Of A Dear Fat Ol’ Elf and Diverse other Heathenries

fatherxmasletters_jpg

I teased Patty a bit about her question, but I am actually glad she asked it:

I have a totally off the subject question for you…There’s Catholics for Obama, right? Well, what’s your whole take on Catholics for Santa? Could you write a post on that?

First off, I think the comparison is a bit of a gargantuan stretch, but perhaps not everyone would agree with me.  I suppose there are those who believe that both Obama and Santa are pure Freemasonic constructions with no other purpose than to destroy Christianity.  While I am less sympathetic to a defense of Obama against this criticism, I certainly think that Santa deserves a fairer shake.

I want to address Patty’s question directly, but in so doing I would also like to deal with a more general and larger question, namely, what should be our general attitude toward all the “heathenries” about us?  I use that term a bit tongue in cheek because there are any number of heathen customs which over the ages have been baptized and purified by the Catholic religion.

The picture above is the cover of the published version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas.  These letters were originally handwritten and illustrated by Tolkien himself for his children.  Each Christmas from the years 1920 to 1943 Tolkien’s children would receive a special letter from Father Christmas himself (the English Santa Claus), or so they thought!  In each of the letters the old elf told the children of the goings-on and adventures in the North Pole.  In the picture below are several of the North Pole postage stamps illustrated by Tolkien for some of the Father Christmas’ letters.

tolk-christmas

I guess my point is that Tolkien’s Catholic credentials are pretty much impeccable.  He even was somewhat of a traditionalist, having a strong dislike for the new rite of the Mass, though he continued to be a daily communicant in his local Novus Ordo parish to the end of his life.  His intuitions were entirely Catholic, but many of his inspirations were of heathen origin.  If it weren’t for these, there would never have been The Lord of the Rings.

It was Tolkien’s love for the ancient literature of the North that in a large measure inspired the form of his mythology.  Such things in the hand of a master produce masterpieces; however in the hands of a knave, the same things can produce atrocities.  One such knave was Adolf Hitler.  Tolkien wrote the following to his son during the great war:

You have to understand the good in things, to detect the real evil. . .Yet I suppose I know better than most what is the truth about this ‘Nordic’ nonsense.  Anyway, I have in this War a burning private grudge — which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22:  against that ruddy little ignoramus Adof Hitler (for the odd thing about demonic inspiration and impetus is that it in no way enhances the purely intellectual stature:  it chiefly affects the mere will).  Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.  Nowhere, incidentally, was it nobler than in England, nor more early sanctified and Christianized. . . (Letters, # 45).

Hitler had taken Norse mythology and turned into a diabolical religion of hate and racism.  Tolkien took the same material and Christianized it in way that is almost mystical.  The myth of Santa Claus or Father Christmas is an element of Western culture that has the same quality.  It is what you make of it.

sinterclaus

I most certainly think that we do well to lift the Christian history out from the myth so that we can once again see it for what it is.  We need to celebrate the memorial of St. Nicholas of Myra (December 6), with some solemnity and make sure our children hear the true story and develop a devotion to the real saint.  There are all kinds of Catholic, ethnically based customs that could be adopted to do this.  But that the Father Christmas myth should be banished from every true Christian home?  I don’t see that such a precept should follow from an authentic understanding of the Catholic faith.

True, much of the image and story of the modern Santa Claus takes its origin from heathen mythology, some of which is of that Norse persuasion for which Tolkien had such a fondness.  But so what?  I have heard arguments that the Christmas Tree is of pagan origins also and I have heard arguments to the contrary.  I have never bothered to resolve the issue because I really don’t see the point.  It is true, there are elements of culture that are truly beyond rescue (to my mind, I think Rap and Hip Hop may be such), but I don’t see a historical or doctrinal basis for the narrowest possible interpretation of these issues.

I can’t imagine that Tolkien’s children were harmed by the letters from Father Christmas.  Even though, like all other children who have been told the myth, eventually they had to be disabused of their belief, I can’t imagine that as adults they had anything but fond and wholesome memories of their childhood Christmases.  What would it have been like to be a child at the feet of J.R.R. Tolkien and hear him tell a story or read a letter from Father Christmas?!

merryoldsantaAnd this brings me to the larger issue.  I have no problem with people arriving at their own solution to this question or ones like it, and I don’t see why anyone should be particularly bothered that we might make up our minds differently.  I fully understand the reaction that traditional Catholics have had against secularization, particularly when they have felt themselves left out to sea by their fathers, both within the family, in the government and in the Church, but I grow more and more suspicious of the way that personal opinions become absolutized as the only real “Catholic” option.

