Recently, I was sitting with my two sons in the basement of our church as we enjoyed the monthly after-mass coffee and donuts, when I struck up a conversation with an elderly gent. He was lamenting that his grandchildren were losing interest in the faith and that his own kids (their parents) either didn’t seem too concerned or they weren’t having any luck keeping them in the faith.
His concern is a common one and the old trope that most people who drift away from the faith in some form or another when they are young, will eventually come back when they get married or have kids is just not true. In fact according to increasingly more detailed polls, this reality has been happening for quite some time, it’s just that most people are unwilling or unable to confront it. Of course the revelation of the abuse scandals right after the turn of this century and the ongoing social polarization (in and out of the Church) will only aggravated the exodus of people from the Church, and will make handing on the faith to our kids a difficult task for the foreseeable future.
I should know this, because I was once one of those persons that left the church. As a Gen-Xer I grew up culturally Catholic during one of the worst periods of catechesis in recent history, and grew up with no attachment to my faith. I left it all behind shortly after getting confirmed, which I pursued too late in my teens and only at the behest of my mother who practiced her faith about as poorly as I understood it. Nevertheless, our Lord never gave up on me, and unlike a lot of young adults who abandon their faith when they go off to college, I actually rediscovered mine. By God's grace and the patient intervention of several intelligent and holy Catholic men, I eventually gave up the intellectual and moral pretentiousness that I was attempting to pass off as “sophistication” and started to learn what my Catholic faith really taught. The transformation is ongoing and of course it has not been without a fair amount of heartache along the way, both personally and with the lives of my kids.
Blazing a New Trail into the Wilds of the World
A favorite poet of mine, once quipped, “Just because you are following a well-worn trail, doesn’t mean the person who made it knew where they were going” or for that matter even going the same place as you. I have learned this lesson the hard way when it came to my attempts to pass the faith on to my kids by doing what my parents did, albeit with more knowledge and ardor. And yet that well-worn path bequeathed to me by my parents kept turning into Osbourne’s “Road to Nowhere”, as my oldest son who is not in any way hostile to the faith, but just hasn’t shown any interest in it since he was confirmed and left home. Meanwhile, my oldest daughter, is a full-fledged None who is not only on the wrong side of the Tiber, but also the Jordan as she has more affinity with the idols of Woke than Christ.
Thus when the time came for my middle son to be confirmed, I finally understood our Lord’s words about old and new wine, and decided to get off the path I was on and seek out or forge a different one. I wanted to reach deep into our Catholic traditions and find away to give my kids a vision of the Church that would ignite their faith and incinerate all of the other insipid yarns the world tries to weave into a counterfeit road to redemption. And when it came to the sacrament of confirmation, I wanted to give him an appreciation for the sacrament that went beyond mere book-learning or reciting a series of rehearsed “I do’s” at the mass.
Giving a Gift That Would Not be Forgotten
Since teens are notorious for not listening to, let alone “getting”, most of the wisdom their parents try to impart to them, I figured whatever change I made it had to be simple, straightforward, and memorable. So I rightly figured that the one thing that would be second-most on his mind at his confirmation (if I was being honest) was what sort of gifts he would get at the dinner we were having for him afterwards. Thus, I wanted to make sure I got him a gift that was completely out of the ordinary, that would not get lost on an overfilled bookshelf or gather dust on a dresser, and something that would serve as a tangible sign of the unseen graces that the sacrament would be bestowing on him.
After a lot of prayer and reflection, the answer partially came to me when I was reading the sixth chapter of Ephesians where St. Paul speaks about spiritually arming and equipping ourselves with the virtues of God. But mostly it came from my admiration for the works and life of J.R.R. Tolkien (himself a devout Catholic) which unlike my faith was somehow far easier to pass onto my kids. So putting those two elements together, I purchased a replica of the sword Orcrist from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movie (which was in the theaters at the time and whose style my son said he liked) for a confirmation gift. I saved up for its purchase and worked diligently on a letter to explain my intention for getting him it. In addition to not wanting him to see this sacrament as just another social or cultural event in his life, I wanted him to see the sword as a physical sign from his father that I was now entrusting him to carry on the teachings and traditions of his faith, and that like a knight, he was now fully answerable to a Lord.
Since that day I have prayed always that my son (and his brother who got Anduril when he was confirmed) will, in times of doubt or when they are worn down by the false idols and idiocies of the modern world, be strengthened to “hold the line” when it comes to their faith and give glory to God. Lastly, when the time comes, I fully intend to bestow a sword to my youngest daughter when she is confirmed. For make no mistake, the same toxic zeitgeist that seeks to emasculate our sons and keep them as perpetual adolescents has equally depraved designs on our daughters. It wants to destroy their innocence and turn their passions against them, and instead offer them a shallow and prurient image of womanhood that runs counter to their intrinsic dignity as women.
Now I am fully aware that giving my kids swords for a confirmation gift will not prevent them from leaving the Church any more than the rosaries or devotional books my other children got for their confirmation prevented them from doing so (I’ll mind my manners, as well as my tongue, and refrain from commenting on giving just money as a confirmation gift). Nevertheless, doing so was the way that I chose to get off the path to Nowhere or Noneville (which ultimately are the same place), and to blaze a new one for the sake of my kids.
After all, most of us carry with us the effects of the “sins of the father” or other generational dysfunctions that we acquired growing up- some worse than others. But at some point, as adults and parents, we need to make a concerted effort to pray for the grace to leave those pathologies behind, so that our kids don’t end up in the same vicious cycle. And sometimes, you need to be forceful and maybe a little grim in getting and staying off the path to Nowhere, and what better item than a sword to encourage us to be resolute and faithful in our efforts.
NOTE: while I am no Tolkien, below are snippets from the letter I wrote for my middle son that accompanied the sword.
“Today you have received the last of the Church’s sacraments of initiation, and once again you were marked with that same Sign of the Cross, but this time it was done with your full assent...concerning this change, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “The sacrament by which spiritual strength is conferred on the one born again makes him in some sense a front-line fighter for the faith of Christ.”
“The military imagery is fitting in this context because, as you know, the Church exists in three states: the Church Triumphant, made up of those who are in Heaven keeping watch over us; the Church Penitent, those in Purgatory for whom we pray; and the Church Militant, the rest of us who are journeying through this “Vale of Tears” and who must work out our salvation in “fear and trembling. It is in this light that I want to give you a gift befitting your new status in the Church—the sword Orcrist from the novel and movie The Hobbit.”
“I want you to see this sword as a sort of sacramental—like a rosary or crucifix—that you can hold and even swing or parry as you spend time in prayer or quiet reflection (since there is nothing in our tradition to say that all prayer must be still or passive). This is not a toy for you or others to play with or use in some mundane manner, but a tangible sign of the Word of God (Heb 4:12) whose purpose is to help inform your inner-most thoughts as you work through the troubles you will face in life.”
“Let it be a reminder that not only is life full of struggles that will demand every ounce of your courage to remain in the Truth, but also that there will be times when you must take the offensive and deliberately hunt down and destroy those vices that would devour the life of your soul. So while you will find precious few monsters to slay in the outside world, you will find them running amok in the spiritual realm. These are the monster types (and the vices they symbolize) that we battle against in our contemporary imaginations—Orcs (mob violence and unbridled hate), Zombies (conformity and soullessness), Giants (gluttony and materialism), Dragons (covetousness and lust), Werewolves (duplicity and rage), witches and sorcerers (a lust for power over others), and Vampires (the culture of death).”
“Only by being open to God's grace will you be able to build lasting habits that will lead to self-mastery, and thus live up to the expectations that not only your mother and I have, but more importantly that God has for you. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “You were not made for comfort, but for greatness,” and the journey to that greatness starts today. “
Photo Credit- torahportions.ffoz. org