Restoring Catholic Culture: Preparing the Soil

Curtis and Michaelann Martin
From the Nov 2000 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Raising kids can be dirty work. At least that’s the way we like to think of it. We have found great insight in Our Lord’s parable of the seeds (cf. Lk. 8:4-15). In the parable, Jesus compares four different types of soils: the pathway, the rocky ground, the weeds, and the good soil. God scatters His seed on each type of soil, but only the good soil allows the seed to bear fruit. As parents, we are all called to prepare the soil of our children’s
hearts, so that they will receive God’s Word and bear abundant fruit. We must also make the effort to clear out the “weeds” of this world-materialism, inappropriate television shows, unmonitored Internet access, bad peer groups, etc. We are called to cultivate virtue and root out vice, so that our children’s souls will become fertile soil. This is a daunting task, and we can’t possibly succeed without the help of God and His grace.

The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute. The right and duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children (Catechism, nos. 1653, 2221).

We were both raised in Catholic homes. We went to Mass on Sundays and holy days, we had religious education through our parishes and at home. Michaelann even attended Catholic school, but in our teens we both struggled with our faith. It is all too common to find young Catholics drifting away from the Church. What they need is to have the soil of their hearts cultivated. We are so convinced of this, that we spend most of our time working with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (“FOCUS”), a Catholic organization that Curtis founded. Our main goal is to share the reasons for hope that the
Catholic Church provides. FOCUS equips young missionaries with the tools to lead Bible studies, answer questions, and lead others to the fullness of our faith. It is very challenging work, but God continues to provide for our needs while allowing us to see the fruit of our efforts as well.

We have seen how the truth of Sacred Scripture can transform lives. One key component of our work with young people is to show them how sacred liturgy brings us into the life of Christ, that it is the Gospel relived throughout time. The liturgical year is designed as a tool to live, love, and understand more fully, the abundant life Christ has given us. And it is precisely because we are called to a personal relationship with Jesus, that we are to be in
the world but not of the world. It isn’t only college students who need a Christ-centered worldview. When we had our first son, Brock, we began to see how important it was for us to pass on our faith by cultivating his Christ-centered worldview on a daily basis from his earliest years.

Michaelann began to discover that the liturgical year provided a great tool to allow us to live the life of Christ every day throughout the year. Unfortunately, most of the information about family customs wasn’t easy to find. After spending years gathering ideas as to how to live the Christian faith within our home, Michaelann co-authored with Carol Puccio and Zoë Romanowsky The Catholic Parent Book of Feasts. The book tries to share the
timeless ideas from the past as well as creatively adapt the faith to our modern world.

The Power of Prayer

“The Christian family is the first place for education in prayer. . . . For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church’s living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit” (Catechism, no. 2685).

C.S. Lewis once referred to Christianity as a “good infection.” Our goal in parenting is to become contagious. In other words, our primary objective in life is to go to heaven and take as many people with us as we can. There are two great steps in becoming a contagious Christian: study and prayer. Study transforms our thoughts and prayer transforms our hearts. When we pray and develop a deeper relationship with Our Lord, He begins to work through us by “infecting” others with our living faith. More than anything, we want to be sure that our children catch a good case of Christianity.

The great saints have always understood the transforming power of prayer. St. Peter of Alcantara speaks beautifully of how the soul is perfected by drawing close to God through prayer:

In mental prayer the soul is purified from its sins, nourished with charity, confirmed in faith, and strengthened in hope; the mind expands, the
affections dilate, the heart is purified, truth becomes evident; temptation is conquered, sadness dispelled; the senses are renovated; drooping powers
revive; tepidity ceases; the rust of vices disappears. Out of mental prayer issues forth, like living sparks, those desires of heaven which the soul
conceives when inflamed with the fire of divine love. Sublime is the excellence of mental prayer, great are its privileges; to mental prayer heaven is
opened; to mental prayer heavenly secrets are manifested and the ear of God ever attentive (Treatise on Prayer, part one).