I see the attraction of it for sure.  There are so many voices and so many unwholesome influences.  We want to control the environment as much as possible and we want to offer relatively simple solutions that can be explained easily and applied without variation.  I can see a father of a family making a simple and sweeping generalization about a certain kind of music, for example, and then expecting unquestioning obedience.  But the real dimensions of this issue are not confined to this, especially in America, where our individualism leads us either to throw off the yoke of rules completely, or on the other hand, to absolutize our own opinions as necessarily to be followed by all those of good faith.

There is here a larger question of the governance of communities, whether they be loose associations of families or parish communities, or organizations like the MIM.  It is one thing to speak of the relative dangers, say, of rock music, it is another to assert that all men of good shall not have any CD that is not first approved by the local pastor or the acknowledged oracle of the community.  For example, I have been generally willing to talk about cultural issues and the moral implication of Catholics’ participation in world around us, but I am loathe to pronounce generalized condemnations of cultural elements where the Church has not.  I even avoid being the arbiter in disputes about whether this or that movie or music is okay, not because I think such guidance is misplaced, but because my opinion is likely to be accepted as gospel, or on the other hand, if another priest has given different advice, there appears to be some scandal, which there is not.   I think there is a real danger of orthodox and traditional communities and associations of becoming merely sectarian sub-cultures within the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, not enough of us realize this.  We tend to think that persons who do not wish to live with all the restrictions generally assumed to be necessary in more orthodox circles to not be sufficiently converted, when in fact they merely find our narrower interpretation of what is permissible to be just that, our narrow interpretation.

Once again, with eyes wide open I set myself up to be misinterpreted and misunderstood.  But it is necessary.  I have argued strenuously for the restoration of Catholic Culture (unfortunately I can only find the third part online) and have thought long and hard about it, but I don’t think it can be accomplished by piling rule upon rule, or assumption upon assumption about what is universally best for everyone.

A few years ago, I looked with suspicion upon an effort to build a traditionalist Catholic village in the Eastern United States, because I thought that throwing a pile of money at a mountain to build something that looked like a medieval town and engineering a pristine Catholic culture to be imposed on this little community of people was naive.  Perhaps I am too harsh.  I do understand that these are the days when radically Catholic ideas and the courage to implement them are necessary, but I also think that practical common sense and the good will to know the difference between doctrine and opinion are more necessary today than ever.

The Church has always been in dialogue with the world.  She has sought to escape the world, it is true, but never completely, otherwise the evangelization of the nations and the conversion of souls would be impossible.  I have said this before and I will say it again:  orthodox and traditional circles of people need to direct their attention outside their own little worlds and quit assuming that they have everything all figured out for everyone else.

I know what is likely to happen, I will be quoted out of context as though I am supporting some form of mushy Catholicism.  In the post-Vatican II disarray some have suggested that the only way to counter the disintegration of Catholic life is to fight it with the other extreme, as though if we are left with any liberty to think for ourselves we will be betraying the faith.  This can only be based on revisionist history.  Not even the Middle Ages was like this.  It is myth that there was no diversity of culture and usage among the people of Christendom.  In fact I will go a step further, with Chesterton I say:

[T]here never was a time in the whole history of the human race when it was more necessary to defend the intellectual independence of man that this hour in which we live.

In our world gone wild we don’t need more and more secondary restrictions, we need people who have the fulness of the faith, but who are also intellectually independent enough to find creative solutions to the problems which we face, or in the words of Tolkien who defended his mythology against the supposition that it could be misused and abused:

. . . Abusus non tollit usum [the abuse of a thing does not take away its proper use]. . .[W]e make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker (“On Fairy-stories”).

We should use this power wisely, but use it we must;  and never was it more important that we should do so than now.

25 thoughts on “Of A Dear Fat Ol’ Elf and Diverse other Heathenries

  1. Wow! I will need to read this one atleast 3 times before I can absorb all that it says. This is excellent. I surely will NOT be one who will give you a hard time about this at all. My husband and I were discussing this very thing the other day about how many times groups (well-meaning, btw) will tend to direct their circles of friends and their whole world, really, inwardly and not outwardly. This does give them a sense of security and it does indeed insulate them from the woes of the world. But, where on earth is the evangelization in this? I loved ST. Francis De Sale’s “Introduction to Devout Life” where he gives the analogy of how we must be willing to fly close to the flame yet try to protect ourselves from being burned. I think many people try their darndest to get away from the flame … it’s quite scary and we don’t always trust ourselves to make the right choices. Quite honestly, when you fly close to the flame, you WILL get burned on occasion. It’s a given, I really think. But the flame is where the hurting souls are … it’s where the sin and destruction are and we are called to be there. Period. In order for anyone who is consumed in that fire to want to LEAVE the fire, they must see us as rational, likeable people with whom they can relate. If they don’t see that, they will stay in their fire. I realize that not everyone is called to the same forms of evangelization, but somehow we cannot be afraid of it. There is SO much more I’d love to say on this but I think for the most part, I would be *ditto-ing* what Father said, just in my own words.

