This address was delivered by His Excellency Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana in Kazakhstan, on 19 May 2017 at the fourth annual Rome Life Forum, which is organised by Voice of the Family.
The family has been created immediately by God, so the Magisterium of the Church teaches us (cf. Pius XI., Encyclical Divini illius magistri, 12). Pope Leo XIII says in his magisterial encyclical on marriage and family: “Marriage has God for its Author, and was from the very beginning a kind of foreshadowing of the Incarnation of His Son; and therefore there abides in it something holy and religious; not extraneous, but innate; not derived from men, but implanted by nature. Innocent III, therefore, and Honorius III, our predecessors, affirmed not falsely nor rashly that a sacrament of marriage existed ever amongst the faithful and unbelievers” (Concerning Innocent III, see Corpus juris canonici, cap. 8, De divort., ed. cit., Part 2, col. 723. Innocent III refers to 1 Cor. 7:13. Concerning Honorius III, see cap. ii, De transact., (op. cit., Part 2 col. 210).)” (Encyclical Arcanum Divinae, n. 19, 10 February 1880).
“The family therefore holds directly from the Creator the mission and hence the right to educate the offspring, a right inalienable because inseparably joined to the strict obligation, a right anterior to any right whatever of civil society and of the State, and therefore inviolable on the part of any power on earth” (Pius XI., Encyclical Divini illius magistri, 32). Parents are therefore under a grave obligation to see to the religious and moral education of their children (CIC 1917, can. 1113 and CIC 1983, can. 793).
Pope Leo XIII gave us a very concise explanation about the original and first duty of parents concerning the education of their children, and in the first place concerning the education in the Catholic faith. This duty has its foundation in the natural order of the Divine creation: “The common sense of mankind is in such complete accord, that they would be in open contradiction with it who dared maintain that the children belong to the State before they belong to the family, and that the State has an absolute right over their education. Untenable is the reason they adduce, namely that man is born a citizen and hence belongs primarily to the State, not bearing in mind that before being a citizen man must exist; and existence does not come from the State, but from the parents. The children are something of the father, and as it were an extension of the person of the father; and, to be perfectly accurate, they enter into and become part of civil society, not directly by themselves, but through the family in which they were born” (Encyclical Rerum novarum). “And therefore,” says the same Pope Leo XIII, “the father’s power is of such a nature that it cannot be destroyed or absorbed by the State; for it has the same origin as human life itself.” (ibid.). Pope Leo XIII declares in another memorable encyclical, where he thus sums up the rights and duties of parents: “By nature parents have a right to the education of their children, but with this added duty that the education and instruction of the child be in accord with the end for which by God’s blessing it was begotten. Therefore it is the duty of parents to make every effort to prevent any invasion of their rights in this matter, and to make absolutely sure that the education of their children remain under their own control in keeping with their Christian duty, and above all to refuse to send them to those schools in which there is danger of imbibing the deadly poison of impiety” (Encyclical Sapientiae christianae)” (Pius XI., Encyclical Divini illius magistri, 35).
Already more than seventy years ago Pope Pius XII made an appeal to the Christian families to be new crusaders in spreading and defending the true Catholic faith in midst of the general and heavy torpor into which the drugs of false ideas, widely diffused, have sunk the human family in the twentieth century. This diagnosis, which Pius XII made about the spiritual health of his time, is fully applicable to our times and it became even much worse. Pius XII said: “It is for the best and most distinguished members of the Christian family, filled with the enthusiasm of Crusaders, to unite in the spirit of truth, justice and love to the call; God wills it, ready to serve, to sacrifice themselves, like the Crusaders of old. If the issue was then the liberation of the land hallowed by the life of the Incarnate Word of God, the call today is, if We may so express Ourselves, to traverse the sea of errors of our day and to march on to free the holy land of the spirit, which is destined to sustain in its foundations the unchangeable norms and laws on which will rise a social construction of solid internal consistency.” (Christmas Message of 1942).
