Over at long-time 1P5 contributor Brian William’s blog, Liturgy Guy, there is an important guest post by Chris Lauer, a founder of the Charlotte Latin Mass Community, entitled Why Families Need Traditional Parishes. Lauer adds a layer of consideration to the much-discussed article, “What I’m Never Going to Tell You About Homeschooling“, by Elizabeth Foss. The latter — which essentially warns parents that to expect homeschooling to be a magic bullet against the temptations of the Devil, the world, and the flesh is to set ourselves up for crushing heartbreak — is something I’d also like to reflect on here, but not today.
Instead, I’ll let Lauer’s essay speak for itself:
In short the author [Foss] reminds people that, while homeschooling may give families a “better shot” of raising holy children who will grow up to be faithful adults, it is by no means a guarantee. No matter what curriculum or preparations that parents employ, there will always be children who make bad choices and fall away from the faith. We must not be prideful or naive in our human efforts, and must continue to strive in personal holiness while praying for our children. I will add that we also must not underestimate the depravity and allure of the world, or overestimate our ability to maintain virtue and holiness through reason alone. While Ms. Foss focuses on our roles as parents, I wish to expand the topic to discuss the roles played by our Catholic parishes in the formation of our children.
The Catholic Church has always recognized that parents are the primary catechists of their children; however, few would dispute that the parish church is of vital importance. The parish is an important refuge for families where they can not only receive the sacraments, but also find fellowship with other families, learn more about their faith, and share in the devotional life of the Church which in turn serves as a means to pass along the faith to younger generations.
Isolation from the world is not the goal; rather the parish provides a shelter where young Catholics can be trained to defend their faith before going out into the world. Similar to what we ask of St. Michael, the parish provides “protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil, who prowls about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
As an analogy, 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.
With this in mind, it is important for us to make an honest assessment of the state of the Church in the context of the vocations shortage and consider what type of formation and sacramental life we can expect from our parishes.
In one seemingly typical American diocese who publishes statistics, the ratio of active Catholics to priests is about 3,700 to 1. We can presume that this ratio will continue to get worse as the baby boomer generation of clergy continues to retire and pass away each year. With few exceptions globally, the pace of retirements and deaths of priests are severely outpacing ordinations with no relief in sight. The ecclesial crisis in Europe is even more grim. It would be naïve to think that the crisis will not become this severe here in the United States.
Consider what parish life is like now and try to imagine what it will be like with a ratio of 5,000 Catholics to 1 priest or even 10,000 to 1. Ratios such as these may very well occur in our lifetimes. Imagine how difficult will it be to receive the Sacraments? Will there be a priest available to administer last rites when the time comes for you or a member of your family? Will spiritual direction even exist anymore or will it be a distant memory? How long will it take to schedule a baptism or to schedule an appointment on Father’s calendar?
We must concede that we are now living in a post-Christian country. When the moral foundations of the world are crumbling, at the same time as the sacramental life of the Church is in decline, what are parents supposed to do? How are we to give our children the formation they will need to stand any sort of fighting chance in the world? While Ms. Foss paints a grim picture, there is good reason to believe that it may actually get a whole lot worse. She enjoins us to pray and continue striving for our children, but I feel there is more that can be done.
Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, provides us an alternative form of parish for which these dangerous trends do not apply: parishes devoted solely to the Extraordinary Form or Traditional Latin Mass as it is also known. Setting aside all discussions about the liturgy itself, there is a compelling case for Catholic families, even those who might not prefer the Traditional Latin Mass, to start attending for the sake of their children.
Why does he think that TLM parishes may be essential for Catholic families wishing to give their children the best shot at heaven? For his answer, you’ll have to go read the rest. (I can’t steal the whole thing!)
But I can give you a brief synopsis: even setting the more reverent liturgies aside, traditional parishes tend to have more priests, more vocations to the priesthood, more access to the sacraments, more frequent confessions, and parishioners who are truly dedicated to a more authentically Catholic way of life. Many who attend TLMs — even well-established ones — still travel long distances to get there. The willingness to make sacrifices to be a part of something larger than themselves increases the likelihood that such devotion infuses the lives of those in attendance, and helps to create an environment where children (and parents) can build the sort of friendships that will be a help, not a hindrance, to sanctification.
There are no guarantees here either. I’ve come into contact with some rotten eggs even in traditional Catholic families. But as with homeschooling, attending one of these parishes should not be done with the thought that it will eliminate the chance that your children will take a wrong turn into a life of sin — an impossibility in our fallen nature — but rather about giving them the best possible chance of success.
And isn’t that what all of us want?
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.