Keeping up with the Joneses

Rev Fr David Sherry, District Superior

Be not conformed to this world. (Rom 12:2)

Meet the Joneses. They are Tradcats and they do trad cat things. They dress modestly to go to Mass; they recite the Rosary most evenings and they have catechism regularly. But they’re also realistic, they know that the best way of staying Catholic is to be ‘open’ and ‘with it’. So they have Prime Video and Netflix subscriptions and the children have Tiktok and Snapchat accounts so they can fit in. On some things, they’re even quite strict — the children must spend an internet-free hour once a week on Fridays and they are not allowed to get Instagram accounts until they’re twelve.

Time for Mr and Mrs Jones to wake up. The policy of the Jones family is the Catholic religion, but its culture is not Catholic. Rather than take as guiding principle, ‘How can we conform our family life to the Catholic Faith?’ Mr and Mrs Jones — well meaning as they are — have as principle, ‘How can we conform to the world while still remaining Catholic?’

This is not going to hack it. The job of a Catholic family is not to make the children worldly-wise, but to make them truly wise, focused on the true goal of life — to know, love and serve God and, by this means, to save their soul.

Mr and Mrs Jones are good people, they love God and they love their children. But they need to wise up. Here is some advice for wise love.

Let your family have a basic rule and live it. The rule is this: God comes first. Or, as Saint Joan of Arc put it:

Messire Dieu, premier servi. Ni l’Église, ni le roi, ni la France, ni rien ni personne d’autre ne passe avant Lui — ‘My Lord God is the first served; not the Church, nor the king, nor France, nor anything nor anyone else comes before Him.’ 

The corollary of the rule is this: God’s Law is our Law, so it is never alright to deliberately commit sin. That is why the culture of the family cannot tolerate sin nor unnecessary, deliberate and grave occasions of sin. Culture is the expression of what you really believe; the era of Faith gave us the culture of Faith; the era of apostasy gives us the culture of death. We must not conform to the world, but to God.

First, think. Apply Catholic thought to all practical questions. Whenever deciding to do or not to do something, we should always first look at the thing in itself. If it is bad in itself — intrinsically evil — we can never do it under any circumstance. The other possibility is that it is not bad in itself; then it is either good or indifferent. In that case, I will need to consider the circumstances. It is good to pray out loud, but not when everyone is asleep.

He that blesseth his neighbour with a loud voice, rising in the night, shall be like to him that curseth. (Prov 27:14)

Let’s take a practical example — what sort of films, YouTube or TikTok videos can we watch? What sort of songs can we listen to?

First, distinguish between good and bad. You can consider that films or songs or books or video games are indifferent, unless there is something morally wrong with them. There are three things that can make them wrong: a) if they glorify sin; b) if they are an occasion of sin; c) or if they are graphically violent.

a) Glorifying sin. Puritans think that the depiction of any sin is bad. This is not true, it is the message that sin is good, or at least desirable and beneficial that is bad. James Bond knows a thing or two about espionage, he also knows a lot about committing sins against the sixth commandment. One of the messages of each movie is that it is good to commit these sins. That is a glorification of sin. Mrs Doubtfire is another example among many. A funny film, but what is the message? The message is, ‘Divorce is not easy, but it is fully justified when one spouse decides not to continue for any reason; the important thing is to be nice.’ You can add all the books, films and songs which tell you that it is good to sin because sin is good. On Hellflix, there is a series called Thirteen Reasons Why, in which the protagonist commits suicide and posthumously explains and justifies her mortal sin. These things are bad — they glorify sin; they corrupt the mind and the will and deaden the soul.1

b) Being an occasion of sin means that the movie or video is actually apt to lead the person into actual sin. This would be the case notably if there were immodesty and impurity in the movie. It doesn’t mean that sin is necessarily glorified but that immodesty or impurity are depicted with sufficient lewdness to be a danger to the soul. A very immodestly dressed heroine may not be a grave occasion of sin for women, but it is for adolescent boys and men. 

c) Graphic violence makes a movie bad because it makes us, and in particular our imagination, used to what it should not be used to. Our imagination does not know the difference between right and wrong, nor between truth and falsehood. Consider horror movies. People watch them because they have the thrill of feeling scared. Although they know that the scenario is entirely fictitious, their imagination does not know, and so they feel scared. Graphic violence is not theatrical violence, but rather extremely realistic bloody and gory violence.

Now, if that is not the case that the film or book or song or sculpture is bad, Mr and Mrs Jones will still need to use discernment. Bananas are not bad, but eating more than ten a day is probably not good. Similarly, watching good or indifferent videos is not bad, but doing so more than occasionally will rot your brain and make it difficult for you to think, pray and meditate. That is why the Joneses need to reverse their policy on internet usage. The Jones children are imbibing a constant glorification of sin and immodesty on their TikTok binges. Get rid of their smartphones, Mr Jones, and teach the children to use a computer usefully and under supervision appropriate to their ages.

The good news is it’s never too late to start, because Jesus, Mary and Joseph will be there each step of the way. Your children will thank them for taking them off poisonous food and giving them nourishing fare.

Fr David Sherry
District Superior

  • 1 Provided that it is not a grave occasion of sin, it is sometimes perfectly acceptable to watch a film which glorifies sin in order to study how the movie manipulates emotions and corrupts the truth. For example, if you watch the perverse film Silence, you can see how the filmmakers achieved their aim of justifying apostasy and promoting pantheism by subtle twisting and
    half-truths. But it would be wrong to watch a movie which is a grave occasion of sin for purposes of study."> 

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