    As for the Santa dilemma, I went through this, too. My oldest is now 18 (yikes) and I had my conversion a couple of years prior to her birth. I felt that by telling her that there was a Santa, i would be (1) lying which is a sin and (2) taking the focus off of Christ, where the focus should be. Therefore, for the first few years, much to our relatives’ disgust, we tried to downplay the whole Jolly Man thing. Yet, she’d ask about the reindeers, etc. She still managed to get the whole idea of this fantastic story with or without us. I then read something by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was a book my husband gave me .. it was a compilation of Laura’s magazine/journal writings during her older years. She talked about how people no longer wanted to tell their children about Santa Claus … I was shocked to learn that this dilemma existed even back then. She quotes:

    “I have a feeling that childhood has been robbed of a great deal of its joys by taking away its belief in wonderful, mystic things, in fairies and all their kin. It is not surprising that when children are grown, they have so little idealism or would not believe anything that he could not see.”

    “Why not let the children believe in Santa Claus? Later they will understand that it is only a beautiful imagery. It is surely no harm to idealize things and make them more real by investing them with personalities, and it might do away with some of the sordid estimating of the price of gifts, which children learn surprisingly young.”

    She talks about how the child’s imagination is so short-lived and so precious … why not enjoy it and let them enjoy it?

    Well, that settled it for me! I do say to my kids (only one still believes in Santa) when they ask about the flying reindeer, etc that “That’s how the story goes.” And, once a child asks me twice, “Mom … Tell me the TRUTH. Is there a Santa or isn’t there?” i do not continue the fantasy .. .it would be insulting their intelligence and it would then be more of a lie to me versus enjoying a child’s imagination.

    Well, good luck in your decision, Patty. It’s never easy … I wish I could say it gets easier, but alas, it does not! We just have to develop stronger backbones … no matter what decision you make in life, someone will disagree with you! Just like Father Angelo mentioned above, when he states his thoughts on things, he will surely take some heat for it! Flying close to that flame … it’s a risk! You feel the heat. sigh.

  2. Bravo!!! It is articles exactly like this that keep me coming back to your site. I’ll be thinking this one over for days.

    I think the question of Santa is one of the many struggles of being both a Catholic and an American. I remember Santa well from my own youth, and I hope to bring that same joy and expectation of the myth into my children’s lives. For me, it’s not a question of “one or the other”, but rather letting them enjoy Christmas at their own level.

    My kids are very young (4, 2 and .4), and couldn’t possibly understand a Catholic Christmas to the extent that I would like. And the secular Christmas cannot be escaped; it is everywhere, and so well taken-in by others that my children would not understand a total neglect of it. But I feel that giving the notion of Santa and the “holidays”, such as they are in this country, can be given a place in the seasonal celebration. That place must not overshadow the true face of Christmas, which my wife and I also give our children to enjoy. The level my children are at now certainly begs for Santa, snowmen and reindeer, but that must shift gradually away to a more encompassing appreciation for the birth of Christ if I am to consider myself a responsible Catholic parent.

    Eventually, I hope, they will see the season as I do, but that will come as they grow older. Hopefully, they will out-grow Santa as they grow into Christ.

  3. I was seriously considering purchasing the Fr. Christmas letters, but held back when I heard they were simply children’s stories. But in this world, where the idea of Father Christmas has been so twisted and distorted, I might actually get them as a little token of a lost heritage. And read them to my children…

    My children which I don’t have… haha 😛

  4. Thank you, Father Angelo. You have given me a lots to ponder.

    As a child I remember how disappointed I was when I found out that there wasn’t a Santa Claus, or Tooth Fairy, or Easter Bunny…I asked my mother if the story of Jesus is real. I questioned the reality of God for a long time. So, we don’t tell our children the traditional stories, but we do tell them to respect other families’ traditions. Personally, I don’t think my children are robbed of fantasy or imagination. In fact because of the movie Bambi, I have had a hard time getting my children to eat venison 😛

  5. Thank you Father- this was a great post- too much to comment too much on. All I kept thinking about was Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus always said He came to fulfill the law and not abolish it and He always used common sense. We in our society today need to remember this as well. The letter of the law is important but so is the spirit of the law.

