03. The Inner Circle
As a boy I stood at the edge of a small, quiet pond and cast pebbles into the water. I was astonished to see a small circle form with every pebble, and I was astonished to see how this circle grew larger and larger until it finally lost itself at the water's edge. What is this inner circle of life, the movement of which is felt until it reaches the distant strand? When the sacred twosome of man and wife begins to blossom, then the family begins. The first pebble has been cast, the first circle started. We naturally think of our grandparents and great grandparents as members of our family. These are already the second and third circles which the waves of life have produced. But let us remain within the inner circle.
Here in the very center of life the wife attains the completion of her highest dignity. She is to be a new mother of life. Her motherly dignity is the precious treasure of the inner circle. Christ Himself enters this inner circle. Before He began to preach the Word, before He consummated the sacrifice of Redemption on the Cross, before He laid the foundation of His Church, He chose the quiet home of Nazareth. The most stupendous event in the life of Jesus is not any of His great miracles of healing the sick, driving out devils, nor raising up of Lazarus from the dead; it is this hidden life in the inner circle of the family at Nazareth. His miracles showed the rays of Divinity, but here God is a man among men. Who comprises this inner circle?
A Sacred Triad
There is Joseph, a real man, as he should be. Sacred Scripture says of him: "He was just." Then there is Mary, the Immaculate Mother, full of grace. Finally, there is the Child, having within Him the Divine Fullness of Light from the Father. The heavens rejoiced at the sight of this Child at Nazareth. For this is the "Son in whom the Father is well pleased." "And He grew in wisdom, age, and grace before God and men." A Sacred Triad among men, a divine picture of the eternal divine inner circle. Truly a holy family, a prototype of every human triad, father, mother, and child.
This is the reason why the Church has accepted the feast of the Holy Family within the compass of its mysteries. The remembrance of this holy Triad is brought to the attention of the people annually on the Sunday after Epiphany when the feast of the Holy Family is celebrated. As long as the world has existed and will continue to exist, there has not been, nor ever shall be a family which can compare in dignity and beauty, in grace and peace, with this prototype. Yet it is not a romantic, unreal idyl, strange to life. Was this family not rather a divine venture by God, inspiring men and women to every sacrifice? Joseph was cast down into the darkness of doubt, he struggled to keep his bride. The first days of every new marriage are full of pitfalls. But the stops on the flight into Egypt are so many stations of love and care. Mary lives in constant uncertain fear of the future of her Child. "A sword thy soul shall pierce." When the Child Jesus was lost at the age of twelve, all her wounds broke open afresh. But in spite of these trials, or rather, because of them, this Triad, tried in the furnace of suffering, was capable of becoming the sacred prototype for every family.
The Garden Of Pannonia
Prominent in Hungarian history we find the name of another saintly family, given by God many centuries ago to Hungary and to the world. This saintly Hungarian family grew in the garden of Pannonia. Stephen, the saintly king, was apostle and father of his country. Gisella, his wife, watched over the children with motherly understanding and reared them like chaste lilies of the garden. First-fruit of their holy marriage was Emmeric, the Saint, the pearl of the house of Arpad. He became the banner-bearer for the youth of Pannonia, leading them to high and chaste ideals. Well may we say, the hand of the Lord hath done this!
These two saintly families should serve us as a model and a school. Father, mother, and child must attend this school at Nazareth and in the garden of Pannonia. The existence and value of the family is dependent on the faith and the courage of a Joseph or Stephen, or a Gisella or of the Blessed Virgin at the heart of the family.
When God Himself takes a hand in human affairs, then mankind must listen. Now, in the early dawn of mankind God established the family. The first life of the inner circle of the family emanated from God, and it must eventually return to Him.
History is witness to this fact and the life of nations confirms this: the germ cell of the nation is the family. Rousseau in his confusion, put in place of the sacred Triad, the downtrodden individual citizen. He it is who crushed and shattered mankind and peoples into thousands and millions of single atoms. However, the new science of our day has gone back to teaching that the family is the germ cell and original form of every human community. Even though we are divided into large communities of people, yet our first home is and ever will be the family. Sigrid Undset says that the family is the absolute core of every culture and religion.
