If you have read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, you will remember Eustace Clarence Scrubb, the ill-tempered cousin of the four children of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, who makes his first appearance in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He was the one who deserved the name his parents had given him. C.S. Lewis uses him as an example of how children turn out if their parents do not use discipline and essentially spoil their child.
Yet, Eustace takes a turn for the best when he is accidentally transformed into a dragon on an island in Narnia. Before he can become human again he learns the lesson that it is better to be a giving, thankful, loving person than a self-absorbed, whiney, unkind person. He learns from the example of his shipmates, especially his cousin Lucy, and from trying it out himself. We meet him again in the book The Silver Chair where his classmates are annoyed that he does not join in their bullying antics — antics that the school downright promotes.
Lewis makes it clear in the book that the school children’s vicious behavior is the result of no one taking the trouble to form them in good behavior.
“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2223)
With the closing of in-person schools due to the coronavirus outbreak, families with children enrolled in traditional schools have suddenly found themselves responsible for the daily schooling of their children. Several of my friends in this situation have reached out to me with questions about how I run my homeschooling day. It is difficult when what we have discerned as the right thing for our family is turned upside down and we are faced with challenges we never planned on facing.
So, for parents who feel like they are drowning in distance learning home school style, I want to offer some help. You can do this!
Just think of Ma (Caroline) Ingalls in her isolated homes in the territories of Minnesota and Dakota over long, long winters helping her children learn while running her whole household without electricity or indoor plumbing. You can do this!
We have two November birthdays in our house, plus Thanksgiving, which this year we are traveling for (hopefully, ahead of the forecasted blizzard for Tuesday night). Advent will be upon us by the time we get home!
Our family always reads from the Bible about the story of salvation history during Advent and puts an ornament for each reading on our Jesse Tree. And we love to light the candles on our Advent wreath. My goal for Advent is to enter in the busy season prayerfully and cheerfully. So, for myself I always pray with the Blessed is She Advent devotional.
I would like to invite you to join me this year in praying with the Blessed is She Advent+Christmas devotional. It goes through the story of the family of Christ, from Genesis to Jesus’ birth, to the birth of the Church. Each of us on the Blessed is She team wrote a reflection sharing our story and inviting you to enter into Advent and Christmas with your story, of your family, of your life as a daughter of God. You’ll find my story on Day 7 of Advent!! Today (Monday, Nov. 25) is the last day to order to get it before Advent starts! But since it goes through Christmastide, don’t worry if you order it a few days late!
All parents have the primary responsibility to educate their children. This is a duty that parents cannot in good conscience shirk off or place on others. They are obliged to find a good school for their children or educate them at home. For Catholics the duty of education especially includes teaching their children the precepts of the Catholic faith and showing them how to live as faithful Christians. But religious education from a textbook, as it has been traditionally done, has a danger of becoming either completely shallow and soppy, or at the other extreme of becoming entirely cerebral. A true religious education is that of the whole person — the heart, mind, soul, strength, and even the body — but primarily the heart.
Yet, how does one go about educating their children in the faith?
The easy answer is to send them to a Catholic school where they will have religion or catechism class, sign them up for CCD if they go to a non-Catholic school, or teach them their catechism at home from a curriculum. These days there are a wide variety of books for educating our children in faith.
Still, studies show that young Catholics are leaving the Church as teenagers. A diocese I worked for had a problem of families coming to Mass only on the Sundays when their religious education program required it for their children to receive the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. And the one hour per week that catechists spent with the children was spent reading a religious text that neither delved into actually explaining the faith nor taught them how to talk to God in prayer. Everything was superficial. My husband, who teaches philosophy at a university in the Catholic tradition, has had students who were raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, but who never learned that one could use reason to come to the knowledge of God’s existence. Sadly, this poor state of catechesis is one that the Church has been striving to remedy for decades.
As a parent who is raising children in the Catholic faith and as one raised in a family where all four children are devout, practicing Catholics as adults, I hold that learning one’s catechism from a book or going through an unsystematic, light religious textbook is not enough. My experience in home schooling shows me that children need more.
There has been a lot of discussion in the online world of “Catholic Twitter,” podcasts, and in the blogosphere about men and women — their complementarity, whether or not they are equal, and how they are different. Podcaster Timothy Gordon stated on The Matt Fradd Show that the Church has taught against married women working, and he said that the New Testament and natural law point to the idea that “men and women are utterly unequal,” though equal in dignity. He did not, however, go on to explain how they are “utterly unequal,” except to state that men are “bigger, stronger” and have a “different forebrain.” He holds that natural law proves, and Christian tradition supports, that a husband is the boss of his wife. Yet, the only argument he gave for this is that in all of human history this has been the case, and only since the feminist movements has the trend of men having authority over women and of men being seen as higher than women been questioned.