  6. I would like to comment on the necessity of a lively Catholic sensibility, in order to understand both Tolkien and Lewis. They were both indebted to George McDonald, whose stories are firmly planted in faerie, yet bear sparkling Christian fruits. McDonald wrote in the century before Tolkien and Lewis; we stand in the one which follows. Even in their time, the Inklings (Google it) had many passionate debates about the pros and cons of magic/myth in their writing. Tolkien and Lewis were especially concerned with this topic, and returned to it repeatedly. Because both had been deeply influenced for Christ by McDonald, and because they lived in a still-viable Catholic/Christian culture, they decided to go ahead; since no symbology in our language could convey the power and mystery of Heaven as magic/faerie. But, since we no longer live in a Christian culture but a neo-pagan one, and especially since these authors had trouble going ahead even in their time, we need to realize that the young, with their diet of “real” magic and dark stuff, will not read these works the same way you and I do. A good example of subversion is the Prince Caspian movie. It was described by a reviewer recently as being a story of the Telmarines, who imposed their own civilization on the land, after killing off the original inhabitants; and of the 4 Pevensies, kings and queens of an ancient time, who return to awaken the original culture, and restore it, ushering in a golden age. Now, aside from the fact that Susan’s character does a dishonorable and unmaidenly thing at the end of the movie (something totally out of character); we see the plot has been made over into one of today’s repeating story lines of modern kids “lit”; to wit, that paganism/druidic worship/the time of the gods/gypsies/wizards/etc. was stamped out by the terrible Christians, who conquered by killing and conversion; and that now is the time to reawaken the “original” delightful spirits of the earth, sea, and sky. It’s amazing, really; there are only a handful of repeating themes today in kids “lit”, and Lewis’ remarkable book has been easily slipped into one of those molds, with a strong message for kids; but not the one we get. If you’d like to read some (skewed, but succinct and informative) descriptions of some books for kids, especially of that sort, subscribe to the Chinaberry catalog. We need to wake up, and see what can be done to get our kids back…mine is homeschooled, and she knows why she doesn’t want to read those. Yet.

    If you’d like to check out George McDonald, a good place to start would be the 2-volume collection of stories, The Gifts Of The Child Christ.

    I don’t want to overdo it on my first post here; but I have an idea! What if some group started a non-profit to reprint/buy good books (like the Catholic “Little House” books, the Bethlehem books, etc.) We could sell them, and give one book to the school of the buyer’s choice, for each so many sold; or people could call/get online and donate books, in memory/honor of someone. We could get the school interested by giving them a list, and asking which books were already in the library/which they would like. Anyone like it? I have no idea how to get started, but I like it…

  7. Dear Betsy,

    What you say is interesting, well thought out, and worthy of further introspection. Since we’re off the subject of Santie Claus and onto literature for children, I will say that this is a subject that I have waffled on. In theory, I have no problem with such fantasy novels for children. I will even be brave enough to say that I’ve allowed my children (at an older age) to read “Harry Potter” … some weren’t interested at all, others read a few but none wound up reading all of them. We discussed the troubles of fantisizing EVERYTHING in these books and thus ignoring the fact that evil isn’t a fantasy at all but quite real. However, after first deciding that these books when read at the right age (NOT AGE 5) were really harmless, I then began to change my mind somewhat – not entirely, but somewhat. In theory, I have no trouble with such novels. I have always enjoyed some sci-fi and loved “The Hobbit”, though I’ve never read Tolkien’s Trilogy yet. YET. I even enjoyed reading one of the Harry Potter novels, to be honest. However, I have seen how a window, no – a BIG DOOR, has been opened to othe occult in the world of children’s literature. This has allowed for books like “The Golden Compass” to be acceptable and completely overlooked by the average unscrupulous and non-questioning, way too busy parent.

    HOWEVER, to then make the giant leap and decide to not allow our children to read classic literature by Tolkien and Lewis, well … I just cannot do that! It would be like having a music program and leaving out music by Mozart and/or Beethoven …. what kind of music program would that be? One would be remiss to that, imho.

