Name your family
We have identified three types of family: the atomistic (the weakest), the trustee (the strongest), and the domestic (a cross between the two). Each can be found in most any culture/society at most any time. But, generally speaking, one is dominant. The interesting, and frightening, thing is that the atomistic family type—the small weak family that goes hand in hand with big strong government (sound familiar?)— is dominant just before the collapse of a society. This was the case in ancient Rome and Greece. And… this is the frightening part…it seems to be the case now in the West. Are we headed towards societal collapse? Is the breakdown of the family a sign that the barbarians are on their way through the gates of the city?
I would love to have words of comfort for us fraidycats such as— “modern families are different” OR “American society will never endure what Rome did because we are smarter”. However, though I seldom fall for “end of the world as we know it” theories, I think we might be approaching the end of the world as we know it. It seems that the weak families that predominate in the U.S. and other western countries will not stand up to a strong, increasingly intrusive central government.
But, that is not to say that there isn’t much hope, especially for Christian families. After all, look at what was left standing when Rome fell---THE CHURCH! The Church doesn’t collapse, even when the individual families within her weaken. This is because the Church is a family, the only true “Trustee” family. We hold in trust our faith---The Faith articulated in the Creed and passed on from the beginning—when The Father sent His Son--- until now. This Creed is guarded and interpreted by the ultimate family council, the Magisterium guided by the ultimate patriarch: God the Father, in the Son and through the Holy Spirit.
Parish the Thought
Now, you might expect me to say; “Get Thee to Thy parish and make it Thy Family”. But, though I will always support people going to and getting involved in their parish, this isn’t really the answer to the problem of weak families. Yes, the Church is our Supernatural Family. Yes, we are all united as brothers and sisters by our baptism. However, when we arrive at our local parish, we still find weakened families, battered by the onslaught of a culture antithetical to that which we all hold in trust, our Faith.
After all, most parishes suffer from the same problems as the rest of society. Parishes are places where individuals and small family units have come together away from their, sometimes hostile, extended families, away from the outside culture. Simply jumping into that pool will not get us to strong families.
We must look at our natural family as it exists today, whether we are an example of the atomistic, the domestic, or the trustee family. We must ask ourselves “How can we strengthen the Kennedy (mine, not the one in the Compound) family so that the coming generations of Kennedy’s find themselves in a strong trustee-type family?”
First of all, I don't think we can stop at patching together a trustee family from our existing grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. This is a worthy endeavor, though for many people a difficult, if not impossible one. Even if we have, or can heal, that extended family, it isn't enough.
The Family Trust
We must discover what is needed for our own family unit to become the trustee family of tomorrow. As I said above, the key to a trustee family is the “trust”, something of value passed on from generation to generation for which all family members are responsible. For Christian families this is The One, True Faith, as it is articulated by the Catholic Church. We should be able to say that what we want most from life is for our children, and our children’s children, and our children’s children’s children to inherit heaven.
A big difference between the trustee type of family and the domestic type (which looks primarily to the immediate generation, and leaves the future to them) is that the trustees intend for the Trust to be handed on for many generations, really, until the end of time. And the children of the trustees must be prepared to have the same goals.
What then must we do? Well, I cannot pretend to have the whole answer to that question. I can only share what I have gathered from observation, study, and discussion with others. It is really quite logical. If we want to build a strong family for the future, and we want our descendents to inherit heaven, then we must put the Family Trust at the center of family life. Every individual must see the importance of the Trust, and be willing to sacrifice for it, to guard it, to pass it on. Every activity, of the family or any individual, must serve the Trust and never be in contradiction to it.
So, practically this means our primary endeavor as a family must be to know and understand the Faith so that we can live it out better and better each day. Parents must seek holiness through a deeper relationship with Christ for themselves. Children must do the same, with the help of their parents.
The importance of the guarding and handing on the Trust also requires the bond between family members to be strong. This will require a commitment to family togetherness. Lets throw out the “quality over quantity” fallacy, and realize that family bonding requires at least quantity time. So, family meals are crucial. Meals should point us to the heavenly banquet in the sense that there is some sense of ritual and formality about them. Things like setting the table, having certain spots for family members, always room for guests, keeping conversation uplifting, will all help mark mealtime. Also, we will want to tap into the liturgical year so we can feast and fast with the rest of the worldwide Catholic family.
Hospitality is also a lost Christian virtue that can strengthen the family and widen the tent pegs, so to speak. Here is where the liturgical year comes in handy. We can invite other families to join us in a feast day celebration such as a favorite saint’s day, or an Epiphany party, or a Seder meal in Lent, or even a New Church Year’s Eve party the night before the first Sunday of Advent. We should make sure that we include people with whom we may not have a lot in common. This is the mark of true hospitality.
Mission Statement from Heaven
Finally, a family to have a mission statement can be very helpful. We are all called to assent to, guard, and pass on the same One True Faith. And so, every mission statement would include a commitment to the Catholic Church and her teachings. However, the way we live out this commitment can be very different. Some families are called to pro-life work. Some families, especially large ones, are called to be physical signs of God’s generosity. Some families may have a special call to help the poor, or the elderly. Some families may be called to open their doors to foster children, or adoption.
Whatever the call, every Catholic family should have an idea of what God has called them to. A mission statement is a good way of articulating the. It can be used to help parents and children discern, together, what activities fit with the family’s goals. For instance, a family with many children may have to limit outside activities since it isn’t practical to cart ten children to ten different activities every weekday. Another family may choose to put some pressure on local businesses to avoid supporting the abortion industry, and this may mean extra sacrifices.
Upon writing this essay, the Kennedy’s (that’s us, not the ones in The Compound) have yet to clearly formulate their mission statement. However, perhaps by the time you have read this last paragraph, it will be posted on my website. And maybe, if we all work at making our families stronger, when the Barbarians storm the gates of the city, and the weak are swept away in the tide, those still standing will be the Trustee’s of the Catholic Faith. Lets work hard for the sake of our children’s, children’s, children’s children!