Inviting Jesus into Our Homes, and into Our Hearts
Without prayer, we are secular people. Without prayer, people of good will try their best to raise happy, successful children using whatever advice society currently offers. Thankfully, society offers good ideas from time to time: sleeping in a safe crib, wearing seat belts and bike helmets, eating natural foods, sharing toys, eliminating second-hand smoke—all of these suggestions contribute to the health and welfare of our children. But can our government and culture always serve the best interests of our children? Can laws for staying safe and healthy lead our children to heaven? If we want eternal life for our children, we need to rely on something permanent, someone who is “past change,” as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, once wrote. We need God. Prayer is the gift God gave us to relate with him. Prayer is relationship with God.
Without prayer, we are secular people, easily tossed about in the winds of popular opinion. Keeping up with the latest theories on childrearing can lead to some questionable, if not downright crazy, practices. In 2011, actress Angelina Jolie shared with the British paper The Sun
that her mother allowed Jolie’s boyfriend to live in their home. “We lived like a married couple for two years,” she explained, praising her mother’s hospitality: “It was the smartest thing my mother could have done because, this way, we weren’t hanging out in a park together.” While the scandal of cohabitation has gone the way of Atari games and no longer grabs headlines, Jolie’s story continues to be quoted in newspapers today, because at the time her boyfriend moved in, Jolie was fourteen years old.
In August 2013, two summers after Jolie’s interview with The Sun
, The New York Times
“Circa Now” monthly column dedicated its discussion to the idea of Jolie’s teenage shack-up. While columnist Henry Alford admits that he embraces the idea of sixteen-year-olds “having protected sex in a committed relationship,” he pauses briefly in his introduction to “wince” at the thought of fourteen-year-old sex. Alas, a wince is all that’s left of Alford’s conscience, as he plunges into the heart of his column. He no longer discusses whether it’s acceptable
for parents to allow their teenagers to have sex in the family home; he proceeds to quote an etiquette expert, a painter, and a life coach who each have family policies that help him understand how to manage
the active sex lives of minor children. Alford admires the etiquette of these family-home sex policies, and hopes he could imitate them if he had children. “I enjoy having people stay in my apartment,” he shares, “so I know I would be good at welcoming a child’s friend into my home initially.”
Like most spectacular sin, this welcoming of teenage sex begins with a good idea that gets horribly warped. Hospitality is, in principle, a benevolent concept, a virtue embraced by holy people and religious communities. But the enemy of our human nature—as St. Ignatius of Loyola calls the devil—lives to subvert goodness. He is an artist of death, and his medium is bits of goodness, twisted into terrible monuments of self-interest. What’s truly stunning in this etiquette column is the way Alford presents the give-and-take of managing unmarried sex as a service to the community. He quotes Judith Martin (“a k a Miss Manners”), from her work titled “Common Courtesy”: “I hope we can take it for granted that individual freedom must be tempered somewhat by the need for maintaining a harmonious society.” In this case, Alford proposes, the teenagers having sex in the family home ought to wash their own bed sheets and find other ways to pitch in around the house.
So here we have an etiquette expert, in the newspaper with the second-largest circulation in the United
States, suggesting that the only check on our personal freedom is societal harmony. As long as the trash makes it down to the curb, it seems, we can all get along, doing whatever we please. What an impoverished, anemic approach to the richness of humanity. For all the progress humans have made over the centuries, we keep forgetting that “just being nice” has horrible consequences. Flannery O'Connor, the American novelist, once wrote “in the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness. And tenderness leads to the gas chamber." When we just want to keep people happy, we help them avoid suffering and challenges. When Hitler saw the German people suffering after World War I, he went to extremes to root out all causes of suffering; in his mind, this required exterminating Jews, Poles, people with mental and physical disabilities, and many others.
When we fail to understand deep in our hearts how God entered the world as a vulnerable, poor baby, we cannot understand how the vulnerable, poor people in our world deserve love and dignified care. Without faith in an eternal, unchanging God, the very best we can do for one another is to try to avoid conflict by not stepping on any toes. We hate making our children sad, of denying sexual pleasure to adolescents, so we find ways to make unmarried teen sex part of the family routine. We shudder at the idea of suffering children or having to care for special needs, so we select only those embryos which show no signs of abnormality. We never want anyone’s unhappiness for a moment, so we pity women with difficult or unplanned pregnancies and help them terminate the source of their suffering. Ultimately, this tenderness trades short-term tranquility for radical evil. We’re clients of a sleazy pawn shop, cashing in our treasures of virtue for less than their worth, just to get by for a while.
In her book The
Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and
Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance, Polly Young-Eisendrath, PhD,
describes the difficulty “helicopter” parents have saying no to
children: “Rooted in the belief that children and parents always need to
have pleasant, cozy feelings, helicopter parenting focuses on children’s
success and creativity, as well as nonconflictual relating. . . . Helicopter
parents are unknowingly cultivating little tyrants who will, in their teenage
and later years, become intensely afraid of humiliation or even depressed when
they are unable to be famous or rich or powerful.”
We can do better for our children. We must not settle for pawn-shop morality which privileges temporary survival over eternal salvation. By God’s grace, we can provide our children with the stability of eternity. We can do this through prayer.
Prayer is relationship with God. God, Creator of the universe, initiates this relationship himself and nurtures it with each one of us. God loves us. God is love. We respond in prayer, welcoming the Lord into our hearts, into our homes.
It seems only natural to invite the Lord into our hearts and homes. God created us; we belong to him. He initiates relationship with each and all, and at the very least we acknowledge him. That acknowledgement is prayer. We can also start learning more about God: we can read proofs for God’s existence; we can read works on the mystery of the Trinity; we can learn about the lives of great religious heroes; we can explore the Catechism; we can dive into the Bible, working through the history of the Old Testament or comparing the synoptic Gospels with one another. These intellectual activities are important. But of primary importance is our relationship with our creator, our practice of turning our hearts to the one who brought us into existence out of pure love. In a word, prayer.
Let's pray together today.