    You’re right, the average child today living in this neo-paganistic culture will not read the book correctly. HOWEVER, I wouldn’t have as a child either without proper discussion. I think of my freshman year in high school when I read Charles Dickens’, “Tale of Two Cities”. I would NEVER have pulled the Christian undertones and symbolisms from that story if it weren’t for my teacher. (Public school, btw.) Dickens became my favorite author after that year … because the teacher exposed those TRUE meanings to me. The same can be said for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, “The Scarlet Letter”, “The Great Gatsby”, “The Crucible” and all the other fantastic pieces of literature I read during those 4 years … and that was before college! In other words, children CAN be taught what the deeper meanings of these books are.

    I’m looking forward to reading Lewis’ books to my 2nd grader. I don’t think he’s quite ready to really understand the depth of these books so I am therefore going to wait a bit longer. I plan on getting some guides to help me because I don’t want to miss any of the Christian nuggets hidden in these books. Even at my age, I don’t trust that I won’t miss some of these subtleties without a little guidance.

    As for your idea of buying some out-of-print books, I guess you could call some publishers to ask how to get started. Maybe you could ask some Catholic schools who have possibly tried to do this very thing. You probably need to be able to purchase a certain amount before a pub company finds it worth the expense to reprint these books. I’m sure we all can think of books that are out-of-print that we’d like to see come back.

    Thank you for the different way of viewing this subject. I will surely think more on it.

  8. Betsy,
    I appreciate your cautionary exhortation. I have written of the subject of Tolkien and Lewis before and you are right that they both were willing to explain the purpose of their mythology. Tolkien in particular defended his mythology at length in his essay On Fairy Storys and in his many letters to his publisher and to his correspondents.

    The context of my remarks in this post, however, is the specific question of the viability of the Santa Claus myth among Catholics vis a vis the historical figure of Saint Nicholas, and the larger question of how Catholics ought to address cultural issues which require the exercise of prudence rather than sweeping generalizations. The point is that if such cultural elements could not be Christianized, then Tolkien’s work would have been impossible.

    I do not want to misinterpret you, so I stand to be corrected; however, on the matter of the relative difference between the Christian culture of the time of Tolkien and Lewis and the neopagan one of ours, it seems that you may be suggesting that Tolkien and Lewis may not have written their works had they lived today. I admit, times are much worse, but the same dangers existed then, as you suggest when you remind us that they were both concerned about the proper use of magic in literature. I don’t think that it is correct to say that “they went ahead anyway,” but rather as Tolkien did say: “the abuse of a thing does not take away its proper use.”

    I think a greater danger than the ambiguity introduced into literature through the use of magic is the lack of literacy among Catholics who are suspicious of art in general. In works that are directed to children a much more restrictive set of guidelines are appropriate, but generally—and this was the real point of this post—it is far better to have friendly debates on the relative merits of this or that cultural artifact than to toss out everything that does not seem to fit one’s perception of things.

    I once heard a very educated Catholic man relegate the works of Shakespeare to the dust bin because there were too many pagan elements in them. This view in its specifics may be extreme, but the spirit of it is not as rare as you might think. Art in many religious circles has been reduced to either pure entertainment or pure propaganda, and as long as that is the case the quality of our literature and the ability of our readers will suffer greatly. In this regard I highly recommend Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism.

  9. Fr. Angelo says:

    “I think a greater danger than the ambiguity introduced into literature through the use of magic s the lack of literacy among Catholics who are suspicious of art in general.”

    BINGO. AMEN.

    I’ve heard many well-meaning Catholics and fundamentalists say,”Heaven before Harvard” … although I find this a very catchy phrase, I find it a very dangerous phrase as well! We don’t want only the atheists and moral relativists to be the ones who can get into the Harvard’s of the Country. Where will we be in the next century? We NEED conservative Catholics/Christians to compete for those law degrees and medical degrees, etc .. we NEED the Conservative Catholics to get into the Harvards! Granted I agree that one can lose his soul at these places so we need to get some really strong Newman Houses on those campuses but we need to infiltrate these schools with solid Christians, quite honestly. How do you get into them? Well, for one thing, you’d better have read all of the classics and novels of the day …you can critically analyze them how you’d like, but to be ignorant of them is unacceptable to me.

    The Jewish people (I grew up with many) knew this quite well … they invested every cent they had into the well-rounded education of their children. And they were highly invested in the arts. (All the ones I knew lived in very simple homes … filled with killer pianists and wall-to-wall books.) I remember asking some of my Jewish music friends how they felt about performing Handel’s Messiah for the umpteenth time or the Requiems, etc. My friend Paula said, “How can you have a distinguished music program and not be exposed to Handel’s Messiah?” Again, BINGO. She did not agree with the content of the music from a religious standpoint, but she understood that to not perform such classic pieces of music literature would be very foolish indeed. Performing this music did not, sadly, convert her to Christianity. So, reading novels from Tolkien and CS Lewis or, dare I say, Rowling (Potter books) will probably not turn children who are from strong Christian homes into the Dark World of the Occult. But being ignorant of these works could be a big mistake.

