Is the Church calling people to a truly radical alternative way of life, or is it playing around the margins? Our society now tells us that two income families are the norm. Childlessness is increasingly normal, even for married couples. Fundamentally, our two income paradigm of life strikes at the heart of the nurture and teaching of children in God’s wisdom. Having children so that you can sacrifice them to daycare for a few years until the State steps in and turns them into compliant citizens for the next thirteen years isn’t exactly the best way to pass on the faith.
Foundational to my thinking is the idea that there is no neutrality in this world and the State is certainly not neutral about religion. It is anti-religious and teaches a false philosophy of the equality of gods. It is therefore critical to the spiritual health of our children that they are in private school or are home schooled. Churches can support this by teaching, by starting schools, and by maintaining a fund to send kids to school.
The systemic nature of the problem facing us is immense. When we are young and probably not thinking too clearly about how life works, we are inclined to go to college where we run up enormous debts. Or perhaps we join the military and run up credit card debt. Either way, we enter our mature years with debt. Cars cost a lot, housing costs a lot, so when we you get married, you have even more burdens placed on you. Then you have a kid. Now how will you move from being a dual-income to a single-income family? The deck is stacked against you.
So is the Church teaching her people to forego debt? To live in a manner conducive to single income living after children arrive? To forsake a public school system that is antithetical to all we believe? Or are we just trying to save souls for heaven and not worrying about earthly concerns?
What we are called to is suffering, and in our context that may not mean torture and imprisonment. It may mean long days, sleepless nights, living in close quarters and doing without. Embracing children and fighting the system may mean embracing a low standard of living. I confess that I am not an example of the best way to do this. But I think I can still see with clarity the conflict that we are in. Michael O’Brien addresses what we are called to in the context of his own calling to be an artist and a writer:
As a married man, I have always strived to put the needs of my family first. From the beginning, my wife and I have remained of one mind and heart regarding our life’s sacrifice of giving everything for the service of Our Lord and the Church. Without this unity it would have been impossible, and surely would have collapsed in the early stages and at any point along the way. In fact it was she who, shortly after we were married, first urged me to consider this way of life, and it is she who has never complained about the hardships involved, and she who has buoyed me up whenever our situation looked scary and hopeless.
By putting one’s family first I do not mean for a moment that a distinct calling from God should be rejected because the life of a Christian artist in these times probably means material insecurity. Part of accepting the call, for most people, will demand an ever-deepening trust in divine providence. While divine providence never promises us a comfortable life, it promises us all that we truly need to accomplish our missions in life.
For most of us, we can probably forget the idea of having a middle class standard of living with good pension plans. The way of Christian art as a full-time vocation demands sacrifice, and with sacrifice comes stresses and testing, which are increased when one’s family responsibilities are great. That is why it is important for married couples to discern very clearly, together, before launching with full commitment into this vocation. They must understand that their first vocation is always the sacrament of marriage, and the call to art a subsidiary vocation.
Many of you who have written to me are not married, and yet the essential task remains the same for you: to seek the will of the Father and the guidance of the Holy Spirit with your whole hearts. A life of prayer and sacraments—of union with our living savior Jesus—is absolutely essential, if we hope to bear good fruit in the world.