A Counter-Cultural Half-Term

Ullswater seen from Hallin Fell
I didn't write over the half-term, mostly because I was too exhausted! I went to Cumbria to spend some time with friends in the Lake District. I was up early walking as much as possible. By the time we got back in the evening and had dinner, bed was very welcome. I found this immensely satisfying I have to say.

The trip was most enjoyable, an opportunity to spend time in Catholic company with a family who are committed Catholics living a Catholic life. This means that the faith informs everything they live. I find this time so beneficial for my family, who are completely comfortable in this environment. It is like being at home, in your own country, where like minded people share the same goals, aspirations and values as you do. Sadly in England today it seems that if you are Catholic, you are swimming very much against the current!

Our friend's children are just a little older than our own, and this provides a wonderful opportunity for my children to explore the opportunities and experiences that they will soon encounter first hand as they complete their A levels and look toward University or vocational work. Our friend's children are wonderful examples who retain all the dynamism of youth coupled with a depth of character born of a real relationship with Christ: living in the knowledge of God's love every day, and the responsibility such knowledge invokes in one to care for others. This is beautifully expressed in their early post-grad choices which were both beautifully articulated in conversation, and inspirational for my children.

For myself and Louise, an opportunity to share and discuss the issues closest to our hearts as we struggle with life's joys and sadness's. An affirmation of the value and beauty of Catholic life seen in our struggles and the wonderful thing that is family. Also an opportunity to discuss parenting strategies and talk about shared challenges and ways to nurture, support and help our children grow, explore, and understanding life.

One of the most interesting ideas we talked about was the change in contemporary culture with regard to what constitutes a life well lived. In fact, we concluded that this is not even a concept much discussed any more. Success in life seems to be measured in rather fatuous, shallow terms: financial success, what car you drive, clothes you wear or how famous you are, rather than any true measure of achievement, attainment or personal satisfaction. We chase headlong after money and fame, desperately trying to fill the hole in our souls which can in reality only be filled by love and relationship; i.e., by God.

Do you know anyone who pursues an intellectual path for its own worth? They do exist, but are few and far between. Today, a woman who gives up her promising career to become a mother is ridiculed, but what in all honesty, could be more rewarding that devoting your life to your children? It is here in the family, "the school of deeper humanity", where we really understand what it means to be happy, where we build community where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows.

The view towards Martindale
And make no mistake, sorrow is a part of life. Modern society, it seems to me, tries desperately to avoid this fact and to sanitise life, insulating us from the reality of death and the difficult consequences of bad decisions (for example, through the proliferation of the scourge of abortion), or difficult truths (gender reassignment), or sacrifice (euthanasia and care of the elderly outside the family). But we all recognise that these so called solutions do nothing to help us understand or truly deal with the sorrows we face. As this recent article on abortion describes, the reality is that the false solution often merely compounds the real problem:
“I felt like I died,” one of the women says in the campaign about her abortion as a teenager. “I really felt like a part of me died that day.”
“I had experienced a rape at a very young age, and I compared it very much to rape – very traumatic,” she said, adding that the sadness and regret “compounds because of other choices you make as a result of the pain and the suffering that you’re going through.”
Sorrow and difficulty is part of life, and sacrifice is an essential and necessary part of learning to live in communion. Indeed, Familiaris Consortio teaches us that:
family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation. There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life. But, at the same time, every family is called by the God of peace to have the joyous and renewing experience of "reconciliation," that is, communion reestablished, unity restored. In particular, participation in the sacrament of Reconciliation and in the banquet of the one Body of Christ offers to the Christian family the grace and the responsibility of overcoming every division and of moving towards the fullness of communion willed by God, responding in this way to the ardent desire of the Lord: "that they may be one." 
True family is about going through these difficulties and facing them honestly, with integrity, and a desire to genuinely reconcile our differences with respect.

Trying to live this is a constant challenge and means that I must constantly challenge myself about decisions I make, re-examining my actions and choices. I probably do this too much, and no doubt I make mistakes, but I try to live this way because I want to grow and love and change, and not to be insular or closed. At the same time, we sometimes have to recognise when, despite our best efforts (or efforts anyway), some relationships are not going to be fruitful. This is extremely difficult, but I know that some people are simply destructive in relationship. This is a phenomenon widely recognised in the work place. There I find it easier to deal with such personalities, but within familial relationships it is much more likely that we give the benefit of the doubt time and time again and try to sort things out. It is hard to admit defeat, but we cannot spend our whole lives trying to deal with other people's choices. It is hard but sometimes we have to recognise differences can be irreconcilable.

Having Catholic back-up in terms of a data base of knowledge one can refer to, is invaluable. This stuff is tried and tested too, the only problem is that access to the information has been somewhat restricted over the last few decades (to put that more explicitly; I'm saying the faith has not been taught). The opportunity to spend time with other faithful, informed Catholics is invaluable in this regard and you can discuss your perspective of various Catholic strategies and how they can be applied in different situations.

My message is that Catholic family is great. You should try it. We should encourage it, and we need to teach it, and preach it! We also need to build a coalition of support where we can share our experiences and help and encourage each other. You are not alone!


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