Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


V.
Places

The modern attitude toward the universe as a whole, toward our earth, toward places made by God or man is, naturally, as secularist as the current attitude toward individual things and possessions. Few people are brought up to look for the power and wisdom and love of the Creator in His creation; even those scientists who recognize the "great Mathematician" or "the great Architect of the universe" usually do not recognize Him as a Person who is interested in mankind. To the majority of people today, the heavens do not declare God's glory, but only man's littleness and impotence; the wonders of heaven and earth do not invite them to praise, but to a pagan sense of "lacrimae rerum," the tragic fragility and passingness of all things, or still worse, to a kind of wondering despair at the purposelessness and chanciness of nature in all her manifestations.

As St. Bonaventure says, creation was meant to be for mankind a great book in which we could learn about God. Civilizations other than ours have realized in the main that this book was made to mean something, even if they did not know the alphabet or the language. Ours, alas, is the first to hold, as a general assumption of ordinary people, that it is only a meaningless scrawl or, at best, a cold-blooded mathematical report.

We need to arm our children against this assumption as they will meet it in their friends, in popular magazines, in literature, and even in education. We want to equip them not only to possess, but to share with other people the true vision of creation. The sense of the presence of God in His universe which we try to give them must, therefore, be full and deep and mature, rooted in faith and knowledge as well as the sense of awe and wonder native to unspoiled childhood.

Our aim, then, is to give the children a positive sense that the heavens are telling the glory of God. We want to give them the habit of going from "When I consider the work of Thy hands, the moon and the stars that Thou hast set up..." to the mystery of "What is man that Thou art mindful of him," a mystery not of doubt that God could be mindful, but of wondering love that He is mindful, even to making His only Son the Head and Redeemer of mankind.

We want the children to come to appreciate all the wonders of nature as signs of God's creative power, wisdom and love, and of His redemptive and sanctifying love as well. We want them to learn to give God the intelligent and loving praise for His marvelous work that only a man can give, and to give that praise as part of the great praise which our Lord is continually giving to His Father in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Our special task as parents, here, is to lay in childhood the foundations for such an attitude, and to be always ready to show the children how to integrate into this attitude all the different kinds of information they may acquire about the make-up of the world and the universe.

For this purpose, we need first to see to it that the children actually have sufficient opportunity to see God's works: the night sky, for instance, and trees and fields and grass, and, when possible, hills and lakes, the sea and mountains. (Here is an excellent argument for at least some rural life for families!) Then, we need to equip ourselves with an elementary knowledge of the natural sciences dealing with the make-up and functioning of the universe, the solar system, our earth. We also need a good working knowledge of the nature of Psalms, in particular, 8, 18, 28, 64, 95, 96, 97, 103, 147, 148 and the Canticle of the Three Children in the fiery furnace.

Equipped with such knowledge, we may be able to lead the children from their initial wonder at, say, the sky full of stars, to a greater wonder resulting from some real knowledge of what the stars are, their distance from us and each other etc., to the praise of God as expressed in human words by the Holy Spirit Himself. And if we can make it habitual so to proceed from the observed facts of nature to the praise of God, whenever the children's interest, some new view or piece of knowledge, some startling event like a big storm, make it natural to do so, then we will be laying the true and right foundations for a life-long attitude toward all natural science.

And, as the children grow older, we can continue to deepen and broaden the scope of this habit in all its dimensions. We can encourage the children to observe accurately, to study and think about natural science of all kinds (even by making collections of odd bugs or butterflies); we can find out from bookstores or libraries where to get more detailed scientific information about whatever most interests the children; we can absorb enough of this information ourselves to give the children the habit of looking first for the purpose for which God made anything and made it the way it is; then to admire how marvelously the design, material and functioning of the thing is adapted to this purpose.

We can continually try to complement the children's experience and growing knowledge of nature and natural things with an ever-growing appreciation of the way in which these things are used by our Lord and in Holy Scripture as signs and "types" of His relations with us, of His life in the Church, and of our lives with Him hereafter.

For example, Christian tradition has always seen the sun as a "type," a sign of our Lord. Any child's spontaneous reaction to the wonder of a sunrise, or of a glorious sunny day after many dark ones, can be made a basis for some growth in the knowledge and love of our Lord as the Sun of our lives. And any scientific knowledge about the action of the sun on all the water of the world, for example, or in photosynthesis, can be used as material to fill out and expand the analogy, to lead the growing and grown-up mind and heart to God.

Perhaps our whole aim in all this can most powerfully and beautifully be summed up in one paragraph from St. Bonaventure's "The Journey of the Mind into God." For we want to train our children so that they will always be free from the blindness, deafness, dumbness and stupidity he speaks of, and train them so that they may be able to awaken others to use all material creation as 'material for glory', for praising the glory of God and so achieving glory themselves:

"He must be blind, then, who is not enlightened by the great splendors of created things; he must be deaf who is not awakened by such loud outcries; he must be dumb who does not praise God for all these effects of His power; he must be stupid who is not led to the First Principle by all these indications in His work.