Sacramental Grace: Our Secret Weapon

Remember for a moment when you fell in love with your spouse. Wasn’t it wonderful anticipating spending time together? Michaelann remembers bathing extra long, choosing just the right outfits, making sure that she was presenting herself in the best possible way. Curtis would even go so far as to wash and clean his car before each date. We can have that same desire to present our best selves to God as well. We have been given the wonderful Sacrament of Confession, in which Christ forgives our sins, cleanses our souls, and gives us the grace to be stronger in the face of temptation, making us more
presentable before God. How often do we take advantage of the rich blessings we are offered? Christ continues to bestow Himself on us in the Eucharist. He
desires to transform each one of us. God pours His very life into ours; we receive His Son’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which we receive divine life (Catechism, no. 1131).

The Family That Prays (and Fasts) Together Stays Together

We have been working for years to develop “The Martin Way.” It is up to each family to find out what will be their family’s way. While each family is different, there are certain elements we have found very effective. In our family, we like to stress the liturgical year and the lives of the saints. We try to incorporate the liturgical year by remembering each of the children’s saint day. Baptism days are a bigger deal than birthdays. We change our
tablecloth colors as they coincide with the color of the liturgical calendar (for example, purple during Lent), and the children notice the same colors as we attend Mass. As our children are getting older we are trying to incorporate a family reading time. We have included the classics as well as many of the lives of the saints. Our goal is to have the children venture off on their own to do more individual reading about these great heroes and heroines of our faith.

In addition, we try to foster the growth of virtue in our children. Every week or so we focus on a new virtue. Just recently, we had been working, for about five days, on the virtue of respect. Michaelann had just asked our six-year-old Augustine to do a chore. He began to whine, and then caught himself, and said, “I’m sorry mom, that wasn’t very respectful.” It is always a joy to see some progress in your work of cultivating the soil of a heart.

Talk Tips

  • At Sunday dinner, ask the children to each share a way they could be more like Christ. Then ask for ideas of what the family could do. Take some of
    these ideas and make them your action points as well.
  • Discuss and decide the best time for family prayer.
  • As a couple, talk about ways that you might better pass on the faith to your children. Could you incorporate the liturgical year more effectively?
    Could you begin to read about the saints together or get a child’s picture Bible and begin to read and learn Bible stories as a family?

Additional Reading

The Catholic Parent Book of Feasts, by Michaelann Martin, Carol Puccio, and Zoë Romanowsky

Conversation With Christ, The Teaching of St. Teresa of Avila about personal prayer, ed. by Peter Thomas Rohrbach

Catechism, nos. 2683-96 (Guides for Prayer)

Catechism, nos. 2697-2745 (The Life of Prayer)

Catechism, nos. 2201-57 (The Family in God’s Plan)

Catechism, nos. 1113-34 (The Sacraments)

Action Points

  • Arrange to have a family meeting where everyone comes together to discuss how the family can better serve God. You could visit an elderly neighbor or
    make cookies to cheer up someone. The older kids could offer free baby-sitting for a new mom, or mow the lawn for an elderly neighbor . . . the ideas
    are infinite! Just think of ways to be like Christ, to serve and to give of self.
  • Recommit yourself to a time for personal prayer. Then talk to your spouse about how you can encourage each other in prayer. Recommit the family to a
    prayer time together.
  • Take out a calendar and mark family feasts, name days, etc., to begin to celebrate the liturgical year in your family.

Personal Application

    1. Read Romans 12:1-2. What choice must we make? How might you be transformed or renew your mind? What tools do we have to accomplish these tasks?
      ________________________________________ ________________________________________ ________________________________________
    2. Jesus gives us examples of His prayer life. Read Matthew 26:36-45; Mark 1:35; 6:46-47; Luke 5:16; 6:12; and John 17. When, where, and how does Jesus pray? How can we use His example and imitate it in our own lives? ________________________________________ ________________________________________
    3. In Matthew 25:31-46, Christ tells us what to expect at the final judgment. What type of customs or activities can we do in our families to live as Christ is asking of His followers? ________________________________________ ________________________________________
    4. Read Hebrews 13:2. What encouragement does this verse give you when it comes to serving those in need? ________________________________________ ________________________________________ ________________________________________

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