Today’s guest contributor is another house favorite. Or favourite, as it were. Christy Isinger resides in the wilds of Canada with her husband Paul and 5 kids, who live, if I am not mistaken, adjacent to an actual working cattle ranch. It’s all very Pioneer Woman, minus the film crew and the syndicated tv show. (Though she does co-host a wonderful podcast with fellow blogger Haley Stewart)
Christy is a well-read, well-styled mama with great taste in alcohol, books, and BBC television. She is also a personal hero because when she uses the word “winter” it means something entirely different and much, much more terrifying than when I use it. Much snow. Such dark.
She home schools her brood by necessity more than from an innate desire to craft natural wax candles and memorize latin poetry. (Though maybe she secretly enjoys those pursuits in her ample free time?) After reading her excellent essay below, you’ll understand why. And hopefully have a clearer picture about how terms like “secularism” and “separation of church and state” and “religious freedom” all carry much greater weight than many of us realize.
You may think that the polite, easygoing, and unassuming persona of Canada applies to all aspects of Canadian culture, but as increasingly aggressive secular and relativistic philosophies have taken hold in Canadian society you’ll find upon closer inspection the tight grip of secularism closing in on living a true Catholic life. It may be a polite tyranny, but it is one that is growing in its insistence that voices of faith be silenced in the public square and increasingly, in homes.
I’m a proud Canadian who is also a faithful Catholic. Yes, we still exist. Even in a staunchly secular society from the federal government down to the people you meet at the post office or Tim Horton’s. Canadian society is politely, yet stringently, secular and we’ve been living with legal same-sex marriage for over a decade, and recently have entered the brave new world where euthanasia in the form of doctor-assisted suicide has become legal due to a supreme court ruling.
My husband and I are raising five young children in a society that has decriminalized abortion since 1969, legalized same-sex marriage, and now has declared a constitutional right to euthanasia. These are fundamental life issues that impact our society as a whole, but also all of us as individuals. We cannot shelter or children from this reality, nor will the harmful effects of such systemic immorality fail to touch us to some degree.
And yet we want our children to grow up with the fullness of faith, the entirely of Truth, and the graces of the Sacraments that only come from the Catholic Church. We want our children to know and love that faith for their entire lives. We want them to be able to live in Canada and to pursue their dreams while making the world a better place to live. And yet, my thoughts for their future involve more and more the thought that their ability to pursue professional and public life in Canada as faithful Catholics will become more and more hindered as people with faith are pushed farther and farther into the margins of society.
But let’s back it up a little to what a Catholic life looks like in Canada right now for me: the regular, at-home mom looking for what’s best for her children while trying to fulfill baptismal promises. Today we belong to a small town parish that offers one Mass per week which is usually attended on average by 30 people. We’re the only family with young children who attend every week. I had five kids in six years and our family was the only family on the baptismal register for the parish during that time. We are happy to be able to receive the sacraments in our closest community, but the threat looms large at how long this will remain a feasible parish for the diocese. Our last two parish priests have come from Nigeria and Vietnam – both countries where the Church faces mortal consequences for practicing the faith, yet here they are ministering to Canadians. My parish offers no ministries at all, let alone ministries for moms, ministries for kids, natural family planning, catechetical studies, or religious education.
Of course, this isn’t a complete picture of Canada as a whole. There are still large, active, parishes across the country, but increasingly these only exist in major urban centres. The mega-churches of suburbia are becoming the norm, while beautiful, individual, and unique parishes are becoming out of date and shut down. I mention this because of the increased discussion of the Benedict Option. While it makes sense to solidify the numbers of the Catholics we have, it does lead to having fewer parishes, and fewer Catholics in diverse geographic areas, and I think makes us an urbanized, centralized church. My husband and I already discuss the possibility of having to move in the future just so we can be near a town with a functioning parish. We discuss right now the impact of our parish on our small children and the lack of community, especially children their own age.
Then of course there is the issue of education for our children, an important issue all Catholic parents face. In Canada, Catholic schools are fully funded by the government. But while that means there are plenty of Catholic schools in name these schools are beholden to the government. They must teach provincially approved curriculum, and the amount of actual Catholic teaching that happens amounts to a scandal for our Church. Catholic schools in Canada are under more and more pressure to abdicate any standard of Catholic belief altogether as government-mandated sexual education, transgender propaganda, and gay marriage as a norm programs inundate all schools in addition to increased attempts to take away parents’ rights to choose to remove their children from such classes.
This leaves few choices for Catholic parents, most of which are very difficult. We choose to homeschool our children not only because of the lack of religious teaching available in Catholic schools, but because of the educational standards or lack thereof in both Catholic and public schools. Parents who choose decent public or Catholic schools face the wearying task of constantly demonstrating the true Catholic teaching when encroaching secularism seeps into their child’s learning on a daily basis. There are very little options in the way of private Catholic schools simply because of the fully funded option available, but the private schools that do exist again, exist in large urban centres or are that magic unicorn that exist very rarely.
I won’t go into the even fewer options available for college education in the country, there are great institutions that exist now, but the trend towards making all secondary education institutions toe the line when it comes to same-sex marriage is becoming increasingly irresistible. True Catholic education institutions will face more and more struggles to retain the right to teach the faith as the laws supporting gay marriage become deeper and deeper ingrained in our society and the inherent need to silence all opposition to it gains more and more legal ground.
Aside from these practical issues, my children will grow up knowing only a Canadian society that stands against much of Catholic teaching; we truly are a post-Christian country. I hope that as they grow we can teach them that although the government may recognize same-sex marriage as a legal reality it is not consistent to the reality of what marriage is and what marriage is meant for. We will have to teach our children that our lives, no matter what amount of suffering we may be given, are owed to God and that we do not have the power to take the lives of those who are unborn, those who are gravely ill, or even our own in times of great physical pain.
As the secular saturation grows and the voice of the faithful becomes quieter and quieter it is more and more difficult to live out a life of faith. There are headlines about how it is unacceptable for someone who holds Catholic or Christian views on gay marriage and abortion to be in political life at all. There are attacks on Christian pharmacists, doctors and nurses to eliminate their right to freedom of conscience when it comes to abortion and euthanasia. Increasingly, it is becoming the widely held opinion of the culture that those who have faith can have it, but that it can only be expressed at church on Sundays, and it is this view that not only hampers democracy and civil rights, but confines and suffocates living out our Catholic faith. We see this happening again and again with small bureaucratic and legal pressures but also in the stronghold the media has over popular opinion.
Not only do I want my children to grow up and embrace the truth of Church teaching and to know the why’s and how’s of what the Church still proclaims to be true, I want my children to know and love Christ. It’s the relationship with Christ that will sustain my children through their entire lives. I think that my children will have to have a courageous and solid faith, not just to preach the Gospel, but to live Catholic lives in Canada.