The problem with these statements about the inequality of men and women is that they overlook that, since they are human beings, members of the same species, men and women have all of the same powers. Thus, one cannot say that they are “utterly unequal.”
Women and men are first of all rational animals, human beings, made in the image of God. All humans have an intellectual power to reason, learn, understand and know God. Both men and women have wills where they can freely choose good or evil. They have passions and appetites that influence these choices and must be ruled over by reason. These abilities to do things are called their powers. Men and women have the power to love God, love others, see, speak, eat, walk, have conversations, make plans, teach others, use and create tools, and so many other things. They are the same in all of these things.
As I have shown in Part I, as human beings created with reason and seeking to live in accord with natural law, married couples will find virtue ethics very helpful in embracing the twofold ends of marriage: union and procreation.
Before we get into the details, we need to remember that each virtue looks different in each human being, and thus each couple has different serious reasons in considering having more children. St. Francis of Assisi lived heroic virtue in a much different way than St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Therefore, something that makes it difficult for one couple to feel ready to actively seek the conception of another child or even to just not avoid conception may not be an obstacle for another couple. We are called to individual holiness, and the way this is lived out is based on who we are. But even so, it is worthwhile to examine how couples might apply each of the cardinal and theological virtues to their acceptance of children.
When Pope Paul VI emphasized in Humanae Vitae the need for prudence — both when actively accepting another child and when determining that it is not the right time for another — he gave some basic categories to evaluate: physical, economic, psychological and social conditions.
When Pope Paul VI wrote the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae in which he stated that artificial contraception violated natural law, he explained that couples who have “serious” and “well-grounded reasons” to avoid the conception of a new human life could morally limit the marital act the infertile times of the wife’s natural cycles (HV §16).
As an engaged college student and in my early married life I encountered many debates over what constituted a “serious reason.” Some would argue that unless a family is living with a dirt floor and no food, there is never a moral reason to avoid the conception of a child. Others argued that one should not chart the woman’s cycle at all, that true openness to life and respect for natural law is when couples engage in the marital act whenever they feel a desire to express marital love and have babies as they come. Both of these ways seem less than human. The first fails to take into account that children require much more from parents than food and shelter. The second fails to acknowledge the reason God gave us over our natural impulses and that to be fully human we must use prudence to choose the best act in every circumstance.
When thinking about what we are called to be as reasoning human persons, it seems that the best approach to discerning when to be open to or limit having another child is through using virtue ethics. Every marital act is a human act, one that a couple should enter into guided by reason, choosing to make a gift of self to the other, and with full knowledge and openness to the natural end of a new human life. This means couples should be guided by prudence and love whenever they choose to enter into the marital act. Understanding virtue and seeking to exercise it can be crucial to a couple’s decision to enter into this act. It is more in accord with natural law and our human nature to use prudence both when determining when to have children and when to avoid conception then to not reason about it at all.
First, I will sum up the views of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori from the previous essay, though I recommend to get the full picture to head over and read it. When considering whether an act is moral one must evaluate the act itself, the circumstances in which it is performed, and the person’s intention in performing the act. Dressing to fit with one’s state in life, the activity one is participating in, the fashions of one’s society, and with a pure intention are all essential aspects of being modest. Simplicity and cleanliness in dress are also important parts of virtuous dress since they are part of humility, temperance and respect for others.
I ended my essay explaining that our society’s fashions made certain forms of dress morally acceptable, which have not always been understood to be so. Modest dress changes according to fashion. For example, St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote about a particular fashion of his time where women “uncovered their breasts.” Since it was an already established fashion, he said that if a woman dressed that way without any impure intention, without forming lust within herself or intending to lead others to lust after her, then it was morally permissible. He also explained that while it was permissible for her to dress revealingly with pure intentions, the person who invented the trend of uncovering breasts was culpable for instituting a fashion that could lead people into sin—though this too changes with the creators intentions.
Similarly, in our society, there are many fashions that might be more revealing than what was once considered morally acceptable. For example, because it has become normative, one cannot look at a woman in a bikini and presume that she is acting immodestly. She may have no lustful intentions whatsoever. She is simply going for a swim or working on her tan wearing what is fashionable.