The family is the means and instrument for preserving mankind. Only the blind man can fail to see this. To be able to walk the road of life clean and undefiled, every day,-this is the aim of every human being, and the new born babe should be trained to this end. Therefore, every family has its individual soul, its strivings and emotions, its joys and conflicts, it has its own climate and temperature, its own history, its own language. Love and authority are the warp and woof of the family, with father and mother supplying the sunshine of loving guidance. Love and authority, these spell unity in the family, with filial love joining the children to the parents, the love that gives respect, and the love that accepts authority.
Blessed is everyone who lives within the bounds of this inner circle. Over this little world the husband has dominion, the wife has motherly dignity and the fulfillment of her vocation. And for the child it is a place of safety, of protective love and of training. And at the same time the entire nation draws unceasingly from this fountain the strength to renew its youth.
Within the family there is a certain power which transforms and remoulds. The bride or groom who come under the rays of this power will be drawn by the winning bonds of love, and will be transformed gradually from a stranger to a member of the family. The family impresses itself on every member. The training received in a good family can even transform wild pirates into decent men. In the era of Columbus such pirates made their appearance first at Gibralter, later in the West Indies, again around Panama, rendering all sea travel hazardous. One such ruffian on a certain occasion, found his way to the Island of Martinique, and wished to make his confession at the feet of Father Labat. So numerous were his sins that, the story goes, his confession lasted two days. Later on, good Father Labat once happened to meet the leader of the pirates, and implored him to give up this kind of life. He offered to secure for these wild ruffians a home of their own and a piece of land which they could cultivate, hoping it would serve to change their ways. They accepted the proposition. Girls were found who were willing to cast their lot in with these men as wives and mothers of their families. And before long the pirates were transformed, changed into peace loving country people. The restful fires of the home hearth had reformed the wild pirates. In the course of time they became the backbone of the Church in the West Indies. Bishop Glattfelder's bold statement is proved true: "The most sacred and immovable pillars of human culture are the hearth and the altar."
The members of the family fail to realize that peace and happiness is hidden away in this small and unassuming circle, that there lies the roots of the people, of the state, in fact, the foundation of all humanity. The family is consequently the most precious possession of mankind. Destroy the family and the worst kind of revolution will break out. When the sacred fire of the hearth is quenched, then all mankind will be plunged into the darkness of barbarism and savagery, the very foundations of mankind will fall. Governments may change, thrones may be overthrown, cultures may pass, but the heart of the true family will remain immutable down through the ages. All the destructive powers let loose through the ages of history can, more or less, be attributed to the destruction of the family. On the other hand, the family exerts an extraordinary power in uniting and holding together the nations. The family, in a word, safeguards justice and morality and transmits the heritage of the forefathers to future generations.
The Torch Of Life
The rhythm of family life consists in a certain forward movement. It is the joy of life, the affirmation of life, the will to exist in all future generations. The family is that sacred place where one generation passes on the torch of life to the next generation. This torch was lighted by God in the creation of the first man, and will be put out only by the storm preceding the end of the world. This is the torch which will continue to burn with the power of love from generation to generation. The tree of life is the symbol of this continuation of life. A branch of this tree is borne by bride and groom from their parent's home to the wedding altar, and from there to their new home. In the days of my own youth the family was never accustomed to say: "After us, the Deluge." The family survives death. The roots established in the distant past reach out with vital energy into the future.
Each home has its own soul. This soul cannot be breathed into the home from the outside. It is rather the breath of life of every family. An old grandmother of long ago explained this soul of her family when she said: "The soul of the family plants every shrub, every flower, every tree. There are traces of its hand and its tireless work everywhere. In the home there is nothing without a soul. Every piece of household furniture has its own life and its own history. Everything still retains a bit of the pleasure and sorrow to which it has been witness. Every corner of the house bears its own testimony in the history of the family." It is an age-old custom in the Rhineland for the father to keep the family chronicles. When the oldest son marries, the father gives him the volume with the words: "Continue to keep with honor the history of the family." Among the nobility, family history is a matter of pride and prestige. This is equally true of the ordinary people, who often know and can trace their family history back to the tenth generation. The knowledge of its past history makes a family stronger.
The Days Of Our Forefathers
Acquaintance with our forefathers is a necessity of life. We must know whence we came and from whom we are descended. The children's children should be able to tell the story of the hard work of their progenitors and the distinctions received by their fathers. It is unspeakably sad when a family has lost its traditions. Often the children do not know where the mother came from. At times they do not even remember the names of their grandparents and relatives. There was a time when the ordinary people kept a family register, wherein were recorded the births, marriages, and deaths, often with appropriate remarks. Such books show a noble, strong family spirit. This spiritual heritage is worth treasuring far more than the heritage of acres, meadows, forests and money. The hereditary possessions of the forefathers do not constitute the family. Should these be lost, they can be regained. But when the spiritual family possessions, loyalty, love, and unity are lost, then the soul has vanished and there remains only a dead corpse reeking of death. The richest possessions cannot recall this dead body to life. Guard this sacred fire, the soul of the family.
