When we look into the future of a fallen situation—as many in the Catholic Church are doing today—we tend to find ourselves faced with two options. The first option is to conserve what has worked in the past with a disregard for the reality of the present. The second is to progress beyond the present with a disregard for what really has worked in the past. There really isn’t much difference between the two. Both see instances in time through the tunnel vision of a man looking for a way to fit a square peg into a round hole. To conserve the societal dream of a few times in history when things seemed right in the world is to forget that the very dream you are hoping for was only a reality for a limited number of people. To progress forward without a single glance to the past is to be the captain of a ship without a rudder, which will end with the sweet sound of the sirens waiting on the rocks. It seems to me that the best way forward is the kind of progressive conservation of being a parent.
Most people in the world can point to someone in their family tree whose name causes a little bit of a wrench in the stomach. This father or grandfather abandoned his family; this sister or brother got caught up in the world of crime; this great-great-great-grandfather was a horse thief and left the world screaming profanities at his hangmen. Rather than pride, there is a sort of shame in a part of your heritage. (Of course, in case we forget, the person burning the family tree might just be the man in the mirror.) However, as we move forward with the lineage and grow new branches of the tree, each child brought into the world offers that great oak the opportunity for a new family pride. There is a voice from the past speaking to the new generation that always states, “Do better than I did.” The grand mediator between the great-great-greats and the new soul are the parents.
I believe it is incredibly important to know your family history: bruises, scrapes, burns, and all. I’ve met several people who don’t really care about where or who they came from. I’ve met others that only speak about the shining lights on the family tree and neglect the broken branches. The problem with either neglecting or downright negating any part of what has given you life is that you can’t learn from either the mistakes or the victories. Without knowing the horse thief, you can’t really praise the doctor. Without knowing the potential abyss, you can’t really understand why raising the bar even matters.
And this is why parents ought to be speaking with their children about their ancestors and where they came from. This is also why a good parent recognizes the mistakes and victories of their own parents and grandparents. They move forward, making the changes necessary to be better than the generations before them. They conserve the virtues of the past and progress away from its vices. Children need to hear about the grandpa who saved a woman and child in a crisis pregnancy to admire the heroism within their blood. They also need to hear about the horse thief to be reminded of the potential for sin in those same veins. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away; it might actually be the reason it is repeated.
The Church is a family. We have our history of criminals and heroes, good and evil, devils and saints. Right along with the dastardly Borgias, we have St. Clare of Assisi. While Aaron is collecting gold to worship false gods, Moses is in conversation with the one true God. Our family is mystical in that it is united, as a Body, to Christ the Head. It is also mystical in that it has survived. Our family tree has bloomed and grown for centuries. Today, we still have those who wish to have either a stubborn conservation (ignoring the ugliness of the Borgias) or a foolish progression (ignoring the beauty of St. Clare). What we need now—and what the future of the Church will depend on—is the parenting style of progressive conservation. We cannot ignore what many criminals have done to many of the most innocent of our family. However, we mustn’t forget about the heroes within our blood as well. We must progress forward as we accept our present reality. We must also conserve all of the greatest moments and virtues of the past.
Good parents are those with vision. They see who they want their children to become—not just in the worldly sense (which is temporal) but in the substantial sense of eternity. Their vision is not limited to the generations before them; however, they are not foolish enough to ignore what they did right. Good parents are also those who realize when they make a mistake, and are more than willing to beg for the forgiveness of their children and make amends by changing their ways. Much like the good thief on the side of Christ, a good parent does not negate a mistake, but desires to move forward; and the one virtue that is required is humility.
The future of the Church are the children. And what we need now—both in the domestic and mystical Church—are parents who can safeguard their family’s history without dooming them to repeat it.