Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

God’s election for your fallen family: Never too late!

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 16, 2024

The Old Testament is not only the story of God’s election of the Jewish people to be the special bearers of His law and His promises; it is also a sign of God’s singularity and power to all the nations of the world. Moreover, it is an ongoing story which demands recapitulation at times when the Jews have abandoned their fidelity to their Covenant with God and are suffering for it. Perhaps the most concise reminder of God’s Covenant with the Jews is found in chapter 9 of the Book of Nehemiah—which recounts one of several periods in the history of the Chosen People when all that they had forgotten about God’s special election was rediscovered and proposed again, in times of trouble, for a renewed commitment.

It is amazing how quickly the remembrance of the exodus from Egypt, the reception of the Law, and the entry into the Promised Land faded from memory among the Jews as time passed. The books of Kings and Chronicles recount a history in which there are more bad Jewish kings than good, with frequent rejection of the One God in favor of the pagan practices of the surrounding “peoples”. This actually began in the reign of Solomon himself—the very son of David—who chose many wives from among the pagan peoples and so erected places of worship for them to honor their own “gods”. Perhaps more remarkable still are the periods in which the Jews no longer even remember the books of the Law, which at various infrequent times are discovered again among forgotten items that had been stored away, and then re-read to the people to encourage their recommitment to God.

I was reminded of this problem when rereading the eighth and ninth chapters of the Book of Nehemiah. A large number of Jews had been released from captivity, returning from exile to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, restore the Temple, and generally bring the holy city back to life. In chapter 8, after restoring the wall, Ezra the scribe reads the Book of the Law of Moses to the people and they rediscover and renew the celebration of the Feast of Booths. In chapter 9, the people confess their sins and then hear recounted the great deeds God had done for the Jews beginning with Abraham and their establishment as a people, continuing through their enslavement in Egypt, out of which God led them with great power, and on to their possession of the Promised Land.

But all this was followed by their frequent disobedience to the Lord, the failure of their kings to keep the Covenant, and their resulting exile, sorrow and distress up to the time of the rebuilding recounted by Nehemiah. “Because of all this,” the Levite leaders led the assembly of those who had returned from exile to “make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests” (Neh 9:38).

In our own lives and our own families

This whole history seems almost incredible to us, not perhaps so much because of the dramatic miracles which the Jews experienced in their Exodus from Egypt (and even afterwards through the prophets), but mainly because of how quickly the people and their leaders forget what God has done for them and fall into precisely the sins God has forbidden. Really, though, we should not find this surprising, for much the same thing happens in the Catholic Church today. One generation is strong enough in Catholic faith and practice to pass it on to their children; the next generation gradually adopts the habits and values of the dominant culture and passes on to their children only a nominal and ineffective Catholicism; and the third generation no longer knows that the Resurrection of Christ is anything more than a discredited myth—if, indeed, it has heard of it at all.

I suspect most of of those reading these words will have experienced a similar regression somewhere within their own families or extended families—or perhaps even in themselves or in their own children after they did their best to raise them in the Faith. Perhaps most often in our own time it is the acceptance and use of public universal “education” (always reflecting the changing values of the dominant socio-political culture)—or even of parochial schools in a time of substantial ecclesiastical degeneration—which most substantially contributes to this collective loss of memory of what the Lord has done for us. For at least the past sixty years (and probably far longer), it has been extraordinarily difficult for parents to remain the primary formators of their children without either careful selection of independent Catholic schools—if necessary right through college—or teaching them at home at least through high school, and not sending them to a secular or secularized college unless they have the formation and counter-cultural personality traits necessary to withstand the onslaught against everything they believe.

It was just these surrounding cultural influences which triggered the repeated falls from grace of the Jewish people throughout their history. In the same way, the dominant culture today, including especially every culturally-compliant educational institution, is effectively designed to turn out secular hedonist clones. It is no wonder our generational spiritual memories are so short. For the Jews it was not “public education” that was the primary agency of their forgetfulness but “romance”—another powerful stimulant—that is, intermarriage and other accommodations with the surrounding peoples. Of course I do not mean to indicate that this has nothing to do with the simple worldly temptations we all face; only that such temptations in any given period tend to penetrate in different ways. I have mentioned education in our time; but obviously mass media follows the same pattern—a pattern which both familial formation and education must work very hard to break.

Recognizing disaster when we see it

Perhaps the greatest problem of the spiritual life is our common failure to recognize spiritual disaster when we see it. As “social animals” we tend to feel safer in the herd than we do out there on point with Christ. Consequently, at one moment we are convinced that extra-marital sex, contraception and divorce are grave evils, but when the attitudes of cultural trend-setters shift, we recalibrate. At one moment we believe that life is sacred, but at the next we fall into the dominant culture’s habit of devaluing lives that are inconvenient, increasingly recognizing exceptions, even in medical care, which gradually become new rules. Or at one moment we are convinced that homosexuality and gender-manipulation represent serious and seriously sinful distortions of being, but in the next moment we “realize” that personal freedom to be whatever we desire to be is the one sure moral norm—except, of course, in any manner disapproved by our cultural elites.

