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It Begins At Home And Among The Family

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By SHAUN KENNEY

One of Thomas Jefferson’s compliments to Benjamin Franklin when he was appointed ambassador to France was that no one could replace Franklin; Jefferson could only serve as his successor.
As his successor, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. James K. Fitzpatrick for carrying the torch here at The Wanderer for as long and admirably as he has. Of the names of editors and Catholic columnists of the turn of the century, one really does have to consider the few names that remain outstanding — the legacy writers to whom the rest of us merely grasp. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Deal Hudson, R.R. Reno, and others certainly come to mind.
Fitzpatrick’s work will remain the golden standard for Catholic writers who appreciate the paced, thoughtful, and objective Catholicity that only a Fordham education presents.
For myself, the Catholic University of America and the University of Virginia will have to serve as humble substitutes for what remains of Catholic education today. True, Mr. Jefferson’s university is the epicenter of counterculturalism on the East Coast today, and despite the departure of some of its leading Catholic historians over the last two decades, one might be pleasantly surprised at the Dominican habits who walk across the lawn and toward the newly built priory at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish.
Such is the development of the low-key counter-reformation that the previously infamous “bumper Buddha” — an overweight depiction of Aquinas made literally from chrome bumpers — has been removed to a more appropriate repose at the local art park, overseeing his dominions in appropriate silence.
The point of bringing our Dominican friends up amidst the turmoil that is Charlottesville is to illustrate a very simple fact among the generation whose definition of Catholicism stems from the witness of Pope John Paul the Great. More precisely, in a world of postmodernism where feelings triumph over reason and dialogue descends into competing monologues, a different sort of traditionalism is being embraced by the young; not the sclerosis the Second Vatican Council was (and to some degree, still is) trying to resolve, nor the integralism cum evangelical admixture that Fr. Antonio Spadaro in La Civiltà Cattolica attempted to imperfectly diagnose.
Rather, the young know the difference between Bob Dylan and the Catholic Mass. The guitar and sandals wing of the Church may have fit the 1960s, but it has in its own way turned into its own form of traditionalism that reeks of the past. There is nothing new, nothing evergreen, nothing that reaches back to the faith of our fathers and speaks to the New Evangelization.
So it is with great courage that I look upon our seminarians and see that these seeds are planted firmly in the soil of the Magisterium. Beyond authenticity, there is a certain grounding — a spoken logos more profound than all the logic and dialogue we could summon — that exhibits a faith that remains in the world but not of it (John 17).
All of this, of course, begins at home and among the family — the “first teachers” of the faith and the title of this column.
I will make a confession here and now. Though I am a proud home-schooling father of seven, it is my wife who does the heavy lifting of educating my children. Mathematics, reading, writing, religious education — these are things on which I would love to claim a direct influence, but more often than not lead merely by example.
For most Catholic home-schooling fathers, there can remain at times an awkward tension between the male impulse to “Do Something!” (TM) and the natural inclination to watch as a child learns from his mother. St. Joseph must laugh and laugh at the rest of us. Beyond carpentry, what else did St. Joseph have to do but watch and marvel? Turns out there is plenty to do. Catholic fathers must run their households, earn a paycheck, change diapers, and do all those hip suburban things we are told to do by mass society.
As Catholic fathers, we have other duties as well, both public and private ones. Most of us as children can remember the slight quirks of our fathers and grandfathers — the smell of sandalwood after shaving, a brand of pipe tobacco, a pet peeve such as “slamming the car door” (which my own father yells at me as a grown man today for even the tiniest infraction), their favorite books and publications, how they never missed praying before meals even in public, the things in their desks.
Yet our private duties remain part of this task. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that moral actions become good habits, and good habits become virtues. Likewise, immoral actions become bad habits, and bad habits become vices. Good habits such as insisting on prayers before meals, praying the rosary in the car while driving from place to place, going to Mass on Sunday, making Confession once a month, and speaking to your children about the importance of an interior life — these are entirely meritorious things.
Listing the catalogue of vices that society offers is needless here. Our fathers and grandfathers worried about an Orwellian society that banned the Church entirely; we must raise the alarm about the world Huxley imagined. Rather than burning books, we simply neglect to read them. Rather than banning thought, we mindlessly entertain ourselves to death. Rather than regimenting our minds and our bodies, we read and watch nonsense while digging our graves with a knife and a fork.
Our children watch this, sponges that they are. Through the lens of the family, these little ones see a world that revels in the famous for no other reason than they are famous. They see a Catholic Church struggling to define itself in a postmodern age as either a giant NGO or a monastic fortress hiding from the world but rarely engaging it. Between the modern Scylla and Charybdis of selling out and waiting out lies a more substantial problem: No one understands what the myth of Scylla and Charybdis is anymore.
Christians are born for combat, reminds Pope Leo XIII. Our little Burkean platoons that we see smiling at us every morning are being trained for a culture war that is being brought to our doorstep, not vice-versa.
Once limited to the colleges and universities, this postmodern world has wrapped itself in pink and is pushing organizations such as Planned Parenthood upon our children and into our institutions, federal and local.
There are as few as 34 different gender pronouns with which to grapple. Our heroes and monuments are under attack. Mobs of anarcho-socialists branding themselves as anti-fascist yet exhibiting all the rage of brown shirts march down our streets in self-declared “days of rage” while the mainstream media remind the world that the Catholic Church is infested with pederasts; it’s only path to reform being to kneel before the secular Leviathan and accept the new norms.
As First Teachers, we have a moral duty not only to resist, but use the one weapon that confuses the enemy the most: humility through Christ. St. Vincent de Paul reminds us that because humility is the one virtue the Devil cannot imitate, it is the one weapon that confounds his plans the most. Humility is the foundation of courage, because it relies on the strength of God, not ourselves.
I look forward to hearing from Wanderer readers; write to me at the address below!

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Please send all correspondence for First Teachers to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Rd., Kents Store, VA 23084.

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