The first and most holy goal and end of matrimony and family consists in giving birth of new citizens of heaven. Pope Leo XIII said: “By the command of Christ, it not only looks to the propagation of the human race, but to the bringing forth of children for the Church, “fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God”;(Eph. 2:19) so that “a people might be born and brought up for the worship and religion of the true God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Catechismus Romanus, cap. 8)” (Encyclical Arcanum Divinae, 10). The family is therefore the first and original place, where the integrity and the beauty of the Catholic faith should be taught to the children, and by this way handed over to the future generations. Indeed from this transmission of the faith depends the spiritual healthy of a nation as taught by Pope Pius XII: “The family is holy. It is the cradle not only for the children, but the entire nations. Man and woman should pass on the torch of the physical and also spiritual, of the moral and of the Christian life to the future generations” (Radio message on 13 May 1942).
From the early centuries of Christianity the family was seen as the Church “in miniature,” and the Church itself was called the “family of God”, especially the Christian community gathered for the celebration of the sacred liturgy was called the “family of God”, as we can often read in the liturgical texts, so for example in the Canon of the Mass. It was especially the Second Vatican Council, which reminded us this ancient truth. In the Dogmatic Constitution “Lumen gentium” the Council teaches: “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care a vocation to a sacred state.” (Lumen gentium, 11). Pope John Paul II, the Pope of the family, made this famous affirmation: “In the future, evangelization will depend largely on the domestic church.” (Address to the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, January 28, 1979). The same Pope said: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family (Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, 86).
So great and splendid is the educational ministry of Christian parents that Saint Thomas has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of priests: “Some only propagate and guard spiritual life by a spiritual ministry: this is the role of the sacrament of Orders; others do this for both corporal and spiritual life, and this is brought about by the sacrament of marriage, by which a man and a woman join in order to beget offspring and bring them up to worship God.” (Summa contra Gentiles, IV, 58).
Pope John Paul II gives to the catechesis in family the priority over all other forms of catechesis, when he says: “Family catechesis, therefore, precedes, accompanies, and enriches all other forms of catechesis. Furthermore, in places where anti-religious legislation endeavors even to prevent education in the faith, and in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, “the domestic church” remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. Thus, there cannot be too great an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their own children’s catechists and to carry it out with tireless zeal. Encouragement must also be given to the individuals or institutions that, through person-to-person contacts, through meetings, and through all kinds of pedagogical means, help parents to perform their task: the service they are doing to catechesis is beyond price.” (Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi tradendae, 68).
One of the main causes of the moral, spiritual and religious crisis of the current time consists in the religious ignorance, in ignoring the truths of the faith and in an erroneous knowledge of the faith. Pope Pius X very rightly observed this connection, saying: “The enemy has, indeed, long been prowling about the fold and attacking it with such subtle cunning that now, more than ever before, the prediction of the Apostle to the elders of the Church of Ephesus seems to be verified: ‘I know that . . . fierce wolves will get in among you, and will not spare the flock.’ (Act 20:29). Those who still are zealous for the glory of God are seeking the causes and reasons for this decline in religion. Coming to a different explanation, each points out, according to his own view, a different plan for the protection and restoration of the kingdom of God on earth. But it seems to Us, that while we should not overlook other considerations, We are forced to agree with those who hold that the chief cause of the present indifference and, as it were, infirmity of soul, and the serious evils that result from it, is to be found above all in ignorance of things divine. This is fully in accord with what God Himself declared through the Prophet Osee: “And there is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have overflowed: and blood hath touched blood. Thereafter shall the land mourn, and everyone that dwelleth in it shall languish.”(Osee 4:1-3)” (Encyclical Acerbo nimis, 1, 15 April 1905). And Pope Benedict XIV wrote: “We declare that a great number of those who are condemned to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because of ignorance of those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect.” (Instit., 27:18). For this reason the same Pope Benedict XIV said: “There is nothing more effective than catechetical instruction to spread the glory of God and to secure the salvation of souls.” (Constitution, Etsi minime, 13).
