By Jake Geis
“I would never bring kids into this world,” is a sentiment among some adults. It’s not hard to understand their apprehension. Violence, hedonism, gender confusion, economic uncertainty and other issues are at the fore of our 24/7 news cycle. And it’s apparent the family is in the crosshairs of all of these maladies.
Yet, if there’s one thing Satan is good at, it is convincing us we should run from the very thing we need. God created humanity to exist as a family, in families. Since we’re made in his image and likeness, which is that of the Father and the Son existing in familial love so unfathomable that it is the person of the Holy Spirit, founding Christian families is an antidote to society’s ails. As it says in paragraph 1603 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”
The foundation of society
The catechism’s assertion flies counter to modern Western culture’s obsession with individualism. Alec Weber, a father of three young children and parishioner at St. Mark’s in Lake Andes, looks back to the fundamental laws of nature for a counterpoint.
“The law of entropy tells us this world moves from order to disorder, unless something is actively keeping it from doing so,” he says. “This is a great metaphor for families and marriage. Marriages require continual inputs of grace through the cooperation of the spouses. Marriages make up families, families make up communities, communities comprise nations, and nations create societies. As marriages go, the family goes and so goes the culture.”
This understanding provides Alec and his wife, Sierra, with a perspective that sees the bigger picture of their efforts as parents. “The mission field should be in Africa, we tell ourselves, not right in front of us. Yet, the primary mission field in marriage is the sanctity of the marriage and family itself. For example, a child that sees love from his or her father will better see the love God the Father has for that child as well. Because love accomplishes great things, if the families in our diocese strive to seek out what God is calling for them, our diocese will flourish.”
Since the family has such a positive influence, it should come as no surprise that Satan despises it. Father Shane Stevens (pastor of Pastorate 9, which includes parishes in Dell Rapids, Colman, Flandreau and Huntimer) expounds upon the many factors that drive Satan’s loathing of our families.
“Lucifer could not accept that God would enter into the world in the flesh with a human family,” Father Stevens said. “Since angels do not take on flesh, Lucifer hated this.”
And that God works through human families to bring forth new life is a double whammy.
“Lucifer hates that God cooperates with humanity in new creation,” Father Stevens continued. “Satan cannot have his own children; he can only tempt and draw souls from God. Yet, when a man and a woman embrace each other in love and intimacy, God blesses them with new life. It’s through the embrace of love that new life comes into the world.”
We contribute to the disruption of our families
Unfortunately, due to our fallen nature, we often ignore our higher calling to love and instead succumb to selfish desires. These failings may seem small or inconsequential, but their cumulative effect brings the resentment and bitterness that plagues families, which in turn poisons our culture.
“The little daggers, such as responding in anger or passive-aggressively to a slight, are what Satan wants,” Alec said. “They pick away at everything that is good in your home. It’s these subtleties that destroy a marriage, and thereby a family.”
Briana Mueller, parishioner at Holy Spirit Parish in Mitchell and a young mother, sees these stumblings play out with both the husband and the wife.
“Passivity is currently pervasive among men,” Briana said. “If the husband does not initiate and lead his spouse and family, that filters down to the children. The ramifications of these sins of omission and this leadership void are chaos and a disorderly environment in the home.”
To her, women are equally culpable in family troubles, and this can be seen in the secular culture’s vision for women.
“We [women] are told to not be vulnerable and trusting, because you’ll get hurt,” she said. “Instead, grasp and initiate to prevent further wounds. Eve initiated and grasped in the garden in response to Adam’s passivity. Our image of a woman should be Our Lady, open and completely receptive. But the woman must feel safe under her husband’s leadership to be open and receptive. We must understand our role as man and woman before we can come together as husband and wife.”
The secular culture’s promotion of male passivity and rebuke of any feminine vulnerability clouds the meaning of the marital embrace. In Briana’s role as a FertilityCare practitioner, she finds it apparent that most couples have no understanding of what the marital act is. She describes it as a renewal of your wedding vows.
“On your wedding day, you vow to love one another freely, totally, fruitfully, faithfully,” Briana said. “Then on your wedding night, you profess those vows with your body, consummating your marriage, telling each other, ‘I give you my whole self, totally freely, fruitfully and faithfully.’”
The usage of contraception impedes these vows. “In using contraception, the marital act is no longer a total or fruitful act,” Briana contends. “It withholds an integral part of the marital embrace. It becomes a lie. We are now speaking one thing in our wedding vows and another with our bodies.
“Many of those who accept contraception condemn the concept that gender is malleable, and rightly so. Yet Pope Paul VI would instruct us that this is an outgrowth of tampering with the natural order of the marital act,” she continued. “As Catholic author and speaker Mary Lenaburg said, ‘When you kick God out of the bedroom, there is someone there waiting to take his place.’ That someone is Satan, and it’s obvious he is using our affinity for contraception to destroy our families.”
Building up families in holiness
Between the “little daggers” spouses use to slice one another and refusing to fully partake in the marital embrace, the family undergoes significant harm. But with God, there is nothing that cannot be mended, though it will require sacrifice on our part to cooperate with his plan.