The sacred law of give and take should rule the family, for it is a mortgage that pays dividends. The mother opens the door and lets in new life. This new life she cuddles lovingly in her arms. When she in turn grows old and weary with the cares of life, then she is repaid by the children, who help to assuage her sufferings and close her eyes in death.
Not even cruel death can tear asunder the ties of the family, for the dead still belong to us. They are merely residing in another home. I will submerge myself in the ancient days of the past. For without my dead I could not live, says the Scripture. They live and await us. May not the dead still be invisibly influencing the destiny of the living? Oftentimes they prove themselves stronger than the living. They do remain our best friends.
The Citadel Of The Soul
Since the days of yore the family has been a place of prayer, for Christ is in their midst. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be in the midst of them." Saints and heroes issued from such families. According to the liturgy the home is a type of our eternal home. The home is the citadel of the soul, a defence and a refreshing fountain. There we will find rest and peace, when after our work, we return to the sanctuary of the home.
The family is the finest educational institution for the state and the people. Here the child learns the obedience and respect due to authority. When there are other children, they learn consideration of others and the necessity of making sacrifices for one another. Large families are the best preparation for the social sense and practising charity. The parents learn to use the reins of government within measure and reason. So the family is really a small state in itself.
The famous educator Pestalozzi when eighty-one years old, took leave of his family on his death-bed with these words: "Children, keep together and seek your happiness in the quiet circle of your family." The works of this great teacher place the source and focal point of all good education in the family, and the focal point of the family is the mother. Therefore he who saps and undermines the family and as it were blows it up, buries under the ruins, not only father, mother and children, but also the happiness of a people, yes, even of mankind.
It is a fact known to all, that the family is undermined from within. If we wish to cure mankind, we must first restore the health of the family. In the welter of all human problems the only really important one is the family. All other questions and needs dwindle into insignificance before the need of the family.
The cure must be sought both in the realm of the spirit and in the realm of economics. Deep religious faith must again be introduced into the family. The Church must be re-awakened in their souls, because the family has become secularized. Sacred pictures and attending church are things of the past. And yet these are the sacred, hidden, sources of new strength. The religious person learns to control the demons of the deep. He becomes unselfish, ready to serve, full of charity and loyalty. The table and cradle are the most valuable possessions of the family. But the cross of Christ and the image of the Blessed Mother must be enthroned above them. Only under their protective mantle can the family regain its health. These images must not only be decorations, covered with dust and otherwise ignored. No, they must be living witnesses of daily prayer and faith. This adage might well be placed beneath these images as a blessing for the family:
Where faith, there is love;
Where love, there is peace
Where peace, there is blessing
Where blessing, there is God
Where God, no need.
Faith is not merely Sunday attire, but the heart beat of daily life, the breath of the soul.
The blessing of the home should not be neglected. When a new home is built or a house is rented, whether in the city, town or country, the priest should be asked to bless it, so that those residing there, practise that abiding charity so well exemplified in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. No person, no measure can fathom the abyss of the love of God. Where a home of love has been erected, should not the infinite love of God find entrance there? The consecration of the family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not a mere pious ceremony, no, for when performed properly, it produces unexpected power. The following story is related about St. Elzear, the confessor (died 1323). It happened that on one occasion he was forcibly detained from returning home for quite some time. Now his wife becoming worried, wrote and admonished him to return home. He answered her: "If you wish to see me, then seek for me in the open wound of the side of Christ. There I reside, there you will find me, even though wicked men keep me away from you." Such a state of soul can truly make the family a real sanctuary.
Wheat And Wine
The same blood flows in the veins of the family. There is a common table, the same bread for all, and that bread is the best in town, because into the baking has gone all the mother's goodness and love. St. Joseph went in haste with Mary to Bethlehem which means "house of bread," so that the bread of eternal life might be born there. The saintly king, Stephen, the second father of Hungary, planted wheat and vines for his young and half savage people, so that they could partake of the consecrated Bread of the Altar and find peace of soul. This Hungarian verse dates back to those early days.