The beauty of the Catholic faith manifests itself in a special manner in large families. We possess one of the most striking and illuminating affirmations of the Magisterium on this theme in the following words of Pope Pius XII addressed to the Associations of Large Families: “Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church. […] The brows of the fathers and mothers may be burdened with cares, but there is never a trace of that inner shadow that betrays anxiety of conscience or fear of an irreparable return to loneliness. Their youth never seems to fade away, as long as the sweet fragrance of a crib remains in the home, as long as the walls of the house echo to the silvery voices of children and grandchildren. Their heavy labors multiplied many times over, their redoubled sacrifices and their renunciation of costly amusements are generously rewarded even here below by the inexhaustible treasury of affection and tender hopes that dwell in their hearts without ever tiring them or bothering them. And the hopes soon become a reality when the eldest daughter begins to help her mother to take care of the baby and on the day the oldest son comes home with his face beaming with the first salary he has earned himself. […] Children in large families learn almost automatically to be careful of what they do and to assume responsibility for it, to have a respect for each other and help each other, to be open-hearted and generous. For them, the family is a little proving ground, before they move into the world outside, which will be harder on them and more demanding.” (Address to the Directors of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and Italy in January 20, 1958).
The beauty of the Catholic faith manifests itself in the fact that it is precisely the family, which is the first breeding ground and the first seedbed for the priestly vocations. The Second Vatican Council spoke about the family as the first seminary in the process of fostering and training priestly vocations (cf. Decree Optatam totius, 2). History has given proof that the majority of priestly vocations come from large families. Pope Pius XII highlighted this interrelationship saying: “With good reason, it has often been pointed out that large families have been in the forefront as the cradles of saints. We might cite, among others, the family of St. Louis, the King of France, made up of ten children, that of St. Catherine of Siena who came from a family of twenty-five, St. Robert Bellarmine from a family of twelve, and St. Pius X from a family of ten. Every vocation is a secret of Providence; but these cases prove that a large number of children does not prevent parents from giving them an outstanding and perfect upbringing; and they show that the number does not work out to the disadvantage of their quality, with regard to either physical or spiritual values.” (Address to the Directors of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and Italy in January 20, 1958).
The supernatural spirit of love and of self-sacrifice of the mother (and oftentimes of the mother of a large family) is the very foundation of a priestly vocation and of the fruitfulness of the priestly life of her son. The following moving example illustrates this truth in an impressive manner: “In the city of Zaborze in Upper Silesia is a grave which is frequently visited by pilgrims. Above the grave rises a Lourdes grotto. At the foot of the statue of the Immaculate Conception, in a little glass case, lies a myrtle wreath. Here is the story of the myrtle wreath. A priest is buried in the grave at the foot of the grotto. He was the youngest of ten children. As a young man he worked very hard to earn enough money to study for the priesthood, because his parents were poor. After his ordination he went as a missionary to India where he worked for many years. When he died they buried him in his home town of Zaborze and erected a grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes above his tomb because he had always fostered a special devotion to Mary Immaculate. Some time after the burial of this zealous priest, a little box was found among his possessions with a note pasted upon it: “To be opened after my death.” The box contained a myrtle wreath and this note: “This is my mother’s bridal wreath. I have carried it with me to various countries, on my journeys over land and sea, in memory of that sacred moment when my mother vowed not only fidelity but also uprightness at the altar of God. She has kept that vow. She has had the courage to have me after the ninth child. Next to God I owe her my life and my vocation to the priesthood. If she had not wanted me, I would not have become a priest and a missionary; I would not have been able to work for the salvation of souls. Place this wreath, my mother’s bridal wreath, into my grave. This I ask of the one who finds it.” When they found the wreath, the grave had already been closed, so they placed it at the foot of the statue of the Immaculate Mother to whom he dedicated his life.” (Lovasik, L.G., Treasury of Catechism Stories, Tarentum PA 1966, nr. 386).
