Creating a Catholic Culture in the Home
Feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

At only 12 years of age, the teachers of the Law were astounded at Jesus’ understanding and his wisdom. Where did Jesus get his understanding? The answer is that he got it from his foster father, St. Joseph. The primary duty of the father of a Jewish household was to pass down the teachings of the Torah to his children (Cf. Ex 12, 26-27; Dt 6, 7). He also got his learning from his mother, because the mother of a Jewish household has a significant role as teacher (Cf. Prv 1, 8; 6, 20).

And what were they doing in Jerusalem? Like a faithful Jewish family, they were there for the feast of Passover, and the gospel tells us that they would go every year.

The important point to remember here is that Judaism is not simply one religion alongside others. If you’ve ever studied the religions of the world, you know that there is something radically different about Judaism. It is not a human philosophy about how to escape the cycles of reincarnation or a philosophy about how to escape from suffering. Rather, Judaism is a revealed religion in which God has taken the initiative, not man. God revealed Himself to Abraham, promised to make him the father of a great nation if he would obey and do what God commanded. And to prove that He was serious about this promise, He made a covenant with Abraham and sealed it in the blood of an animal sacrifice. Abraham’s wife eventually conceived a son, Isaac, who fathered Jacob, who had 12 sons, and Israel eventually became a nation of twelve tribes. God remembered his covenant when His people were slaves in a foreign land, and He called Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery.

Pharaoh’s heart was stubborn, and it was only after the last plague, the death of the first born, that he finally let Israel go. Israel spent 40 years in the desert, and it was through Moses that Israel received the Law.

Judaism is about a history. It is not a philosophy. It is about a people that God chose to be his own, a firstborn son, thus an older sibling to the nations. The content of that religion is God’s fidelity, in history, to His promises.

But history exists in the memories of people, and memories fade, unless we work to keep them alive. That is why the Lord commanded Israel to celebrate feasts throughout the year, feasts that commemorate God’s action in history. If they remember God’s action in history, they will remain grateful. If they forget, they will lose gratitude and become an irreligious people. All the requirements of the law, the rituals in all their detail, exist for the sake of reminding, that is, keeping history alive in the memories of the Jews.

The parents’ primary duty was to pass down the teachings of the Torah to their children. All else was secondary. God was first, everything else second. We see this in the ten commandments; the first three have to do with God, the rest have to do with our neighbor. First things first. Clearly, Mary and Joseph fulfilled what was their primary duty, and the reaction of the teachers of the law clearly shows this.

Now, let’s talk about today’s world. Something is happening now that is particularly disturbing. More than ever we seem to be hearing of young married couples with children breaking up after only a few years, not for serious reasons, but for reasons that reveal an alarming degree of immaturity. The reasons that are increasingly given for leaving have to do with “not feeling fulfilled”, “falling out of love”, “loss of excitement”, etc. These young people seem to think that they have a right to feel fulfilled all the time, a right to a life of non-stop exhilaration. It is as if life and love have nothing to do with sacrifice.

Dr. Scott Peck wrote the best seller The Road Less Traveled, and in that book is one of the best chapters ever written on the nature of falling in love. The chapter is entitled The Illusion of Romantic Love. He says that every couple is destined to fall out of love, and one of the worst mistakes a couple can make is to think that Romantic love, or “falling in love”, is true love. He says that it is only when couples fall out of love that the real work of sacrificial love can begin.

Of course, the great Doctors of the Church have known and taught this for centuries. Life is not about perpetual exhilaration, and love is not about feeling good. Life is about God, and love is about sacrifice. It is about loving the other not for what he or she does for me, but for the others’ own sake. Love involves an exit of self, a loss of self, a forgetting of self.

But all this has to be taught, and it has to be practiced so as to become a habit. It has to be taught in the family. It is not being taught on a cultural level.

One cannot love one’s neighbor (including one’s spouse) without first loving God above all things. The most important prayer in Israel was The Shema: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Dt 6, 4-5).

Clearly, we live in a very wounded culture, one that has lost a sense of history and a sense of God. It’s going to take years, decades, possibly centuries to heal such a culture, but the way to do it is through the family. This is what Israel has taught all other nations, like a firstborn son teaches his younger siblings. This gospel is an illustration of just what happens when a mother and a father fulfill what is their primary duty.

Christianity arose out of Judaism. Like Judaism, Christianity is a historical religion. It is about a covenant, a new covenant, sealed in Christ’s blood, and Christ commanded us to eat his body and drink his blood in remembrance of him. It is about a Person, a divine Person, who actually entered into history, to reveal the face of God the Father and to reconcile man to God by the shedding of his blood. He came to cancel the debt of sin and to rise from the dead so that we might have eternal life.

The cultural heritage of the Church is as rich as Jewish culture. We too have a liturgical year that is all about keeping memories alive, the memory of Christ’s birth, the Epiphany, his entry into Jerusalem, his passion, death, and resurrection, and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.

Our feast days that celebrate specific saints are about knowing them, remembering them, taking what they gave us and bringing it into our own household. And the primary duty of a father of a Catholic household is to pass down this rich Catholic heritage to his children. That comes before everything. And the primary duty of a Catholic mother is to teach her children the faith. But we cannot give what we do not have. And so, we have to come to know our faith, to know our heritage, in order to pass it on. If we don’t, our children are going to be molded by this irreligious culture that puts the worship of the self at the center, not the worship of God, which is why we see so many young men calling it quits, getting up and packing their bags, leaving their wives to take care of the children alone, because they don’t feel fulfilled or didn’t think that marriage was going to be so difficult and demanding.

We can do so much good for future generations if we begin now. Just as the Jews have visible and tangible signs, i.e., tefillin, pushke, siddur and machzor, prayer shawls, kosher dishes, kosher foods, a structured prayer life, so too do Catholics. Our roots are there, in Israel. We have sacraments and sacramentals, visible devotions, like the Rosary, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, both with a history behind them, other prayer chaplets, scapulars, holy medals of saints, traditional prayers, litanies, different spiritualities from saints of entirely different characters, the writings of the great saints, classic biographies of saints, etc.

The best thing we can do to heal this culture is to learn the Catholic faith, immerse ourselves into this cultural heritage, create an atmosphere in our home, a Catholic atmosphere. Make sure you have a crucifix in every room, a real crucifix with a corpus, have statues of saints in the home, your favorite saints, the ones you identify with. And of course we have to study the lives of the saints. Parents have to learn the teachings of the Church, especially in key areas such as the moral teachings of the Church, particularly in the area of marriage and sexuality, since that is virtually non-existent in this culture, which is why there is so much marriage break up. And they have to teach their children to sacrifice, teach them what love is and how to love, to think of the poor before themselves, teach them the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and the importance of keeping the 7 Precepts of the Church.

If we create a Catholic culture in the home for our children, we may not live to see the results, but the Lord will certainly make known to us the incalculable good that our parenting has done for civilization, and He will thank us for our service, and it will be an eternal thanks which all the saints will behold, because God is eternal and all will be revealed in heaven. Amen.