That being said, there is a difference between what is permissible, and therefore not sinful, and what is best for a person truly desiring to grow in virtue. Dietrich von Hildebrand, a 20th-century Catholic philosopher, talks about the morally conscious person in his essay “Responsibility” in the book The Art of Living. The morally conscious person is aware of his or her responsibility to the world around him or her. This person sees the beauty and value of those he or she encounters and of all of creation. When a person is awakened to this responsibility of responding to all with seriousness and gravity, not in a scrupulous manner, but in confidence certain of one’s call, while always recognizing that there is a higher being.
Summer is here with its longer, hotter days, and right on cue is the annual discussion of modest dress. In Mass or at the pool, we are all called to dress modestly, in a way appropriate to the circumstances and our state in life.
I have heard about modesty from the time I was able to dress myself. I heard many “chastity” talks throughout my teenage years which emphasized covering my body for the sake of protecting myself and young men who would see me, which always left me feeling alarmed and put out by my unintentional, lust-inducing abilities. Only when I learned about modesty as a virtue did I find a reasonable, satisfactory answer as to what it really means to dress modestly.
To understand modesty in dress as a virtue, as opposed to other forms of modesty, I turned to three Doctors of the Church — St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori. They helped me see that the moral act of dressing oneself should not be guided by fear of being objectified but by well-formed reason. The way to evaluate the moral act of dressing oneself, as in all moral theology, is to look at the act itself, the person’s intention and the circumstances surrounding the act.
Today we slept in—the kids slept until past 8AM and the professor and I read and journaled in the tent so as to not wake the children. We had a leisurely morning at the campsite. The kids climbed up the hill behind the campsite and played on a huge rock. Once again nature was a superior playground! I followed them up the hill to see what I could see and I saw a lovely view of Long’s Peak.
We then set out to find a place to hike—but as Rocky Mountain National Park is a very crowded park it took a while to find a place to hike. First, we tried the Beaver Meadow for about half an hour and then drove up to the Lawn Lake Flood waterfall. It was a short but steep, rocky trail, but the waterfall was lovely. The girls and I put our feet in the water which was quite cold. T found it to be too cold.
I especially liked the aspens quaking beside the stream with their airy cages. We then drove around a bit to find other places to hike but parking was all full. Afterwards we went back to the campsite and had tuna and apples for lunch. The professor took the kids to Fern Meadow where they played in the stream for a while and then looked at a herd of elk including a mother elk and her fawn.
I stayed at the campsite to catch up on my journal and have some quiet alone time. It was quite refreshing. When they returned, we dressed and went to Mass at Our Lady of the Mountains for the anticipatory Mass where we sang all of the classic songs I sang as a child when my father was the music director. For supper I made “pizzadillas” in a frying pan (tortillas sandwiching pizza sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni) and we had ice cream for dessert. Then we had the last campfire of the trip.
Day 22—Sunday, June 10, 2018
We woke early to break camp making it out in less than two hours from wake up to departure, which was a record for us. The tourist town of Estes Park was traffic-free for once as we made our way over US-36 and followed the North St. Vrain Creek through a mountain canyon. We came out quite suddenly onto the endless flat plains of Eastern Colorado. They went on the rest of the day.
The land got greener and greener as we went further east approaching the lush Mid-West spring. All was flat and all was green.
We listened to Return of the King as we went along and made lunch at a rest stop. About 6PM we arrived at our Omaha Embassy Suites where we checked in, hauled out things upstairs, and then went down for cocktails and appetizers. Still hungry, we ordered Dominos Pizza and ate it while taking turns showering off the last dirt of our trip. We went to bed tired but clean.
Day 23—Monday, June 11, 2018
The Embassy Suites has by far the best hotel breakfast a person could ask for. The kids ate from the hot breakfast buffet but the professor and I both had omelets made to order. They were delicious and filling. We then headed back out for one last day on the road. The plains gave way to the soft, rolling cornfields of Iowa, which we asked whether they were Heaven. They were just Iowa.
We came after a couple of hours to Des Moines where we picked up lunch from a deli and brought it to my sister and her new baby. He was a sweet newborn with red hair whom the professor put right to sleep. We had a nice visit and then got back in the car for our last leg of the trip. The fields of Minnesota had rows of little green plants where they had only plowed rows of dirt three weeks before. The warm, green summer had fully arrived while we were away and we were happy to be back home.
Ending odometer: 175453 Total Trip Mileage: 6258.1