"Open your eyes, then; listen attentively with the ears of your spirit; move your lips and direct your heart, so that in all created things you may see, hear, praise, love, serve, magnify and honor your God; if you do not, the whole world may rise together against you.

"For it is for this reason that the whole world will fight against the unwise. But for those who are wise, the world will rather become material for glory, for those who can say with the Prophet: 'Thou hast delighted me, Lord, with Thy making, and I will exult in the work of Thy hands. How wonderful are Thy works, O Lord, Thou hast made every- thing in wisdom, the earth is filled with Thy possessions.'"

But we need to show our children also how the great works of man's hands are meant to lead our minds and hearts to God. A Christian is crippled for God's service if he cannot see what is good and wonderful in a great city, a great bridge or dam, a great building; if such things do not give him material for thinking of and loving and praising God, as well as reasons for shrinking from evil.

Of course, we need not try to blind ourselves or the children to the evils involved in the very existence of a big modern city, of a skyscraper, of a great factory. But the thrill that comes to anyone at the sight of the New York skyline, or the Golden Gate Bridge8 can just as well be ordered to God as that which comes, say, from the Grand Canyon; and if it is not, a whole side of our children's lives will be allowed to grow up cut off from God and His love.

So we need to direct the children's admiration for man's wonderful works to an admiration for God who made men able to discover how to make these things, able to get together and actually build them. Again, when opportunity permits, from the sight of all the ordered activity that goes on in putting up a new building, for example, we can show the children how we should all be working to build up God's house; from the care with which each brick or rivet is put in its right place, we can lead them to think about the care with which God is fashioning us with "blows and strokes" as the stones of His eternal dwelling.

When they come to experience the life of a great city, or to learn about city organization and so on, we can show them that it is by no mistake of terminology that the Church is called the "City" of God; that the company of redeemed mankind will be the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down from God; and, therefore, it is part of the Christian's work to make our human cities less completely unlike the heavenly one, to see to it that life in these cities is better suited to lead men toward that heavenly City rather than away from it into that of the devil.

Along these lines also, we can begin to give the children some sense of the Church at work all over the world, leavening with Christ's own presence and action cities and towns, villages and country, wherever there is a priest at work, wherever there are Christians building up the kingdom of God. And so we can begin to give the children a world-wide vision of the Church at work, of its needs in various coun- tries, of our responsibility to pray for and support all missionary effort.

Such a vision will mean also what might be called a Catholic sense of geography, which sees Rome as the real nerve-center of the world, the home of Christ's Vicar and of all the organizations by means of which he governs the worldwide Church. Such a Catholic sense of geography is also aware of the great spiritual centers in each country, of the great shrines of our faith, of the Holy Land as what it is.

But above all it sees the world as being vivified and renewed by the invisible force of Christ's life working through the visible organization of the Church, reaching from the Holy Father in Rome to our Bishop in his Cathedral, to our own parish Church in which we receive the teaching, the life and the direction of Christ Himself.

It is hard for a 'born' Catholic to realize how featureless must be the lives of those whose ordinary experience does not include any kind of a 'holy place.' All other cultures have had places known to be especially filled with the power of their god or gods or demons; only to ours is everywhere equally neutral, equally empty of any presence above or below or beyond the human. But since we live in such a culture, we need to do something to cultivate in ourselves and our children a real and living sense of the sacredness of our churches. "This is a place to fill one with awe," says the Introit of the Feast of the Dedication of our own church, "Truly it is the House of God and the gate of heaven."

One seldom-used means of giving our children such a sense of our church's holiness might be to ask our pastor or his assistant to give a private (or, better, public) description of the marvelous ceremony of consecration (if ours is a consecrated church, or of its blessing, if it is not). Surely such a description would make a wonderful sermon for the anniversary of consecration or blessing.

Again, we might ask our pastor to take the children, as a priest friend of ours actually does, on a conducted tour of the church, showing them the consecration crosses, letting them have a good look at the altar and its furnishings, at the holy oils in the ambry, at the sacred vessels and vestments for Mass, while he tells them as much as they could follow of the special blessings of each thing and of its use.

