly Christian home education.
First of all, human beings. These have been thought about and written about
and discussed from so many un-religious angles that we need, perhaps, to
begin by re-thinking out the implications of the fact that our children and
ourselves and all our fellow human beings are primarily children of God,
redeemed by Christ, made to share in His work on earth and in His glory forever
Next, things and places. We need to think out once more and explicitly what
is the truly Christian attitude towards these.
That work also has been divorced from any connection with God's plans or
providence is all too obvious as soon as we think of the ways in which the
majority of modern men spend the greater part of their working lives. And
from the general consent of Christians to this state of affairs comes the
un-Christian idea that only the special chosen few who are priests and religious
'have a vocation'--the rest of God's people just 'have jobs.'
These elements of our ordinary lives, then, we will consider in the chapters
of this book, not because they include every phase of life, or because
considering them goes to make up a complete program of education, but because
they are the elements which seem to need explicit re-integration into the
whole plan of Christian life and into the full joy of Christian living, if
we are to begin in our homes to restore all things in Christ.
1. What can be done to awaken children to the spiritual significance of food
and of meals? What methods can be recommended for getting children to come
to meals on time and to be orderly during meals?
2. How often should religious topics be introduced during family meal
conversation? Who should lead the prayers before and after meals?
3. Discuss the meaning of the phrase, "sacramentalizing daily human living."
To what extent do we succeed in achieving this ideal in our own American
community, and in what ways do we fail?
4. Is it possible to sacramentalize one's individual family life with- out
first changing the general environment in which the family lives?
5. Does the approach of the author seem too idealistic to be practical in
our busy modern world? How does one determine what is "practical"?
1. Why is it more difficult today than it was fifty years ago for parents
to follow a "Christian pattern" in rearing children?
2. What is the meaning of the statement that "God's method of education is
3. What is the difference in the part played by the mother, by the father
and by the children in preparing a truly Christian meal?
4. What are some of the differences between a monastic family meal and a
Christian family meal?
5. What is the function of the laity in a secular world?
The Christian Pattern
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and Play
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals