As we continue to read the letter of St. Paul to Titus in the reading at daily Mass, we see some important teachings about the “domestic Church,” otherwise known as the family. The insights are important, for if the domestic church is not strong, neither will the parish, diocesan or universal Church be strong. And while there is a tendency today on blogs like this, to often focus on the disrepair that some notice of the parish or diocesan Church, it remains a fact that many of our families are in far greater disrepair.
In effect God gives a simple insight for Church renewal in the reading from today’s (Tuesday of Week 32) Mass. So let’s take a brief look at what the Holy Spirit says through St. Paul says about the family, and its relationship to the Church.
St. Paul does begin with the parish priest, saying that the bishop, the priest, must say what is consistent with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Hence, it is the role of the clergy to set forth principles and to give, on a consistent and effective basis, the sound teachings of God revealed to us in the Scriptures, and the teachings and sacred Tradition of the Church.
There are many today who lament (often rightfully) the silence of many pulpits, and the ineffectiveness of the Clergy who are often content merely to speak in abstractions and generalities. This has often meant that many critical moral and social issues are going unaddressed. Frankly, too many of us clergy for play it safe. Yet in the world, the gospel is countercultural and the Church is a sign of contradiction. Thus playing it safe means that the gospel goes unproclaimed and the teachings of the Church are hidden from view.
But St. Paul makes it clear that the mouth of the priest is to speak, and to teach that which befits sound doctrine. He must give the teachings of the faith, and set forth principles which the people of God must then apply in their lives.
Therefore, the first step in having the domestic Church in good repair is for the parish church to be a place where sound doctrine is heard, is proclaimed with clarity and with charity, is articulated effectively and without ambiguity.
But this is only the beginning. For the Word of God cannot simply be proclaimed, it must be promulgated in the lives of those who hear. The Word of God cannot simply be announced, it must be applied. And the most essential place of this promulgation and application must take place is not only in the hearts and minds of individuals, but just as essentially, in the family.
It is not enough to say, as many do, “Father should say something from the pulpit.” For it also remains true, that the father of the domestic Church, the father of each family, must say something from the pulpit of his dinner table.
Therefore, in this letter to Titus, St. Paul goes on to describe how older men and women must be examples and models for younger people. Elders, and by extension mothers and fathers, must take their role of leadership.
And thus St. Paul directs:
Older women should be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to drink, teaching what is good, so that they may train younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers, under the control of their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited. (Titus 2:3-5)
Likewise regarding the older men, including Titus St. Paul says:
Older men should be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, love, and endurance….Urge the younger men, similarly, to control themselves, showing yourself as a model of good deeds in every respect, with integrity in your teaching, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be criticized, so that the opponent will be put to shame without anything bad to say about us. (Titus 2:2,6-8)
Elsewhere St. Paul develops thought just a bit more when he says: Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).
And thus it remains clear, that what should begin in the pulpit of the parish church, cannot end there.
And yet, what St. Paul teaches here is often sadly lacking in many (not all) families today. The family should be self-correcting, but many are not and the difficulties caused by this overflow into schools, churches and the public square. Beyond the family, it is also a sad fact that, in the wider culture, many elders have developed a “none of my business” attitude when it comes to teaching and correcting younger people.
I remember some years ago, in the early 1990s when in the certain parish we were struggling with many hard issues related to youth. Some of the teen girls had become pregnant, and there were many young men becoming involved with crime and drugs. I remember going to one of the large women’s groups in the parish and asking that they would consider undertaking a vigorous program of mentoring for the younger girls and women. I received a fairly flat no. Some indicated fear, others said they did not understand young women today and wouldn’t know how to talk to them. Still others spoke of these things as being “none of their business.”
I got a similar reaction when I spoke to the men of that parish about mentoring the teen boys and younger men.
And thus we see that the necessary fraternal correction and mentoring of the young by elders has fallen on the hard times in many communities, parishes, and the family. While the problem may vary from place to place, the problem remains a fairly general one in American culture.
Part of the reason for this is, that in the years following the Second World War, a youth centered culture began to set up in this country. Prior to that time, and still today in many parts of the world, elders were generally revered as being those who possessed experience and wisdom. Through the mid 50s and picking up pace in the 1960s, respect for elders steeply declined. Children and teenagers gradually came to see their parents as out of touch, old-fashioned, and often just plain stupid.
Popular music, especially rock ‘n roll, exulted youthful rebellion and generally presented portraits of adults as being confused, boorish, hypocritical, and undeserving privilege, honor, or respect. The presence of an unpopular war and a nihilistic rejection of the past also fueled this. As the exultation of youth culture began to expand many teenagers felt quite righteous in their overthrow of the parental culture.
Now, at least two generations into this loss of respect for elders, even those who are elders do not sense that they have much to offer, or even that they should be in the position correct youth. Perhaps they fear the push-back that many young people feel entitled to give. Perhaps these elders feel humbled by the fact of their own sins. Or perhaps some of simply bought in the whole youth culture mentality and have themselves never really grown up.
Whatever the causes in any particular case, we have come to a place in our culture where fraternal correction of the young is increasingly eroding. This in turn has led to grave problems in our families, in the schools, and most other social settings. Most tragically, the domestic Church, the family, has been severely impacted. This has also led to intensifying problems in the wider family of the Church. For if the domestic church is not strong, the parish Church will not be strong.
Into all of this disorder and confusion comes a simple plan from God. The priest, who is at the head of the parish family, is to speak teach sound doctrine to his people. And from his pulpit the Word must go forth to the pulpit of the domestic Church we call the family. At the pulpit of the dining room table, and the pulpit of the living room elders, having received the Word of God from their pastors, must hand this on to their children and to all the youngsters in their care.
Many indeed are the sorrows and difficulties that emerge from our failure to live this simple plan.
Here’s a song of rebellion sung by some parents of the boomers who threw the revolution. Many of the boomers are soon to be as old as the elders they once scorned: