For parents especially with young children, it’s a difficult balance to raise them in the world with its own culture while trying to instill a way of life that’s centered on the Catholic faith.
So how does one create a Catholic culture in their family? For several families, it’s as simple as sticking to the liturgical year — and the Advent and Christmas season is ripe with beautiful traditions to practice together.
Truth, beauty and goodness
For Ryan O’Connor, assistant principal at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic school, it wasn’t enough just to cut out the secular culture from his family’s life — it was about replacing it and creating their own, based in faith and expressed through the beautiful, true and good.
“We were inspired by the Michael O’Brien quote, ‘How very difficult it is to resist an entire culture, and especially for children to do so, because it is a right and good thing for children to grow into awareness of being members of a broader community.
“‘That is why the solution will never be simply a matter of criticizing the false culture surrounding us. The absolutely essential task of parents is to give their children a true culture, a sure foundation on which to stand,’” O’Connor said.
He and his wife, Sarah, committed to intentionally created a faith culture for their children early on in their marriage, and they’ve been building upon it over their 10 years together as a married couple.
They focus especially on prayer, order (following the liturgical season) and story (by encouraging reading or passing down family stories, etc.).
“It’s not a monastery, but we try to grab the beginning, middle and end of the day,” O’Connor said. “We do morning prayer, the Angelus at noon and the rosary is the goal [in the evening], but we do at least a decade after dinner.”
He said they also teach their children how to pray from their heart at bedtime, by prompting them with, “Thank you for…, I’m sorry for…, help me to…, and a special prayer for….”
Their family has also incorporated plenty of ways to follow the liturgical season and celebrate the Advent season.
“We have a tendency to go right to Christmas, so we try to avoid that,” O’Connor said. “We do a Jesse tree, which takes you through salvation history, with a Bible verse and ornament for each day.
“We’ve built a collection of Advent and Christmas books and they only come out [this time of year],” he added. “My wife wraps a book for each day in either purple or pink and numbers them to show the buildup [to Christmas].”
Instead of decorating for Christmas all at once, their family slowly puts up ornaments and calls it an “Advent tree.”
“We make it clear that Christmas is a season,” he said. “We will be formed by culture, you can’t void out of it, so you have to be intentional in forming one. It’s either be swallowed up by it or intentionally form a proper, good culture.”
True celebration, a crucial part of culture
While the O’Connor family puts off celebrating Christmas until the Advent season is over, they also fully enter into the celebration of other feasts during the season, like St. Nicholas’ on Dec. 6, with other families around the Denver area who share their commitment to create a culture of faith for their children.
Following tradition, they put chocolate coins and oranges in their children’s shoes — and then finish the day with a party with friends to celebrate the feast.
“We [also] have the kids write a prayer for all sorts of things and have them include three requests for gifts,” O’Connor said. “Something they want, something they need, and something to read. And then we tell the story of St. Nick and teach how God answers prayers.”
Another family that celebrates a feast during the Advent season with gusto is Father Doug and Lynn Grandon, who always celebrate the feast of St. Lucy on Dec. 13, even as evangelical Protestants before their conversion to Catholicism.
“For Scandinavians, she’s the only saint even Protestants honor,” Lynn said. “[There] was this reverence and beauty about it, and I thought it was so holy and beautiful even as a child, not even realizing there were other saints.”
Andrew and Rebecca Barga, parishioners at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Thornton, celebrate the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 by throwing a big party and inviting other families to come.
“A feast day party is a big thing, and we each take a solemnity with friends and switch off,” Rebecca said.
Like the O’Connor family, they also create a faith culture in their family this time of year by celebrating Advent more intentionally with traditions like the Jesse tree and Advent wreath, or more slowly decorating their home. And this year, they’re celebrating 12 days of Christmas with various activities every day.
“We also go downtown and bring a crew of people with us and go hand out bagels and coffee and other donated goods to hand out to the homeless, and the kids physically give to them, which they love,” she said.
Both Andrew and Rebecca stressed that intentionally creating a culture of faith in their family is something that’s difficult to do without a solid community around them — but so worth the way of living they pass on to their children.
“You can’t do this in isolation and do it well, and it’s good for us as parents to have this support structure,” Andrew said. “We actually have to meet and talk about it, and it’s hard work. [It’s also] our relationship with the Lord.
“Without that active prayer life and community, it’s an overwhelming amount of work, but with God’s grace, the little contribution becomes a big contribution,” he added. “It’s harder to look at our daily life with our kids and see how I have an impact in culture. There’s a way of life we’re passing on, and it demands intentionality.”