A longer read but well worth it. Our efforts are not in vain as we try to instil a sacramental ambiance in our homes even in the menial and messy parts of family life….
God’s master-plan is to be found in the work of Christ our Lord Himself, God and Man, His work of redeeming mankind. And our education of our children should surely proceed along these same lines if it is to be truly Christian education. We should make it as far as lies in our power a sacramental education, following and fitting into God’s own plan.
We should try to teach the children the invisible truths of the faith by means of the visible things around us, by means of the visible actions of daily life; we should try to give them the habit of seeing all created things as, in some way or other, signs of the power and wisdom and love of God. We should try to train the children to make the thoughts and words and actions of daily life true signs of their love of God, able to be offered with our Lord’s sacrifice in the Mass.
Such a plan of education may seem very obvious and trite until we begin to think out some of its possible implications. For example: as things are, most of us think we have done everything possible to sanctify our family meals by the three-times-a-day effort to say grace. But suppose that we began to follow out the sacramental implications of our family meals…
In the holy Eucharist, Christ’s own body and blood, His life and His grace, our gift of ourselves together in Him to God, and God’s gift of Himself to us, are all made present under the signs of bread and wine, human food and drink. And, as modern scholars tell us, the basic design of the Mass is that of a Jewish family meal. Our family meals, then, are meant to teach us and our children about the banquet of the holy Eucharist. Our food and family meals are meant to be the humble human reflections of the sacred meal of the holy Eucharist, which itself is a reflection of the eternal feast of heaven.
In the light of these facts, imagine a meal which the father earned by a piece of “sharp business” in which he did somebody out of the price of a day’s food; a meal consisting of food which the mother obtained by pushing in ahead of ten other people for a bargain at the supermarket; which she prepared in a temper and shoved onto an untidy and not-too–clean table; food which looked like something else and contained virtually no real nourishment; a meal to which the children come completely unwashed, knocking each other over in their hurry; a meal eaten in uncharitable silence, or to the accompaniment of mother’s complaints about the neighbors.
Such a meal obviously bears no relation at all to the Table of God. It is not a sign capable of teaching the children anything about God’s banquet. It will certainly give them no notion at all of why heaven should be compared to a feast. Such a meal is a completely secular activity, un-Christian, hardly even human.
But think of the possibilities inherent in our family lives if both the bread-winner and the bread-maker were trying to make each meal and everything connected with it more and more fit to be a humble human sign and reflection of the banquet of the holy Eucharist. The cooking and preparation of meals, the day-by-day, year-by-year, often seemingly hopeless task of training the children to cleanliness and decent table manners would take on real purpose and point, and so would the even more long-drawn-out and difficult job of training them to happy and interesting and charitable table conversation.
Let us suppose, for instance, that the price of the meal is earned by the father’s running a small hardware store as a real neighborhood service, making available to his neighbors at just prices the things they need for daily living; or, for that matter, by any other honest job that in some way honestly ” contributes to human welfare. Suppose that the mother bought the materials for the meal from a neighborhood grocery and vegetable store, the owner of which was also trying, according to his lights, to serve his neighborhood rather than make a fortune.
Suppose, further, that the mother, letting the children help her as much as their age and ability allowed, did her best, with whatever real food the family could afford, to prepare a meal that would both nourish her family and please them. Suppose that she served it carefully and lovingly; that the children acted, not like little angels, but like little Christians-in-the-making, with standards of hand-washing, orderly eating and Christian behavior that they did not always live up to, but were at least aware of.
Suppose, too, that an attempt was made really to pray grace before and after the meal; that the conversation at the meal was taken part in by everyone, according to his age, that the children were learning to attend to each other’s mental and spiritual needs for interest, love and attention, and to each other’s physical needs for salt or butter. Such a meal would be a truly Christian family meal, a real sign in its own order, of the Eucharistic banquet.
No matter if such an occasion were to look and sound much like any other family meal where small children are present–a more or less messy affair, with the children occasionally spilling things, using their fingers instead of their forks, interrupting the parents’ conversation in spite of rebuke, and the parents occasionally becoming short-tempered in the effort to eat and educate at the same time.
None of this would affect the main point, that the parents are trying as best they can, in the light of the sacramental significance of the holy Eucharist, to align everything concerned with their daily bread toward the requirements of full and fruitful participation in that banquet which is the sign and pledge of the everlasting wedding-feast of heaven.
(In any case, God Himself has made the material signs of heavenly realities necessarily crude and, in a sense, unworthy of those realities, so that we would take them as signs and signs only and not as the realities themselves. St. Thomas points out that Holy Scripture uses crude rather than ‘noble’ things as the basis for its figures and metaphors for this same reason. We parents, then, have no need to be ashamed of the crudity of our living picture-language, our daily family life in all its messiness, awkwardness, seeming confusion and lack of perfection. For if we are trying to order all its elements in the light of what marriage signifies–the union of Christ and the Church, and toward our all achieving that union through our daily family lives–then, surely, we have the ‘one thing necessary.’)
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