Besides such special means, we must, of course, take the day by day ordinary means of teaching the children to appreciate the holiness of our church by teaching them to appreciate the wonders that take place in it: the Mass, especially the Sunday Mass, Baptisms, Confirmation, Confessions, blessings, prayers made and heard, the Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

We also need to give the children a sense of the sacredness of places in which Christians live and work, not that this is of the same kind or degree as the sacredness of a church, but it is nonetheless very real in its own right. The most obvious among such places is, of course, our own home. We need to bring the children to feel implicitly that their home is, as it were, their special workshop, training-ground, gymnasium in the work and exercises of real life, and not to feel that real living takes place everywhere else, that home is simply a filling-station for their physical or spiritual needs. (Though, of course, they will always feel at times that other people's homes are more interesting, more full of promise and vitality than their own.)

And, by the time they grow up, they should realize that it is now their task to go out and form some new home, whether in a rectory, or a convent, or a group, or a new 'little church,' an ordinary Catholic home. But for the years of their home-life we should surely try to make them feel positively and not merely negatively "at home at home." And for this purpose, we need to make sure that real living, spiritual and mental, as well as physical, is going on in our house. If we ourselves are trying to lead a fully Christian home life, surely this effect will follow.

In this regard, we can also try to make sure that the physical lay-out, furnishing, decoration, etc., of our houses are, as far as possible, suited to the life we are trying to lead in them, not to somebody else's life, or to some notion of static unrumpled perfection.

So we can try to train the children in habits of order and tidiness; teach them to help us with the cleaning and beautifying of the house by showing them that all this is for the sake of more efficient, more fruitful, more vital living both human and Christian; that if your tools for carpentry, or for cooking, or for clothing yourself are so mixed up that you cannot find what you want, such a mess is neither practical nor efficient, nor worthy of a house in which Christ's mem- bers and fellow-workers live and work.

So, also, we can not only have our houses blessed when we first move in and, when possible, at Epiphany and Eastertime, but we can try to make these blessings really understood by the children as vital forces in our home life, forces with which we want to cooperate in order to live as fully and happily as God intends.

In this connection also, we can try to give the children the sense of going away from home and coming back as special events. For instance, one mother known to the writer is careful always to give her children a blessing, the sign of the Cross on their foreheads, before they go out, even to school or to a friend's house to play.

We can also work towards awakening in the children a sense of responsibility about going to other people's houses, being sure they are invited generally or specifically, telling us just where they are going, and being back home again on time. And, above all, we can try to make sure, in our discussions of our home furnishings and improvements, and in our comments on other people's houses, that our children come to understand that it is not the material or size or plan or efficiency or "niceness" or "loveliness" of beautiful surroundings or furnishings that are important about a house, but rather the Christian life of charity that is lived in it--that all these other things are only important as possible means toward this end.

As the children grow older, of course, they will realize more and more explicitly that, although God is everywhere, there are many places, alas, in which He is not wanted, to which He is never invited, and many from which He is as positively excluded as the perversity of human (and devilish) wills can do it. Our task here, it would seem, is to be aware of children's instinctive reaction to the presence of evil in places, to encourage them to realize that our Lord has, in fact, overcome all this, and that they can overcome it also in His strength with the sign of His Cross.

We can show them also that their future work as Christians is to be our Lord's instruments in bringing His life and grace to the human beings who are responsible for the unholiness of unholy places, and so helping Him to restore all places as signs of His presence. And we can also reassure them, whenever the need presents itself, that in deepest truth, unless by unrepented serious sin they have cut themselves off from God's presence, wherever they go they will find, ultimately, "only God and nothing strange."

Study Questions

1. What is the Christian attitude toward nature?

2. List the ways in which children can be aided in acquiring an understanding of nature.

3. How can children be led to appreciate that the parish church is a place of special reverence?

4. In what ways can we give a religious meaning to our own home?

5. What standard should children use in judging the homes of other people?

Discussion Questions

1. List examples of how the Church uses some places or some aspect of nature as a symbol for religious truth. (Consult the litanies and Scripture; for example, the Blessed Virgin as "Ark of the Covenant.")

2. Discuss the importance of religious places in our lives. Do we have the same concern for learning about the sacred places in our area (such as the Cathedral church and religious institutions in our dioceses) as we have for places of civic interest? Would it be possible to arrange pilgrimages to various religious places in the area?

3. A conscientious Christian housewife said: "One of the things that bothers me is that now with several children I can't keep the house as tidy as I would like to have it." Discuss this problem and try to set a standard to guide a Christian mother in her housekeeping: can there be too much "order"? too little order?

4. Discuss ways of building an appreciation for Rome and the various European countries through which we have received our Christian culture.

5. Discuss the places in the community where "God is positively excluded." Do teenagers have difficulty in recognizing the places where God is excluded and the places that are occasions of sin? What kind of program can be suggested which would encourage teenage recreation at places and in ways consistent with Christian culture?

Continue:
The Christian Pattern
Our Neighbors
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Things
Places
Work
Training for Life's Work and Play
Vocations
Redeeming the Times
Sex Education
Attaining Our Ideals

 

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