“Fatherhood And Family”
(Angelus Press, 1999)
In my experience it is a very rare thing for a book recommended with rave reviews by a friend or acquaintance ever to live up to expectations. Fatherhood and Family is just such a rare example. Those who have read it already will know what I am talking about; those who have not need to add it to their reading list and order themselves a copy without delay. Having been given a “rave review” by a reader recently, I bought the book and read it over Christmas. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to that person for recommending it to me, and now intend to write a “rave review” for the benefit of everyone else.
What has it to do with the Resistance, modernism, the crisis in the Church, the fall of the SSPX and all of that? Very little, directly, but a huge amount indirectly. The book itself, published by Angelus Press in the 1990s (in the days when Angelus Press would touch that sort of thing with a ten-foot barge pole!), it consists of a collection of articles from Integrity Magazine, originally published in the early 1950s. Each chapter is therefore an article which can be read on its own, making the book very easy to dip into, and yet the chapters to form part of a coherent vision, and given enough leisure time the reader may well find himself reading several chapters in a row even if he did not originally intend to do so.
Although not touching directly on the crisis in the Church (and now in the SSPX), there is much food for thought as regards the place we each play in the fight for the Faith right now. Essentially, nothing has changed. Cowardice and selfishness are still to be found dressed up as high-minded principle, “I have to look after my family first!” is an excuse still heard today, and it is as much nonsense as it was sixty years ago. The spirit which ought to set us radically at odds with the world is still the same. In many ways Integrity Magazine was well ahead of its time, as the foreword (by Fr. Kenneth Novak) points out, but it also will show the reader that there is nothing new under the sun and that we are waging the same fight.
The book deals primarily with the issue of men, who they are meant to be, and what they are meant to do, and how that fits into the bigger picture of the Church and society. As mentioned above, many lessons can be learned which apply to our combat today. After all, the Resistance is in one sense only as strong or as weak as the courage and self-sacrifice of its individual members. Resistance men, fathers of families in the Resistance, need to understand that their duty, their normal state, is one of action and apostolicity. In order to encourage and support them, Resistance ladies, wives and mothers of Resistance families need to understand that too. The attitude of “I want my regular Mass and my nice little conservative life and then I can flatter myself that I am taking care of my family, as long as I bring home a wage and everything looks outwardly normal,” is disgraceful and amounts almost to a dereliction of manhood. As has been mentioned before, it is the duty of the laity to work for a Catholic society, a work in which the clergy will participate by sanctifying it. A man’s duty is firstly to God, then to civilisation and the wider society as a whole, and then thirdly to his family. He is the link between the family and the rest of society, between private and public life. In our time of course, it goes without saying that any effort which you undertake for the Resistance is really an effort undertaken on behalf of civilisation, since civilisation and the Catholic Faith are really the same thing. The book has several interesting things to say about where the bulk of the duty is to be found for straightening things out, and it places a large part of the blame on previous recent generations of Catholics, laity and clergy, for bringing about that modern abomination: “domesticated” men!
“The expression of the Faith today is primarily private devotion and not public apostolicity, and it is the former that appeals most to women and the latter which appeals most to men.
. . .
The constant and endless regard of today’s good husband for the wellbeing of his family so that he saves from the time of their birth for the education of his children while his neighbour’s children starve, or while his local political system grows corrupt, or his Faith goes unchampioned, or his brother is exploited, is a sign of the times.”
“For the past quarter century, Catholicism as parochially practiced in this country [the USA] has had two remarkable and somewhat diametrical characteristics. The majority opinion which prevailed in the pulpit and at the dinner table was (and is) that feminine prudence (valuable in its proper place) corresponds most perfectly with Christian behaviour. Virtue always seemed to lie on the side of stability, domesticity, gentleness, sympathy, obedience, and a cautious concern for ones own family. All of this corresponded very nicely with the mother’s inclinations as well as the fulfilment of her vocation.
