In season five of the last great American sitcom, The Office, Michael Scott gets fired from Dunder-Mifflin and finds himself hopelessly trying to start his own paper company alongside his former secretary Pam. Years of bizarre behavior by Michael has culminated in this utterly impossible and pathetic situation that is destined to fail (and if you are familiar with Michael Scott, you understand why). Desperate for a distraction from the daily grind that comes with starting a business, he tells Pam that they need to immediately find one hundred new clients.
Pam offers her advice: “When I feel overwhelmed, something I like to do is make a list. Make a list of things to do and then start with the easy stuff.”
As Catholic men with a sense of mission, we can find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by a seemingly impossible situation in our country and Church, brought upon by years of stupidity and sin. As men, we want to rise to the challenge and fix the big stuff. It’s also easier sometimes to ponder plans of grandeur than it is to hunker down and get some real work done. There’s a time and place to have a whiteboard strategy about your company’s global expansion, but first you should make sure you’re paying your electric bill.
In prudence, most Catholic men should not give the majority of their time and attention to enormous scandals and problems that are largely outside of their control. Most of us need small, concrete, practical tasks that we can accomplish on a routine basis in order to strengthen ourselves and our families.
In other words, we need to make a list and start with the easy stuff.
You can and will make a difference in this world if you focus your time and energy on the people closest to you. St. Ambrose said that we ought to love God first, then our parents, then our children, then the others of our household. Aquinas referred to this as the order of charity. And Saint Paul wrote that “if any man have not care of his own, and especially of those of his house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
Let’s make a list:
1) Sunday, Sunday, Sunday
Item number one on our list is to commit to three things every single Sunday: 1) Take your family to Mass, 2) Enjoy a special meal, 3) Have fun.
It was my sophomore year at Bishop Hendricken High School and I was sitting in Ms. Magill’s religion class. She was talking about the Church’s command to go to Mass every Sunday.
“You have to go to Mass,” she insisted. One of my classmates fired back, “Have you ever missed Mass?”
“No,” she replied, “and I never will.”
“What if there was a snowstorm the night before and there’s ten feet of snow piled on top of your car?” the student asked.
“I’ll walk,” she replied.
“What if both of your legs are broken?”
“Then I’ll crawl.”
I guess my classmate could have pushed his questioning a step further by asking her what she would have done if she had no arms, but I think everyone aptly understood the point: Ms. Magill would never miss Mass.
Make sure your family understands that missing Mass on Sunday is not an option. That simple and uncompromising family rule will reveal a lot about what the Mass is, and the Mass will start to reveal who Christ is.
I wrote and edited a book called Because of Our Fathers in which twenty-three Catholics recount how their fathers were instrumental in passing the faith down to them. All twenty-three contributors mention somewhere within their essays how Sundays formed their understanding of the Faith. They all remembered Sundays as different, special, and one of the primary activities that afforded them their Catholic identity.
Nancy Perkins, one of the book’s contributors, writes, “One of my earliest memories with my dad was our Sunday mornings together. It was always the same; my dad made a big breakfast and asked me if I wanted some. I always told him no but then proceeded to sit on his lap and eat all of his. After breakfast, we headed to Mass. I could see how deeply moved he was during the hour or so that we were there, and how he was spiritually touched by different parts of the Mass. I believe this early memory set the tone for how I wanted to live my life.”
And here is how Anthony Esolen explains Sunday’s importance: “Mass might be over, but Sundays wasn’t. Here is something hard to explain to people now. When I grew up, most businesses were closed on Sunday. Restaurants were an exception, and a couple of gas stations. Sunday was for piety in two ways. You gave honor to God, and then you gave honor to the family. On Sunday, without fail, we went to visit Dad’s mother and father, who lived three miles away. (My grandparents on my mother’s side lived across the street.) We’d stay there all afternoon, and have supper, always macaroni and meatballs. Very often, some aunts and uncles and cousins would be there too, and the children then had to take their plates and sit on the staircase, two and two, all the way up.”
The Third Commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy. We do this by worshipping God in the most perfect way we can (hearing a Mass) and avoiding work. The Catechism tells us “The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship “as a sign of his universal beneficence to all.” (2176) Does your family-life on Sundays look like a sign of God’s goodness?
Jesus plainly tells us that this is not to benefit God, it is to benefit us. Work is a necessary part of life, and there is holiness achieved through one’s labor, but it is also necessary to routinely rest in God’s creation and find enjoyment in the fruits of our labor. Start creating memories for your children of Sundays that are fun and enjoyable and teach them that Catholicism is radically concerned with their human happiness. Teach them that there is no contradiction between a day dedicated to worshiping God and having fun. Teach them that Catholicism is far from merely a list of rules of things they are forbidden to do, but rather a time-tested blueprint for living life to the fullest.
St. Thomas More, perhaps the second greatest father of all time, wrote this:
“Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humor to maintain it. Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil, but rather finds the means to put things back in their place. Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called ‘I.’ Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy, and to be able to share it with others.”
Go to Mass. Share a special meal. Put away your laptop and have some fun. This is the first thing we can do as fathers to take control of the problems in the world. This is how we will begin to divinize our families and create a more Catholic country.
Do not let the colossal problems of today steal your time, attention, and joy. Do not let them rob you of the many simple daily opportunities to grow in virtue and spread the Faith. In the words of St. Therese: “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
Every father can start the long climb with the simple act of living the Sabbath.
The thing about a to-do list is that you don’t want to try and do everything all at once. Let’s spend some time focusing on #1. Talk to your families, make plans, and figure out what Sundays should look like for your family. We’ll meet back here in a few weeks to discuss #2.