The Wall Street Journal published an article recently on a community of Catholic families in Oklahoma. The families have more or less withdrawn from the larger society in order to live according to their faith. Overwhelmed by the saturation of hedonism in our culture, they have gathered around a Benedictine monastery. Most attend Mass daily in the Extraordinary Form, that is, in traditional Latin. For the most part, they eschew television and internet and follow a simple lifestyle. It is like taking a step back in time. There are similar communities of Catholics scattered around the US and Canada hoping to immerse themselves in Catholic culture.
I understand the appeal. When my children were young, I was quite keen on Catholic family organizations. There were a couple of Catholic family camps that we attended during the summers and a Catholic parenting group that I really enjoyed. Having the support of fellow travelers is important, especially those who are a little further along in the journey. I remember attending a pro life conference in Ottawa and overhearing a conversation in an elevator in which a woman mentioned she was expecting her sixth child. I couldn’t resist commenting how nice that was to hear. I was expecting my fourth which often brought a surprised reaction, like I had taken one too many trips to the buffet. She laughed and said she knew just how I felt and that she had been so happy to meet a mother of ten earlier that day!
There are times in our lives when we need a little nurturing. We need to go on retreat – to retreat from the madness in which we live. We need the camaraderie of fellow Catholics and the example of strong families. We enjoy the freedom to talk about God, our faith, our concerns with the world. It’s wonderful and I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know some lovely people and learn from them. I strongly recommend that Catholic parents seek out good Catholic families and form good friendships for themselves and their children.
If we are able to step into a Catholic milieu, a community of faithful families, it will give us great peace. It is important, but it is not heaven on earth. We cannot escape sin, and even in an environment that is purposefully Christian, we will encounter unchristian behavior. We will also sin ourselves at times. Our human nature is fallen and we seem to find a way to alienate ourselves from Christ wherever we are. In some ways, the sins of the righteous cause greater scandal because it seems that they should be above it, but of course, they are human too.
To me, the greater concern is that by withdrawing from the world, the people in these communities may have lost sight of their mission. Although they argue that they are drawn toward something and not running away, the effect is that they are not engaged with the wider society. Laypeople are called to be in the world but not of it. We do not have the vocation of the cloistered, contemplative life. We are supposed to be in the world. Christ came into the world and He is our example. He associated with people I wouldn’t want at my dinner table, that’s for sure. That is the challenge – well, one of them – of Christian discipleship.