Eventually we become so ensconced in group-think that we no longer recognize the natural and supernatural correspondence between propositional truth and actual reality, and we no longer even seek to achieve that correspondence in our own lives. This is, of course, Satan’s best and most frequent trick. Moreover, most of the time, we either do not realize or cannot admit to ourselves the life of constant rationalization we must live in order to keep up. Once we drift away from God and the Church, we would rather believe anything than to be thought out of step. Moreover, too many allegedly Catholic leaders (themselves culture bound) will try to make the Church a place of affirmation for dominant cultural ideas, lest they themselves should cease to be acceptable to the dominant culture. These are the turbulent waters into which we are consigned by our fallen human nature unless we, like Peter, are willing to cry out, “Lord, save me!”, before we sink.

Old Testament passages which describe how often and how easily the Chosen People not only rebelled against but actually forgot their covenant with God are historical cautionary tales to remind us of the constant vigilance we need, especially but not only as parents, to pass on the Faith and traditions we have received, and to do that in the only effective way possible—that is, by ordering our lives in accordance with them and ensuring that our children are actually immersed and well-instructed in them. Moreover, they must not only be immersed and well-instructed but protected from the lies and blandishments of the anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, and even Godless culture which surrounds them, until they have shown an ability not only to receive Christian cultural formation but to engage in Christian cultural formation themselves.

Education and Adulthood

There has long been a ridiculous pattern of being more careful about imparting the Faith in primary education, and less careful as children grow—for example, a pattern of sending them to parochial schools through sixth or eighth grade and then graduating them into public high schools. But it is deadly to release children into the wild (public schools) as soon as they enter their teens. No age is more prone to rebellion against familial values and absorption of an “enlightenment” which preys on their adolescent confusion while flattering their adolescent autonomy. A proper education—and the deep formation which comes through a proper education—is needed by most people at least half-way through college (unless they are going out into the working world after high school). All the way through college is better, as this is more likely to condition their marriages, family values, and the kind of company they keep both in working and social life.

Whether education is unnecessarily prolonged in our culture because of our inability to absorb the pampered wealthy into the workforce or simply because of the growth of human knowledge and the desire for “a better life”, we must remember that in a culture dependent on the ever-dwindling quality of college education, adolescence is prolonged by the lack of any need to face genuine adult responsibilities. Thus the potential moral and spiritual damage of “higher education” must be taken carefully into account by parents and students alike, and the nature and location of that education must be strategically assessed and implemented in terms of its impact on life in Christ.

One final word on this: For most families today, if they cannot homeschool their children and cannot afford the high cost of outstanding and actually counter-cultural Catholic schools, this is a vitally important situation in which grandparents should not hesitate to help if they can, either by teaching their grandchildren, by making home schooling financially possible for the parents, or by subsidizing tuition. Nothing is more important than a proper formation for one’s children and grandchildren.

In any case, at some point our children do become adults, and those who are responsive to the appropriate vocational call begin to raise children of their own. In terms of closeness to Christ and the Church, we now begin to see whether they will provide a better or worse formation for the “little children” whom Our Lord insists must be allowed to come to him (Lk 18:16-17). Each generation must actively form the next; failure to seriously attempt to effect that formation in our own children and to assist them in the formation of their children (even if allowed to do so only through prayer) will be one of the greatest sins for which we will have to answer at our own judgment.

Back to Nehemiah

The chapters in the book of Nehemiah which I have been considering here are a cautionary tale from the Old Testament that we must apply to ourselves. Just like the Jews, Christians cannot take for granted that their religious conviction will endure even one generation into the future. There is no such thing in this world as security for the Christian faith. It can no more be taken for granted than it can be passed on to the next generation without prayer, sacrifice, and effective formative action. The result of substituting the “good life” for a good life is not only the deadening of our own faith but loss of faith in the next generation, to the very point that God’s deeds, God’s justice, and God’s love will no longer be understood, or recognized, or even remembered.

We are already suffering from such a massive cultural loss. Are we really willing to say once again, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Mt. 17:25)? The Old Testament contains frequent reminders of the unfortunate condition of those who have been betrayed by their own parents and grandparents. At the same time, of course, it contains frequent reminders of new opportunities which we, and our children, and their children must themselves, in their own time, learn to seize. Just as the Jews in Nehemiah’s time turned back to God in recognition and thanksgiving when their opportunity came, so too must we turn always to God through an interior conversion which will be marked by constant prayer.

And what of us who are, so to speak, slow to arrive at Nehemiah’s party? The truth is that all times are present to God, and it is never too late to invoke God’s mercy for our children, our grandchildren, and all those whom we are called to love—whether they have come before us or are following after. Love without sacrifice is not love, but if we pray and sacrifice for the Christian constancy or conversion or salvation of our friends and relatives, God has actually already known this from all eternity, for He sees everything in an eternal now, and so He may well apply a special grace before we even know we have tried to win it. But if we never try, then there is no extra measure of Divine mercy to be gained through us.

This is the way the economy of salvation works. It is what it means, as St Paul put it, to make up what is lacking in the sacrifice of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church (Col 1:24). And it is especially true for the sacrificial spiritual care we offer to our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren—for the hallowing of the generations we have most immediately cooperated with Christ to create.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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