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 practice.
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 behavior.
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 with life.
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
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 the centuries.
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 Mass.
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
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
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 heaven.
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 even human.
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
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 aware of.
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 coming.
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, play.
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 and factories.
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 in heaven.
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
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
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals