I too am very familiar with the “immanent frame” and only broke free by the grace of God. And yet, though i know it is only by the Holy Spirit that we experience conversion, what can we do practically to raise our children with this profound sense of God’s majesty and might in this post-modernist culture? I feel like I am treading water alone in choppy seas sometimes!
This lovely and honest comment was left on my post yesterday, so I thought I might take a moment to respond. I am no expert in child raising, but my wife and I have fought the same fight she speaks of and we have known countless families who have offered us a remarkable witness to how this might be done and done well.
Just a few thoughts. Hopefully some of them practical.
What can we do?
Though there are common characteristics that unite all great Christian families (e.g. rooted in family prayer) and universal principles that should illumine and govern every Christian family’s quest for holiness (e.g. mutual love and forgiveness), there is also a great diversity in how this might be done well. Truth may be one, but its epiphanies are many. What the Catechism says of Christian prayer I would affirm of Christian families:
To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all. #2672
Let me share two examples of such diversity, though there are countless others I could give.
I met a wildly Catholic “hipster” family years ago, while I was giving a parish mission, who demonstrated a sui generis ability to freely and fearlessly engage with various elements of American pop culture, but do so in such a refined and deft manner that not only did they not lose their souls through fatal compromises, but they found themselves very much drawn and sent out to bring their Catholic faith joyfully and straightaway into the midst of the public square of popular culture. They made the “Catholic difference” felt when I sat and talked with them one morning about their homespun passion for evangelizing the “nones,” those many in our culture who identify their religious affiliation as “none.” Their faith was natural, unaffected and essentially traditional. The dad sported a long pony tail, the mom had cornrows in her hair, and one of their 20-something daughters who joined us dazzled the eyes with her nose ring, pink hair, shaved sides of the head and scapular! She was a musician who dabbled in indy music styles and aspired to write lyrics that were not necessarily religious but were “transparently human” in the way God designed. They’re pro-life Democrats who pray the Rosary after watching American Idol.
Their vibe reminded me of Orthodox theologian Dumitru Stăniloae’s comment that believing in a God who became man for our salvation creates a path to salvation that requires us to first become fully human before we can become divine. For these people, the mysteries of faith were as tangible and real and gritty as the lattes and scones in front of us, while their ability to hold robust faith in tension with such culturally edgy visages gave me a holy, if dizzy, envy. I can only be culturally edgy in my imagination! When I left our coffee visit, I said to myself, “These folks have something remarkable to offer both Church and World which I could never bring. Thank God for them!” When I asked them what was the heartbeat of their family’s faith, the mom said, “John Paul II’s words, ‘Do not be afraid!'” They definitely exuded a fearless faith, brash and bold, grave, fun and mirthful all at once. Mark Judge’s article (here) on faith and pop culture would describe well their approach. I don’t meet too many Catholics like this, but that’s probably because I am as far from being a hipster as Pope Francis is from speaking fluent English, so I would not hang in their circles. In fact, whenever I try to assume any hipster characteristics (like lingo), my children come at me “as one man” (Acts 7:57) and put an abrupt end to it. Usually with the word “awkward” thrown in somewhere.
I have also met equally wildly Catholic families who keep a more radical distance from contemporary American culture and prefer to show their Catholic edge by sinking themselves into some or another Catholic sub-culture that remains at more or less of a distance from mainstream American life. But even these sub-styles of nurturing children in a world drenched in Catholic faith can vary immensely among themselves. Some are extreme (in a good sense, not extremist) in their lives of piety and devotion, others are extreme in their commitment to social activism, while others are just quiet, simple and humble in their desire to raise children exposed to a consistent Catholic worldview. Many send their children to Catholic schools, at great personal expense and sacrifice, in hopes that they will discover an integrated worldview that makes sense of everything from the vantage of a Catholic mind and heart. Others homeschool, also at great personal sacrifice, to ensure their children have both an excellent academic and character formation under their watch. Some of the best and brightest, most well integrated and wholesome young adults I have known have found their way through the homeschooling world. Rod Dreher’s article (here) would describe well this approach.
And then there’s the third option — a bit of both — what’s been called by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry the “Francis Option,” represented in this article.
E pluribus unum
The common threads that (in my limited perspective) seem to explain these families’ consistent success in raising children who grow up into Catholic “ceiling bashers” capable of transgressing and transforming the confines of the “immanent frame” are (1) the resolve of one or both of the parents to make that breakthrough and integration first of all in themselves (nemo dat quod non habet, “you can’t give what you don’t have”); (2) the unrelenting commitment by the parent(s) to create for their children a domestic environment that mirrors the integration of faith and life they hope their children will one day build once they leave the home and go out into the secular world; and (3) the daily practice of prayer that invites Christ and His saints to inhabit these children’s worlds from the time of their conception in saecula saeculorum, “forever and ever.” In sum, these parents got it, they show it and they pray for it.
There are more threads, but those are the three stand out at the moment.
Here are a few other final and random thoughts, as I am running out of time and have, it seems, gotten a bit too big here for a bite-sized blog.
* The immanent frame is ubiquitous in the West and all of us, unless we withdraw from society like the Amish, will find ourselves hemmed in by its limits. Whereas early Christians found themselves rejected or excluded from public life by the claims of rival gods, post-modern Christians find themselves rejected and excluded by the claims that no god has any place inside the frame. The constriction of the frame consists of deep seated cultural attitudes like a skepticism that makes all truths relative, a materialism that strips spirit of existence, a narcissism that rages against moral limits on freedom, and a boredom that doesn’t bother to wage war against transcendent divinity as much as declare It to be irrelevant. Frequently, among the faithful, this at-times asphyxiating pressure appears under the form of persistent doubts in regard to this or that aspect of the faith, doubts that incessantly gnaw at the mind and heart. Because of this, learning how to struggle in faith with doubt in a flattened and framed world is staple food for the secular saints of post-modernity. Parents must come to terms with their own struggles in faith, face them with the wisdom of the spiritually mature, and pass on their wisdom to their children to steel them for the struggles they will inevitably face. Do it constructively, respectfully, engagingly and joyfully and not cynically, angrily, fearfully and arrogantly. I think here also of Edward Oakes’ article on Mother Teresa, patron saint of modernity’s doubting pilgrims.
* Sacramentalize your home and kindle your children’s imaginations! Fill your home with the matter of sanctity that can penetrate your children’s five senses with faith. Consider things like a crucifix to reveal the posture of love; holy water to sprinkle; blessed salt to taste; blessed medals or scapulars to wear; blessed candles to light the darkness; a little incense now and again to sweeten the air; blessed holy cards to pray with and trade; holy images and statues tastefully displayed; a well-used Bible reverently enthroned; Rosary beads to thumb; great stories of saints read aloud; baptismal days, patron feast days, solemnities celebrated with savory festivity; fasts celebrated with tummy-growling austerity; sacred music sung and played; and on ad infinitum. Paint their imaginations really well with great stories from great books — above all Sacred Scripture (given in age-palpable forms). See Vigen Guroian’s great article with a persuasive argument for a method of intentional storytelling that (re)shapes your child’s inner universe aright.
* Faith as normal talk. Faith language should be a normal part of your daily home vocabulary, grammar, syntax like football, studying for an exam or asking “what’s for dinner?” Weave doctrines into daily events or world crises, talk liturgical seasons in the midst of baseball season, turn off the car radio and pray a Hail Mary when you hear ambulances whiz by. Share your child’s puzzlement when they ask why none of the cartoon characters on TV pray before they eat. Venture an answer to your child’s incessant questions about why God made the dinosaurs (after you read Chris Baglow’s book!). Allow the kids to hear a language faith-life integration at home even as you help teach them how to engage the religion-free zones that dominate so much of public life. Let prayer sprinkle the day as you deem appropriate along with the fixed patterns and rhythms that write prayer into their sense of time.
* As the Russians would often tell me when I would attend my Dad’s Orthodox parish, “Always welcome strangers as Christ.” Creating a home where generosity to the needy is evident, where those who suffer and are vulnerable are treated, spoken of, prayed for as Christ-among-us opens for children the ceiling of the world to a God who judges all of history according to its role in the fate of these “least” of His.
* Make the pilgrimage between domestic church and parish church a wonderful, regular, joyful, natural, spontaneous, challenging tradition that wears deep neural paths in your child’s brain. Make sure they know there is a communion of saints in heaven and on earth that’s there to help cheer them on all the way to eternity. And make the Eucharist the axis of their universe in whatever ways you can.
* Love your spouse like an e5 mystic (Ephesians 5:21-33), rendering the whole faith plausible to a child by revealing the Fire within your love. And then in turn love your children with a resounding echo of that spousal love, even down into your child’s hells if that’s what Heaven requires. Caritas numquam excidit, “Love never fails.” But if that’s missing, the rest is empty, flat and stale.
* You do what you can do, accept what you wish you could do but can’t do, repent for what you didn’t do but should’ve done and then leave the rest to God’s infinite mercy when you wake up at 3 a.m. worrying about it all.
Okay, I am out of time! Too much to say, and so much editing needed to say this better. But alas! there it stands. More like a sneeze than a cathedral of ideas. There’s tons out there written on how to raise faith filled children. Some of it good. Popular ones in the U.S. might include the likes of Dr. Ray Guarendi, Greg and Lisa Popcak or Patti Armstrong.
Thanks for asking, Reader! May God lead all of us parents along the way to give our children all they need to render the frame translucent.