Families and holiness is a topic rarely taught either in the classroom or from the pulpit. Now, many good priests speak of the importance of family prayers, family catechesis, Catholic education, and even discipline in the home. But the topic of a family being holy and passing down a heritage of holiness is a subject I have never heard discussed or presented. One could list families wherein the parents, children, siblings, uncles, aunts were all saints. What do I mean specifically?
Every family has charisms. Some families produce generations of medical professionals, such as doctors. Some families pass down a tendency toward the legal profession and even politics. For example, in the American presidency, we have has families which have created civil servants, and the idea of leadership. Some families produce generations of writers, journalists, painters, architects, and we say, in conversation, that “it is in the blood”. The same is true of holiness.
If one looks at the history of certain countries, one can see traces of this heritage of holiness in particular families. St. Basil, below, came from a family of saints, as did St. Etheldreda, the patron of this blog. St.Therese, above, had holy parents, and St. Thomas More, below, produced a family of unusual holiness through several generations. This is not to say that families cannot produce a terrible sinner, or a saint unique to the line, but it seems that strong Catholics beget strong Catholics. The entire idea of the organisation of the old Medieval class system and the passing down of inherited talents may have stifled some people, but offered a continuity of vocations as well.
Many years ago on the BBC a series called By the Sword Divided followed the supposed history of a family during the English Civil War, wherein some members stayed Catholic and some became Puritans. This Cavalier/Puritan division in the series was not presented merely as a simple choice of religious persuasion, but depicted a complicated set of motivations for certain members taking the sides, and even betraying kith and kin, for the “cause”.
What struck me about the narration, and also the history of recusancy in England, was the heritage of stubborn loyalty to the Church in the face of fines, imprisonment and even death It was as if the charism “in the blood” was heroism, even holiness.
Have we lost that as Catholics? Has the blood been so diluted, and the “cause” been so forgotten that families have not passed down the passion, the heritage, even the genes for martyrdom? I challenge Catholics to read these types of stories to their children and for the old families to seriously look at their heritage of Faith to see if the inheritance has been passed down and, if not, why not? The Church is made up of people. People come from families which form the characters from early childhood. I would hate to think that the passing on of heroism has ended.