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The Latin Mass: A Strong Foundation, Not A Silver Bullet

For the past two years, our family has been attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form exclusively, save for a couple of times where I found myself at the Novus Ordo by necessity. Though we attend a Diocesean TLM, I have also had the opportunity to attend traditional masses with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter as well as the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

Discovering the Mass of the Ages really was an answer to prayer in many ways. As I recounted a year ago in Families Seek a New Monasticism in the Latin Mass, our slow migration from the Novus Ordo to the Latin Mass (which we didn’t even know existed) was the result of a number of different catalysts, one of which was feeling like “strangers in a strange land” as more or less “serious” Catholics feeling liturgically parched.

As often happens, the first year or so of attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form was our honeymoon period. We were grateful for an ecclesial oasis that squared with what Mass should be–reverent, oriented to God (rather than ad populum), rigorous, and without clerical improvisation.

The decision was also a wager: from anecdotal observation, I did not see the faith passed down in the Novus Ordo through generations–from parents to children–to a degree that gave me confidence that my own children would retain the practice of the faith. What we did see from our Latin Mass attending friends were larger families with children who formed and catechized them in the faith at home, and who did not seem to spurn the faith, even in the teenage years. The boys served at Mass, and our oldest initially joined them as well in order to learn.

For better or worse, I wanted to give my own children a fighting chance to survive the culture and retain their Catholicism, and if that meant shifting gears to traditionalism, that’s what we would do to ensure that transmission.

I thought it would just kind of happen by osmosis, and in some ways, I suppose it has. I find myself understanding more Latin as the months go by, just by hearing and following along in my missal during Mass. My wife veils now, though she was initially reluctant to do so. We homeschool (my wife does 95% of it), so we are able to teach from the Baltimore Catechism at home, and our kids almost exclusively play and associate with other homeschoolers. We are not a model family, but we are checking all the external boxes, so to speak.

But I have a huge blind spot that since Lent I have just discovered–my own spiritual and prayer life. Even with the arrival of Lent, I feel I have defected in many ways from my duties to raise up my  children and take responsibility for my own spiritual state and growth in virtue. Sure, I pray the rosary every day, attend Mass every Sunday, fast and abstain on Wednesdays and Fridays, and remain in a state of grace. But after working all day to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, I find myself flopping on the couch and escaping after work rather than spending time with my kids. I was noticing this tendency towards escapism more when I was on Facebook (I deleted my account a month ago); I was spending a lot of time on it, and since leaving social media, I have not filled the vacuum with things I now had the time and opportunity for — spiritual reading, prayer, writing — like I expected. Just like I thought the faith would transmit to my children simply by attending the Latin Mass, I thought these new virtuous activities would just naturally happen.

But they haven’t. I now have the time and the opportunity, but I find myself squandering it as the result of some newer sins that have cropped up in my life and served as sources of strong temptation — sloth, acedia, gluttony, and just plain laziness. It’s like a spiritual whack-a-mole: removing Facebook and the occasions of sin of curiosity, gossip, judgment, and envy have given way to an existential realization that I often did things — including good and virtuous things, like prayer and writing —  in the hopes of receiving the praise and adulation of others. Having removed that opportunity by ridding myself of social media, and the adage, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” becomes, “If I’m not posting about it, did it really happen?”

I’m learning to live a post-social media existence, but I’m also learning how to be a parent to a soon-to-be teenager who in the past year seems to be less and less enthusiastic about the things of faith. This was not always the case, but what’s to say it’s not simply a reflection of my own apathy and lack of spiritual drive, lack of substantial prayer, and lack of sought opportunities to practice meaningful charity, or even just spending more intentional time with him? After all, nothing escapes our children’s notice. If we are not living out our faith in a heroic and virtuous manner, why should we expect that our children would? Our children pay attention to how we live our lives (in faith, morals, prayer, and charity); we are meant to be their models of how to live.

I have a bad tendency to compare myself to others as a sort of litmus test. I see figures like Dr. Scott Hahn, who seems to live the faith joyfully and with intellectual integrity, and how he has sons joining the priesthood, and can’t help but think I’m failing in some way. On the flip side, there were figures like Dorothy Day, who lived out the beatitudes to a T, but whose daughter left the faith and has no interest in or connection to it. It all seems like such a mixed bag, and so much seems out of our control.

And this is the really the scary part. For many of us, the traditional Latin Mass is a haven of ecclesial normalcy, especially in the COVID era when many Novus Ordo parishes have seemingly gone off the rails even more than before. It’s easy to think that just by attending the TLM, we can solve all our personal problems with a liturgical and spiritual ‘silver bullet.’ But the (proper) theological understanding that “the Mass is not about me,” also has the potential to give way to a passivity in which we don’t do the work (outside of Mass) required of us, especially as parents.

This may not be the case for others, but for me it is a subtle and pernicious temptation towards passivity, as if the Mass would raise the children up in the faith on its own by osmosis, without my active input and parental responsibilities (especially as a father) to raise up saints. Children aside, even for myself, I can’t be resting on my laurels in my own spiritual life either. Lenten mortification doesn’t just happen–it provides us the opportunity to exercise the will in a way that befits penance, but it doesn’t do it for us. As they say in boxing, “if it don’t hurt, you’re not doing it right.”

Likewise, the Traditional Mass gives us the solid and immovable foundation on which to build, but the construction doesn’t happen on it’s own. We still have to set the nails and swing the hammer, over and over again, to frame the walls of our house. As fathers, especially, we have a vital role to play in setting an example and doing the hard work of putting a spiritual roof over our family’s heads. As a convert, and not having been raised in the faith myself, I’m learning as I go, pivoting and adjusting, leaning on the experience of others as well who have gone before me.

But my defects are many, and they impede the path to sanctity for myself and my family. Like the great early missionaries, we are called within our domestic duties to do the work of transmitting the faith to future generations, starting at home. This doesn’t happen by osmosis alone, or work alone, but by modeling virtue in our own lives, praying intentionally, shouldering our penance and crosses without grumbling, and entrusting our children to the Lord and Our Lady. There’s no silver bullet, and there are no guarantees.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

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