    I don’t want to carry on any further, but before someone thinks I’m implying that all literature is acceptable, I am not! There is clear rubbish out there. Most of the classics do not tend to fall under the ‘rubbish’ category.

  10. Hi, Jen, and Frangelo! Thanks for your thoughtful answers.

    Looks like I have some explaining to do! I guess I just had too much to say, and so didn’t treat anything exhaustively. It was also about 2 AM, and I’m loopy from muscle relaxants as well. I have had a bit of extra down time lately, because of back trouble. But, that is how I had the leisure to find this great site! So I’m grateful; and of course, I really believe in the Church’s teaching that sufferings offered and joined to Christ’s own are salvific. So, things are great.

    Anyway, Jen, Tolkien and Lewis are wonderful, we agree on that! my 11-year old is a Tolkien junkie! She has all of his fantasy, even funny obscure things like Roverandon (which is perfect for a second grader!) we have read the trilogy aloud, in its entirety, at least twice as a family. I would NEVER say that kids shouldn’t read the best examples of fantasy lit that are out there!!! But what I AM saying is that their richness and complexity are wasted on our kids, who for the most part are not being formed adequately in the Faith, and who are not living Christian lives, though they are Catholic. In fact, most kids and even adults will admit that they can’t get through Tolkien’s trilogy; it is just too much reading! They like the movie, which has been made for a non-Christian sensibility, and has some worrisome content.

    What I’m saying here is that we need to be formed and educated, ourselves, and reclaim the culture by changing the growing environment our kids are experiencing – literally, take their roots out of the tight pot and depleted soil, and give them more room, some loam and some worm castings. So to speak.

    Let’s take a look at the state of things, and for the sake of clarity, confine our attention to those good, carefully observant Catholic families with two parents and whose children are either in Catholic Schools or Parish School of Religion. Can you think of any where the Mom stays home? OK, so the parents both work, the kids are in after school care, where we hope they do their homework; the evenings are taken up with more homework and activities, including stuff at the school (PTA stuff, parent-teacher conferences, basketball games, scouts, all of it good stuff) and on the weekend, Mom and Dad are pooped. Saturday morning is personal time for R&R, for a lot of the Moms I know. When is family time? And what does it consist of? For the best families, it seems to be a video or board game and popcorn, once a week or even less; or dinner out together. (And remember, these are the conscientious, churchgoing, 2-parent families; the minority). There just isn’t regular family prayer time and reading, in the evenings; time I would call “ongoing formation”. To put the kids into even Catholic schools (unless they are Apostolic-type schools, such as those excellent ones run by the Legionnaries of Christ) and expect that that is enough Catholic formation for them is, I believe, totally unrealistic. Just look at the children of families you know who are in college, or just out. Of course, they are wonderful! You love them, and there they are, all grown up! You are so proud of them; but look at their lives, talk to them. There are some notable exceptions, (see the last issue of Faith And Family Magazine) but for the most part, these kids are not in Church, not chaste, and, face it- not Christians. Though they might still be “Catholic”. They generally even lack a healthy work ethic! Meanwhile, the parents are wearing themselves out, paying for everything, just doing their very best. Of course, they are mighty defensive of their lifestyle! Besides, they have looked to the right and to the left, and are doing at least as well as the other families they know. Most couldn’t even consider making the sorts of changes that would be required of them, in order to live counter-culturally; they are simply going too fast in the opposite direction. Living simply, getting rid of the personal electronics that divide families, even if they are all at home, and canceling the cable or digital TV service would sound like lunacy, if they ever heard of such a thing at all. I assert that most of America is absolutely addicted to electronic noise. If there’s nothing “on”, people get really uncomfortable! If they’re at a picnic, they either have to leave, or check for text messages. So much for that “still, small voice” And the love of learning, and of books, and even the ability to think logically.