As another example we could mention the mother of Saint Pius X, Margherita Sanson. She raised up ten children. She taught them to pray first thing in the morning, communicate with God throughout the day, and to end each day with prayer, bringing the family together for an examination of conscience. The well-known story of the wedding ring of his mother remains always inspiring: Following her son’s episcopal ordination and placement in Mantova, the future Pope Pius X visited his old mother to thank her. After kissing his episcopal ring, she showed him her wedding ring and said, “Your ring is very beautiful, Giuseppe, but you wouldn’t have it if I didn’t wore this my ring.” I know the following story: A priest came to the mother of a priest to congratulate her with the episcopal nomination of her son. To this congratulation the mother replied: “This does not mean this much. The most important thing is, that my son remain always faithful to Jesus”. And each time when this bishop phones his mother, before hanging up the telephone receiver, she says to her son: “You remain faithful to Jesus!”. To remain faithful to Jesus, means to remain faithful to all of His commandments and to all of His Divine teachings, and to prefer temporal disadvantages and disdain, even on the part of ecclesiastical persons, rather than to make compromises regarding the teaching and the observance of His commandments and teachings.
When parents impart to their children a truly Catholic education in faith, they lay the foundation of the faith of the future priests and bishops. Usually the uncompromising and life-long fidelity to the integrity of the Catholic faith on behalf of a priest and of a bishop, is a fruit of the education which he got in his family from his father or from his mother or from both, or from his grandmother.
The truth which says that the family is the original place of the beauty of the Catholic Faith we can see also in the following edifying witness in the autobiography of Saint Thérèse of the Infant Jesus: “Feast days! Those words conjure up more wonderful memories! I did so love them and you were able to explain so well what they were all about. That again was a foretaste of Heaven. But the procession of the Blessed Sacrament was what I loved best, for I could scatter flowers beneath the feet of God! I used to throw them up high into the air before they fell and when my rose petals touched the monstrance my happiness was complete. The big feasts did not come along so often but there was one most dear to me, and it came every week – Sunday, Our Lord’s own day, a wonderful day, a day of rest. We all went to the High Mass, and when it was time for the sermon, I remember we had to leave our place because it was so far away from the pulpit and go all up the nave to find places nearer. This was not always easy to do, but everyone seemed quite ready to find room for little Thérèse and her father. Uncle, especially, seemed very happy when he saw us coming; he used to call me his little ray of sunshine and say that the sight of this venerable patriarch hand in hand with his little daughter always touched his heart. The fact that all this drew attention to us never bothered me; I was far too interested in what the priest was saying. The first sermon I really understood was one on Our Lord’s Passion, and I was very much moved by it; that was when I was five and a half, and from then on I could take in and appreciate all that was said. If ever St. Teresa was mentioned, Father used to bend down toward me and whisper: “Listen, my Little Queen, he is talking about your Patron Saint.” Then I would really listen, but I am afraid I kept my eyes on Father far more than on the preacher because I could read such a lot in his noble face. Sometimes his eyes would fill with tears he could not keep back, and when he was listening to the eternal truths, he seemed to be already in another world and no longer in this. He was then a long way from his journey’s end, however; long, sad years had yet to pass before he opened his eyes on Heaven’s loveliness and Jesus wiped away His faithful servant’s tears” (Story of a soul).