For Briana and her husband, Derek, that cooperation starts with preparing their children for a life of faith through Baptism.
“There has been a movement for a while to ‘dedicate’ children and let them choose Baptism later in life,” Briana said. “Jesus says, ‘… no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit’ (Jn 3:5). Without Baptism, we are leaving our children without the life of Christ dwelling within them. Without this participation in the divine life, our children are left unprotected from the one who steals, kills and destroys.”
Education in the faith then builds upon Baptism. For Briana, a primary focus is on teaching the children to pray.
“When I teach our children how to pray, I don’t simply teach them the words to common prayers,” she said. “I mean teach them to recognize the Holy Spirit that dwells within them and how to respond. What has God given me and how do I respond?”
While challenging for those with small children, this includes teaching them the value of silence. “We must teach our children how to sit in silence and listen for the whisper of God’s voice,” Briana said. “Practically, this might look like sitting in a prayerful space in your home, lighting a candle, leading your family in the sign of the cross and starting with, ‘Speak Lord, I’m listening.’”
With a home life filled with family and personal prayer, children begin to understand the higher level of worship that happens in Mass and before the Blessed Sacrament.
“Take your family to Mass, take them to adoration, stop by the church while running errands to greet Jesus in the tabernacle, teach them how to seek Jesus,” Briana insists. “If we can teach our children to know the voice of God, the voice of the evil one will be easily detected.”
For parents with young children, the notion of little ones engrossed with the Eucharist may not be their experience in Mass. Rather, it may feel more akin to wrestling with a few rabid weasels. Father Stevens exhorts couples to take heart—their efforts with little kids at Mass are making a difference.
“Bringing little children to church is never easy,” he admits. “But hang in there—you’re winning the battle by just showing up. It’s okay if you need to take the kids out of church because they are hungry, need a diaper change, etc. But make sure you bring them back into Mass, so they learn to appreciate the Mass.”
Catholic education adds to parental faith
As a pastor with experience at multiple Catholic schools, Father Stevens has seen how parents’ faith is the most instrumental factor in the children embracing their own faith.
“The Catholic school can be a great gift, but whenever you’re dealing with humanity, it can be a great disappointment as well,” he said. “When we think about what happened when Jesus came, he calls the Twelve Apostles by name and forms them himself. When he’s on the cross, almost all of them have left him. Our Lord knew that calling, forming and sending is hard work, and it’s not magic. It’s intentional.”
Being intentional requires one of the hardest parts about parenthood—looking in the mirror to make an accurate assessment of yourself.
“Parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith,” Father Stevens continued. “You teach them to tie their shoes and brush their teeth. Why can’t you teach them about Jesus? Is it because you don’t know him yourself?”
It comes down to recognizing our priorities. Father Stevens points out that where we are on Sunday morning, Wednesday night and throughout the week shows our children who is our God.
“If the parents are simply sending children to Catholic school or CCD programs, but not living this in the home or participating in the Mass, then you are catechizing them to be away from the faith,” he said.
But the inverse is equally true. “If the mission of a Catholic school is that our Lord is our Savior, Our Lady is to be loved, and if the families that use the school are serious about having faith in the home as well, something special can happen. It brings forth wonderful fruit,” Father Stevens said.
On offense, not defense, against Satan
This means while we shouldn’t ignore factors like student/teacher ratios, educational rigor and extracurricular activities in our schools, these must be subjugated to the foremost goal of leading children to Christ. Alec says this principle extends to the home as well.
“If sanctity is the goal, we need to recognize that we never sacrifice a greater good for a lesser,” Alec said. “What will we allow into our home? For example, if we ruminate on the 24/7 news stream so we can be ‘informed,’ what’s the result? Despair, anger, etc. This harms both our family and our prayer life.”
Alec sees his role as a father as the gatekeeper between the world and his children. “The culture may say you’re sheltering your children too much, or something of that ilk. But consider this example. A reasonable parent does not allow a child to play on the interstate, and if we truly believe the soul is more valuable than the body, shouldn’t we maintain the same or greater level of protection? Are we aware of the media, especially social media, and where it is pointing our children and ourselves? If something isn’t leading us closer to truth, goodness and beauty, then by default it is leading us away from God.”
Alluding to himself as a gatekeeper for his family does not lead Alec to believe that Christians should feel they are just holding down a bar on the door to the outside.
“Remember St. Peter was told the gates of hell will not prevail against us,” Alec reminds us. “So we are called to attack Satan, not just play defense. And the way God chose to accomplish this when he entered the world is through a family. Therefore, imagine what a family on fire for Christ can do in this world!”
The ultimate weapon
The Christian family living in love is the ultimate weapon against the evil one. This family generates, multiplies and nurtures new life that insults and assaults Satan’s grip on this world. The light streaming forth from the heart of the Christian home squelches the darkness that sin has wrought upon the earth. So, take heart, young couples—bringing children into this world is your chance to be a part of something epic.