One recent evening, my wife and I received a tornado warning alert on our phones. Normally, I give such warnings due consideration, but I typically don’t get too worried because of the rarity of touchdowns where we live. In the back of my mind, however, was the fact that just a few days prior, another tornado did touch down less than an hour from where we live, and it destroyed the houses of two people we know. With this in mind, we decided to play it safe. We headed downstairs, gathered up the kids, and prayed the rosary together. The storm was intense but short, and fortunately, no damage occurred.
This episode got me thinking about how much timing plays into the life of faith and the work of grace. When we are nudged in one direction or another by the Holy Spirit, when something stirs in us to consider a change or make one decision instead of another based on something beyond just what makes sense on paper, we often see in retrospect that the Lord closes some doors or opens others for our good. Sometimes we get caught in storms, and other times, we are prompted to move out of the way at just the right moment, at times for reasons we might not even be cognizant of.
As schools around the country are grappling with how to handle educating students during the COVID outbreak, many parents are finding themselves scrambling to make arrangements with work and childcare to compensate for the changes. And yet we as a family have found ourselves more or less in a ‘business as usual’ situation.
Since making the decision to homeschool our children two years ago, we have found ourselves thanking God, once again, for His timing. The choices we made involved some sacrifices, but we do not regret them. What’s funny is that a lot of the changes we made as a family all fit together and were interrelated with one another. Sometimes, when you move one thing, it affects something else.
Two years ago, as we faced this decision, we asked, “What is important to us? What do we really value? Where do we see ourselves having to step out in faith?” We realized our trajectory at the time — attending the local suburban Novus Ordo parish, sending our oldest off on the bus to kindergarten at the public elementary school, my wife working full time at a demanding job, having an au pair for childcare — had begun to feel at odds with what we wanted for our family: time together, a legacy of faith to pass on to our children, and the ability for us to be the primary influence in their lives.
We made the decision to start homeschooling after our oldest finished public Kindergarten. Now we take things “year by year, and kid by kid.” In order to do that, my wife had to leave her full time day job. This freed up a lot of her mental and emotional energy, allowing her to take on the task of being the primary educator of our children — a role she had always longed for and readily embraced, but which we had always thought our circumstances couldn’t afford. The change in our family was significant. Whereas our oldest was prone to fits of anxiety and outbursts when he returned home each day from Kindergarten — we presume this was from having to hold things in all day while at school — it didn’t take long for that to more or less dissipate. The more time he spent with his mother, his sister, and his youngest brother, the calmer and more “normalized” he became.
The self-confidence of the two oldest seemed to grow. Neighbors and even strangers began to remark that our children were “so polite” or that they “spoke so well.” This phenomenon is more common than I had realized among homeschooled children, so it is more a testament to the change in environment and mode of interaction than to anything about our kids in particular.
Not long after beginning that particular journey, we were also invited to attend a Traditional Latin Mass by one of the other homeschooling moms my wife had met. Our appreciation for the evident fruits of the change to homeschooling led us to start questioning the fruits of the Novus Ordo parish we were in. We often felt isolated, as most of the families had their kids in the parish school. Religious education — at least in sacramental years — necessitated attending classes run by the parish Director of Religious Education — classes which we could not opt out of. Though there was nothing overtly heterodox, the whole experience started to feel like a shirt that no longer fit correctly. When we began to attend the Latin Mass — once a month at first, then regularly every Sunday — it felt like another puzzle piece fitting into place as part of a synthesized whole.
We didn’t transition to the Latin Mass (and traditionalism as an offshoot) because it, as a Catholic ethos, was growing. We didn’t do it for the community, or even for the beauty and integrity of the liturgy. It wasn’t because we were attracted to “bells and smells,” and it wasn’t because we had a desire to separate ourselves from the status quo. All of those things were present, but ancillary. I truly feel that the Holy Spirit was leading us out of where we were established for reasons we didn’t know, and we simply followed the breadcrumbs.
My primary motivation — whether right or wrong — was to ensure a legacy of faith; it was to be certain that the Depositum Fidei would passed down through our family lines. I know that such a thing is ultimately out of our control as parents. But Tradition was our educated wager; we put our chips in with the hope that it would provide us the weaponry we needed when things got ugly.
Tradition is not a cure all. There are sins and issues to be found in our TLM community just as there were at our neighborhood parish. But instead of spiritual laxity, we found vigor. Instead of beige, we found black and white. Instead of casualness, we found much needed discipline and coherence. As a father, everything I do is for my wife and my children, and being able to give them all of these things matters.
Contrary to what some might think, we are not extremists. We aren’t radical. I think it’s fair to say that anyone who knows us would tell you as much. We simply want to be soldiers and servants as our family domestic church, sustained by belief and the grace to persevere in charity and prayer. I felt — again, whether right or wrong — that though I grew up and spent my whole adulthood in liberal, beige Catholicism. It was a Catholicism that did not possess the power to sustain us in our fight against the culture and the devil. We needed every tool and weapon in the arsenal of faith at our disposal. We needed priests to truly lead us; men we could rally behind. And we needed a liturgy that would withstand the trials of modernity.
Chris Lauer at Liturgy Guy used an analogous example to illustrate this:
“Consider the modern military base. A military that allowed enemy soldiers onto the base, or one that attempted to train their newest recruits in the thick of a battle, might not yield the best training outcome. Instead new recruits are trained on military bases surrounded by tall fences and armed patrols in order to provide them with shelter. They receive combat training from battle hardened experts who teach them how to recognize and defeat the enemy. The soldiers are molded into cohesive units where bonds are formed and accountability to one another is instilled.
This too is how we need to transmit the faith to our children. Our children need a sheltered environment in which they can practice virtue and learn how to exercise their free will in a way that is most pleasing to God. They need a shelter in which bad decisions are met by a peer group of faithful Catholics who will hold them accountable in a loving way – not a secular peer group that will often celebrate their bad decisions. Only in our sick modern culture is providing shelter for a child considered a pejorative.”
I see homeschooling and attending the Latin Mass as two complementary sides of the same coin. There is a reason, I think, that many who attend the Latin Mass end up home-educating their children as well. Just by attending a Latin Mass for a period of time, we’ve started to absorb things we didn’t even think of before: a sense of reverence, respect, awe, and fear of God.
Homeschooling, in like manner, often bears fruit in ways we didn’t expect. I see it in the time the children spend with their mother (or father) reading books, learning the catechism, and being formed in manners and morals. Both the TLM and homeschooling, each in their own way, are whole-person formative, engaging the intellect, the will, the body, and the senses in a holistic way.
I pray we didn’t make a mistake in our wager. We try to listen hard to the Holy Spirit step by step. So far, though, I can’t say God has let us down. We are not unmindful that we have been given a great privilege, and that the timing of things for us was in large part the work of grace. It all seems to fit together now, and while we know there are no guarantees in how anything turns out, we are grateful to have the coherence in the overall formation of our children — academically, socially, culturally, and sacramentally — that homeschooling and tradition has afforded us and (hopefully) will not easily be undone. Even during the coming days of spiritual famine in a savage culture, I have hope that we will be sustained.
Rob Marco is a married father of three. He holds an MA in Theology from Villanova University. He has appeared on EWTN’s “The Journey Home” and has written for various Catholic publications. He blogs at Pater Familias.