    Today’s kids are being formed, and informed, by the prevalent culture. The prevalent culture is not only neo-pagan, it is violently anti-Christian. I was on another forum last night, answering a message from a 15-year -old girl. We had been talking about God, and specifically Christianity; and she made mention of how Christianity is supposed to teach love and goodness, but that “Christians do such terrible things”. She didn’t make that up, herself. Of course, the word is not “Christians”, but “people” and the terrible things are called sin. Children are being bombarded, in music, on TV, and in school, with anti-Christianity messages; many of them are overt, but many are subliminal. It is not only perfectly legal to use subliminal recordings anywhere, for any reason; it has become common practice. I am not a “conspiracy theorist”! But last summer, one of the people who knows me best called me a mystic. Whatever; labels can cause trouble. I do know that I am often “shown” and “told” things by the Holy Spirit; and that once when I was listening to National Public Radio, (which I seldom do; it makes my blood boil!) the newsbite of the day was that subliminals were and could be legally, freely used everywhere, by any entity. I got that “goosebump” feeling, and knew I had been shown something to remember. Later, when I had my daughter, one day she actually began to sing a filthy song. It was so filthy, I cannot print the words here. At age one and a half! She’d never been out of my presence, and the only thing she’d ever seen on TV was Teletubbies. Interestingly, the song’s cadence and simplicity were Teletubbian…and, no, I didn’t imagine it. We had just entered a Target store, and she began to sing, sitting there in the cart’s kid-seat. I stopped dead, and asked her “what was that song?” and as she sang it again, a really ugly older woman approached from the opposite direction. She had seen my reaction and as she drew closer heard my sweet baby’s song. The woman stopped and laughed in my face! She had such an evil, gloating look; like “yes, you send them to people like me in day care and who knows what they’ll learn?” Except, of course, that she wasn’t in day care…

    Anyway, what we do at our house, and what I would like to recommend to all godly parents, is that we just make a decision to actively reclaim family life: homeschool our children, celebrate the seasons, feasts, and fasts of the Church Year, stay home and eat together every night, and simplify our existence. Who needs to live in a mansion? People have been sold a strange bill of goods: we’re told we need the Best Neighborhood (read: most expensive) because it is Safe (yes, things are scary out there sometimes) and they have the Best Schools (question it!) and so both parents need those jobs. Mom has to spend a lot of money on afterschool care, prepared foods, a career wardrobe, hair and nail appointments, and a nice new car; as well as nights out with the girls. Of course, she also has to shop constantly, in order to find deals, and keep that work wardrobe current. She thinks she is in touch with her kids; but she doesn’t really have the time, nor the inclination, to form them adequately; she may not have received adequate formation, herself. The times are all about juggling, being overly busy, getting the gist, catching a sound bite, “managing”. Not about going deep; unless you do that in your Eastern Meditation or Yoga class. It is a system set up to deliver the children from formation by the parents. Besides, only wierdos would homeschool their children. Like the sort who were in that polygamists’ commune in Texas…

    Frangelo, there is a fine line; or as Somebody said, a narrow way, and there are few who find it.
    This is an age of excessive consumption, and of reactionary excesses as well. And it is a time of widespread spiritual and intellectual poverty. Our once-closest friends, a dear homeschooling family in our (NO) church, are now completely incommunicado; they were in the SSPX, but then found that even THEY weren’t extreme enough for them, and they have their own little religion…although they go far out of state, once every few weeks, to an SSPX mass, since that is the “best” that they can get. It is, in my opinion, often a combination of reactionism and ignorance (the guy never learned to love or even recognize good Literature) that made that “very educated” Catholic man dismissive of Shakespeare. You can be very educated indeed, in these United States today, and still not be able to appreciate and critically evaluate a fine work of literature, regardless of how much you had to pay for that degree. Sadly, nowadays lit is approached on a “need to know ” basis, looking toward the test hurdles; at least, by all but the very few who have been taught to love learning. Perhaps this fellow did his bit of Shakespeare study in school, with Cliff notes; maybe it took all semester to get through Romeo and Juliet, and it was diced and spread out to dry in such a manner that all he learned was that he never wanted to have to get through any more of it. Then, the coup de grace: later in life, he read a damning article written by an extremist, or saw the movie Shakespeare In Love, or some other such junk; and there we are.

    There is a movement now toward Classical education, pagan gods and all. We heartily espouse it; it incorporates an understanding of the ancient world (Greece and Rome) and its governments, philosophies, and history, and the study of Latin. I daresay both Tolkien and Lewis had the benefit of such an education, and therefore were able to build upon the foundation given to them, to wield the tools of culture with understanding; while your very educated friend did not. He probably doesn’t like Tolkien, either! Thank you for the great Tolkien quote you used: “The abuse of a thing does not take away its proper use”. I will have to remember that. I have one for you as well; it is from Lorien, Haldir is speaking. I call it, “Tolkien On Ecumenism” : “Indeed, in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that separates those who still oppose him”. Actually, that’s from memory – my daughter’s! Grandma has the trilogy. So perhaps it’s a word or two off. If you’re going to use the quote, look it up, to be sure. I think it would look good on a tee shirt! If anybody wants to use it, be my guest.