The minority opinion generally voiced by the father and possibly by the grown-up children concerned itself more with freedom, revolution, justice, social consciousness, scepticism and the need for risking one’s own good to gain a greater good. This opinion laboured under the handicap that it was unorthodox, unconventional and seemed to coincide with the views of people who were obviously no good. The fact that it corresponded in many details with the expressed views of the Papacy was not generally known.”
To the Catholic of conservative instinct who has never encountered it before, much of this might seem rather counter-intuitive. But a thing can appear paradoxical and yet remain true. A father who sets out to conquer his neighbourhood and his country for Christ the King, even with the support of his wife, might be thought to be neglecting his children, whereas in reality he will be giving a wonderful example to his children, boys especially, of what the Faith looks like in practice, an education which no amount of Catechism alone can make up for. Similarly, one would expect that terms such as “social consciousness” would rather jar on the senses of many Catholics. We must remember that words have meaning, but that that meaning can be abused. The paradigm of “left” and “right” today, just like that of “conservative” and “radical” historically has severe limitations; it does not adequately reflect reality and can warp our thinking if we lean on it too much. There is something about the practice of the Faith which cannot but appear radical, just as there are many aspects which of their very nature will appear deeply “conservative”. But our starting point must not be how things will seem to others, but how they really are. God made me, and He made me for a reason. Am I to fulfil my true end in doing what He would have me do, or am I to look after my own interests first? Am I my own end, is my family its own end? The authors attempt to demonstrate that a man’s vocation is to be found in the world outside the family, and that by concerning himself with the fate of civilisation he will also save his family in the process, whereas by turning inward and using his family as an excuse for not standing up for Our Lord in the wider world, he risks losing both.
“Whatever the specific remedy may be, the general prescription is this. Men must return to the concept of manhood in which each man is considered to have a mission to fulfil. This mission is related to first, the honour and glory of God; second, the common good, and third, to his specific contribution to each. In the work of fulfilling this mission, some men take a helpmate so that in one flesh and one mind and one heart, they may more effectively accomplish this mission. As a result of this holy union, children are born. These children, in turn, are educated by word and deed to a physical, intellectual and spiritual maturity so that they, too may take up the mission to which God has called them. As you can see that, it also calls for a kind of apostolicity, and more than that, a conversion. Without this Christian concept the family has only half a meaning, and that is the woman’s half. When only this half-meaning is known, the children are all dressed up with no place to go. Everyone is getting ready for a great occasion which never happens. The meaning that the man gives to the family is purpose, direction, motive and end.”
“Most men do too little, a few men do too much. All Catholic men should respond to the universal call for Catholic Action. The good of every family depends on the fathers participation in this common goal of reordering society.” (p.81)
No book is ever comprehensive, certainly not a fairly short one (less than 200 pages) such as this. But if the authors manage to impart to the reader the true spirit of lay militancy, what it smells like, then it may be judged very useful indeed. It contains much besides on related matters. One article, entitled “Our work can help us to pray,” takes up a timeless Catholic idea, taken for granted in the middle ages but now largely forgotten, which is summed-up in the saying laborare est orare (working is praying). There is a discussion of the economics of the family, and the authors discuss the idea of going “back to the land” using some wonderfully illustrated examples which, though written in the early 1950s, might equally apply today. For many “back to the land” will remain an ideal, more easily attainable for some than for others, but an ideal it must remain, even for those whom providence keeps tied to the city. Just as daily (and now, alas, weekly) Mass is for most of us only an ideal, there is a world of difference between accepting one’s lot despite the crosses involved and pretending that those crosses are not really crosses at all but something to be desired. City life is an essentially modern phenomenon and, especially for the family, not something to be desired.
In summary then, the book is suitable for men and women, parents, grandparents, married couples and single people, and all those who wish to strengthen in themselves the spirit of combat and fight for the Social Reign of Christ the King within their state of life. I think it fair to say that if more people had read this book and taken it seriously, and if the spirit which it presents were more widely practised among Catholics, things would look very different today.
- The Editor
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