In those times, the Eucharistic liturgy was not celebrated in the vernacular and without explanatory remarks and commentaries. However, Saint Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and her father Saint Louis Martin had a very intense active participation in the liturgy of the Holy Mass, an active participation, which was marked with silence, as recommended also by the Second Vatican Council (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 30). Undoubtedly, their participation in the liturgy was more active, that means, more conscious, attentive and pious than that of many Catholics in our days, where the liturgy is celebrated entirely in vernacular and where active participation is realized in playing an exterior liturgical role, against the prescriptions of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 28; 36; 56). Recently Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship, made the following apt observation on this issue: “Most of the faithful—including priests and bishops—do not know this teaching of the Council. […] As Benedict XVI often emphasized, at the root of the liturgy is adoration, and therefore God. Hence it is necessary to recognize that the serious, profound crisis that has affected the liturgy and the Church itself since the Council is due to the fact that its center is no longer God and the adoration of Him, but rather men and their alleged ability to “do” something to keep themselves busy during the Eucharistic celebrations.” (Address to the Colloquium “The Source of the Future” on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI, March 29 – April 1, 2017, Herzogenrath, Germany).
The present situation of the world and partly of the life of many Catholics and ministers of the Church could be characterized as a great apostasy, an apostasy from the faith in the true Divinity of Christ, from the faith in the unique way of salvation through Christ and an apostasy from the faith in the perennial validity of the Divine commandments. Such an apostasy signifies ultimately to renounce Christ and to accept the spirit of the world, diluting Christ in a gnostic manner into the materialistic, naturalistic and esoteric spirit of the world. Recently Cardinal Robert Sarah made the following striking statement on the real current spiritual situation inside the Church: “Political Europe is rebuked for abandoning or denying its Christian roots. But the first to have abandoned her Christian roots and past is indisputably the post-conciliar Catholic Church. […] While more and more voices of high-ranking prelates stubbornly affirm obvious doctrinal, moral and liturgical errors that have been condemned a hundred times and work to demolish the little faith remaining in the people of God, while the bark of the Church furrows the stormy sea of this decadent world and the waves crash down on the ship, so that it is already filling with water, a growing number of Church leaders and faithful shout: “Tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise!” “Everything is just fine, Milady!”)” (Address to the Colloquium “The Source of the Future” on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI, March 29 – April 1, 2017, Herzogenrath, Germany). These words reflect perfectly the analysis of the modern world made by Saint Pius X already hundred years ago: “The great movement of apostasy being organized in every country for the establishment of a One-World Church which shall have neither dogmas, nor hierarchy, neither discipline for the mind, nor curb for the passions, and which, under the pretext of freedom and human dignity, would bring back to the world (if such a Church could overcome) the reign of legalized cunning and force, and the oppression of the weak, and of all those who toil and suffer. […] Indeed, the true friends of the people are neither revolutionaries, nor innovators: they are traditionalists.” (Encyclical Notre Charge Apostolique).
The Catholic family as the original place of the experience of the beauty of the Catholic Faith. The Catholic family represents the first bulwark against the current great apostasy. The two most efficient weapons against the modern apostasy outside and inside the life if the Church, are the purity and integrity of the faith and the purity of a chaste life. The admonition which Saint Louis IX, King of France, left to his son, remains always valid: “My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin. […] Work to remove all sin from your land, particularly blasphemies and heresies” (Letter to his son).
Once a member of an anti-christian movement, who later converted to the Catholic Church, said to Fr. Mateo Crawley, the Apostle of the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart: “We have only one goal in mind: to dechristianise the family. We leave to the Catholics gladly the churches, the chapels, the cathedrals. For us it is enough to have the family in order to corrupt the society. If we have control over the family, our victory over the Church is guaranteed” (Freundeskreis Maria Goretti e.V. (ed.), Familie und Glaube, München 2001, p. 146). True Catholic families – and desirably large families – will strengthen the Church of our days with the beauty of the Catholic Faith. From that faith will come out new Catholic fathers and mothers, and from them there will come out a new generation of zealous priests and intrepid bishops, who will be ready to give their life for Christ and for the salvation of the souls. The Christianity was born out of the family, the Holy Family, so that the family may be born again out of the Christianity. The first fruit of the redemption is the Holy Family, just as the first blessing of the Creator was given to the family. Indeed, what the current world and the Church mostly need, are true Catholic families, the original places of the beauty of the Catholic Faith.
+ Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana
Originally appeared in Voice of The Family.