God grant us here below
Wheat wine and peace
And when die we must
May we by his grace inherit
The glory that we merit
And sing His praises ever
In eternity, Amen.
Wheat in common, wine in common, bread in common, a common table. Wonder of wonders. This wheat and wine are changed into His Body and Blood, as food and drink for all. He who eats of this Bread shall live forever. "Take ye and eat, for this is my Body that has been given for you." When the family, father, mother and children eat of this Sacred Bread, they live with a new life, now not they but Christ lives in them. Jesus is in the midst of the family. He toils, He loves, He obeys. It does seem as if a secret door opens up in the background of every Christian family revealing the picture of the Holy Family at Nazareth.
The family home can lighten the burden of hard work and even transform it into joy. Where there is love, there is no toil. Should there be heavy work, it is performed in the spirit of love, for love of the loved one. Just as the inner circle of the family grows until it reaches and touches the distant shore of the nation and the people, so the people and state must stand security for the family. It is and will always be a fundamentally sound proposition that the worker should receive a family wage. It is certainly wrong when men 60 and 70 years of age receive a higher wage than young men of 30 and 40 years who have just established a family. These require family property, a home, a house. A home for every family is the first requirement of every social movement, whether in city, or town, or country. The burden of the social question is not the care of the individual. This is certainly required and necessary, but far more necessary is a program of large-scale family aid.
The Strong Fortress
The inner circle of the family is a battle field for every decent person, and what must he battle against? Everything that is filthy and vile, everything that is vulgar and destructive. These poisonous germs are nowhere so fatal as in the family. Therefore the family is called upon by nature to battle these dark menaces.
Even if the wheel of the family does occasionally creak and crash, it can always be repaired. But such a creaking wheel is better for the adolescent soul than any substitutional institution, even though it be fitted out like a magnificent palace.
The resurrection of a nation depends primarily on the establishment of good, saintly and moral families. The poisoned world can only be brought back to a sound state by the healthy cells of Christian families. The spiritual health of the family is by far more necessary than tax programs and building of roads. The life of a people depends upon the individual, his rectitude and moral sense. Those individuals are of most importance who come from a family in which the family spirit and the spirit of unity is preponderant. Consequently everything possible must be done to save the family. It is only from morally healthy families that clean minded boys and girls come forth, who can look up to the stars without fear or shame.
This is the source of heroism, and energy, of bravery and loyalty. It is for this reason that Charles of Robertus calls the family the wonder fountain of the people, and Henry Pesch praised the family as the foundation of a happy national life. The parents looking at their family realize that they will not die out entirely. Their memory will remain as long as their features are reproduced in the coming generations.
Knights of old were accustomed to wear the coat-of-arms of their family on their shield. They went into battle with the cry "Be worthy of your forefathers." Family represents home, security, pride and peace. Woe unto him who has no home. A poet approached a house unobserved, and gazed through the open window. In the light of a shaded lamp he saw the small childrens' bed.
The voice of the crying babe whimpers
There within the soft cradle.
The mother with soft step approaches
And sits beside her darling:
On her lips a lullaby of peace (Radvanyi)
Without, the heavens may be dreary
Within, the stars shine eternally. (Arany)
The Old Man With The Pipe
Once upon a time a man came to visit the city. He brought along nothing except his best pipe. An old friend of his lived in the city. It was the custom of this old man,-a hewed off, dried up branch from his family tree,-to visit his friend frequently. There he learned to smile again. The three girls and two boys of the family played around about him in the sunshine of their mother's eyes. He repeated his visits, and through the clouds of smoke issuing from his pipe, he saw the husband, the wife and children, as it were, on a distant island of happiness. The pipe gradually gave up less smoke until it seemed to slumber. Then he took two of the children in his arms. The pipe had died out, but his heart began to thaw out and grew warm. Finally with tears in his eyes he exclaimed: "My life was a failure." When the lonesome old man was taken sick, the family cared for him and helped him to put in order his frustrated life, and finally he died. Are there not many in the world today who must say, my life has been a failure?
Hearth and home,
You are the light in the darkness of night
When sitting lonely in strange surroundings
Horror grips us by lamp's gloomy light.
But the Creator, the eternal God,
Planned and devised her, the first woman Eve,
And with her, gave to man, both hearth and home.
This great world of ours, without her, would freeze.
This item 1452 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org