    I do wonder, given the plethora of “magical junk lit” out there, whether Tolkien and Lewis would have written quite the same way today…They would have been aware of the prevalent mindset and attitudes toward reading. I don’t think they could have written as densely. But, they were products of their time, not ours. Thoroughly culturally conversant, true products of Classical education and Christian sensibility, surrounded and stimulated by individuals of like caliber, they have given us works of real and lasting value, true literary treasure. Today? I think they’d still have written; I hope so. But a person reflects his culture; and this is the digital age. If they’d lived now, and not then, I think they’d be making movies, really good ones, with the intention of making the greatest possible impact. There are some wonderful people out there, making movies like Saving Sarah Cain and Bella and Ushpizin. But we would never have had The Lord Of The Rings, not as it is now. I’m glad they lived then, and I’m very glad there are good things happening now! But this is, at best, a time of reassessment, leading to (we all hope!) a new renaissance. It cannot compare with their time, which has been called “the golden age of Catholic Culture”.

    Can’t believe I’m still holding forth! Are you still reading? Thanks, I’m almost done 🙂

    Jen, I’m sorry I led you to believe the good books for kids are out of print, or hard to find. There ARE some that could be brought back. It would be neat! But you wouldn’t believe what there is available, right now, for those willing to dig for it. For your 2nd Grader, you can start with Catholic Stories For Boys And Girls and More Catholic Stories… by Caryll Houselander, and one of our all-time favorites, The Winged Watchman, by Hilda Van Stockum. Read them aloud! If your library doesn’t have them (and they really might not) you can get them on Amazon or Alibris, often for only a dollar or two, used (plus 3.99 shipping); It is SO worth it. The Bethlehem Books are wonderful, for slightly older readers; try Augustine Came To Kent, The Bronze Bow, and Beorn The Proud. Once you get one, the others are listed in the back. There’s really a lot out there. A great way to find truly satisfying, soul-feeding books for your kids is to look at catalogues from homeschool suppliers; Seton; Catholic Heritage Curricula; and Veritas Press are good sources. Who knows? You may fall in love with the books, and decide to homeschool that 2nd Grader (…I know, I’m being impudent!) 🙂

    But really, things are set up to keep you from doing a little of this, on the side. Life is really too full, and you won’t sustain it; so in my opinion, anyway, it might be good to stop and reassess, and then choose one direction. I’ll pray for your family, Jen, you wouldn’t be on this site if things weren’t lining up a certain way in your life, right now…

    Sorry this was so long. I apologize for wounding anyone’s sensibilities; my intention is to encourage and to build up, only. That said, I know I get going when I’m up on that soap box…must be the better view! Pax

  11. Betsy,

    I DO homeschool my 2nd grader … not the older ones, though.

    We’re glad you’re enjoying this blog site. Hope your back feels better .. my husband’s in the same boat this week.

    Jen

  12. Hi betsy,
    Yes … we do own some of the books you mentioned. Homeschooling style: very eclectic (like the mother) with a leaning towards classical and real-learning.

    We’ve gotten WAY off the subject of the blog … sorry Father Angelo! 😉

  13. Yes, sorry. Most sorry for the long and inappropriate blurt. I have been laid up for weeks and must be getting a moldy brain. I have only recently gotten online, and am afraid I am learning how to do it at the expense of others’ patience. Mea maxima culpa…

  14. I am usually a little more verbose… but since I was awarded the virtue of “Modesty of Words” on Epiphany, I’ll try to be brief; I’ll go with “fantastic”. I’ll add an “amen”. Thank you, Father, for making a case for the imagination and its place in Catholic culture. I have never regretted leaving my children parchment notes from Santa Claus (who was always described as a close, personal friend of Jesus and a saint) along with a half eaten cookie and a carefully nibbled carrot on Christmas Eve. I don’t even regret having my brother-in-law throw a basketball on the roof of our house (to simulate the arrival of the ol’ boy’s sleigh) in order to get our oldest to get himself into bed one year.

    Again, just fantastic.

  15. Father

    I enjoyed this post very much. I have read quite a bit of Lewis but had never heard of ‘Experiment in Criticism’ – heading to Amazon now.

    Michael

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