On a recent Saturday morning, I explained the Ten Commandments to both of my First Communion classes. We talked about each of the commandments, how to keep them, and the ways we break them, giving examples from the children’s daily lives. As usual, it was a challenge to explain the sixth and ninth commandments so that the children would understand and their parents not be scandalized. I explained that on their wedding day, married couples make a promise before God to love each other. Once they are married they cannot have other boyfriends or girlfriends or other people’s spouses.
I encouraged the children to ask questions, give their opinion, and think about what we learned in class. They had a number of comments about the sixth and ninth commandments and most of them went like this:
“Well, if you don’t want to be married to your husband any more, you can just divorce him.”
“You can get a divorce and he can get a divorce and then you can get married so it won’t be a sin.”
“It’s easy! Just get a divorce!”
Their comments shocked me. Seven-year-old children shouldn’t consider divorce an easy solution. They shouldn’t think that marriage can be easily thrown away when it no longer suits the couple.
I don’t know how many of the children have divorced family members, but I do know that all of them are exposed to modern media. If you watch the television shows that are aimed at young children, you’ll see that divorced and other non-traditional families are common. The biggest influence that undermines family life is the media. Marshall McLuhan observed that modern communication is “engaged in a Luciferian conspiracy against the truth.” Unless we move our families to a remote mountain top in an uncharted part of the world, we can’t escape the media’s negative influence. We have to vigilant about what we and our children are reading, watching, and posting.
I live in a house full of electronic devices and I know that being a parental media watchdog is challenging. Instructions to change the TV station, turn off the computer, or stop listening to certain songs and radio stations are sometimes greeted with sighs, protests, and dramatic eye rolls. Explanations of why the children need to be more discerning about what they listen to and watch are not always welcome.
But my family (and yours) is worth the struggle. The devil wants to destroy our families, rob our children of their innocence, and lure them away from the Faith. And he’s cunning enough to use the things that are most common in our lives, including the media.
Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ continues to be a prophetic voice for the preservation of the Catholic family. Among his volumes of important writing, he wrote extensively about the strengthening and survival of the Catholic family in a world that seeks to corrupt it. He explained that Christian marriage elevated by God to the Sacrament of Matrimony “is a lifetime covenant between husband and wife, to remain faithful to each other until death. It is also a lifetime promise, made to God under oath, to love another with selfless charity, enduring patience, and wholehearted generosity. Even more, it is a solemn vow to accept the children that God wants to send them and educate their children for eternal life in Heaven with God.”
To strengthen the family, Fr. Hardon implores us to make the Holy Eucharist “the mainstay of [our] Christian lives.” Frequent reception of the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, family life centred around Holy Mass, daily family prayer, loving communication, self-sacrifice, and sharing of our gifts are what families need to survive and flourish.
Catholic families need to be heroic—joyfully heroic. We need to stand up to secular culture and be a beacon of light that shines with God’s love and mercy. Since our children take their lead from us, their parents, we have to do more than say we’re Catholic or show up for one hour at Sunday Mass. Parents have to joyfully live the Faith. We need to cherish the Church, defend her, and enrich our minds and hearts with authentic, orthodox Catholic teachings. If we are living what we profess to believe and teaching our children to joyfully love God and His Church, they have a greater chance of rising above the media saturated culture.
Fr. Hardon further reflected on how to preserve the Catholic family:
“To preserve the Catholic family, those who profess to be Catholics must live selfless lives. Husbands and wives must exclude contraception from their marital relationship. They must see in every child that God wants to send them as a gift of His love. They must see themselves as preparing their children for the heaven where there will be no longer any marriage or giving in marriage. They must see their families as struggling in this valley of tears in order to be reunited, as families, in that celestial home for which families are brought into this world. They must live nothing less than martyrs’ lives in giving witness to their love for God. They not only accept the children He sends them, but they inspire these children with the meaning of true love, which is a life of self-sacrifice inspired by the God who became man to die on the cross out of love for us.”
Painting: Playing Children by Geza Peske. In the public domain.