The following is a letter by Michael D. O’Brien in response to a mother who wrote to him regarding fantasy literature and its influence on her children. Though she is a person of strong faith, she is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the continuous influx of disordered fantasy and other corrupt cultural influences in her children’s lives. She notes two significant factors in her situation, ones which are probably shared by most families.
The first: despite all efforts to keep questionable material out of her home, her children are constantly exposed to it through their friends, extended family, and neighbors, in libraries, and at school.
The second: they are too young to fully understand why their parents object to this material, especially since it is in the forefront of young people’s interests at this time, including all the families with whom they are acquainted.
This woman’s family is strong in the practice of their faith, and she strives to provide good cultural material, especially reading, in the home. However, the children constantly pressure her to allow them access to objectionable books, films, and videos.
Mrs. Smith's reply follows at the end of this article.
Dear Mrs. Smith,
I feel the dilemma of your situation very much, because it's what so many conscientious parents are going through in our times. You spiritually sense the dangers in unbridled fantasy, but don't know quite what to do about it. That is what most of us find ourselves coping with right now. To a lesser extent, perhaps, my family has had to deal with the same things. We had an advantage in that we home-schooled our children. We also have lived somewhat isolated in the countryside of northern Ontario, have had no television in the home (except for occasional videos), and have spent a lot of time over the years providing good reading, developing musical talents, and other healthy activities.
Another important factor for us was finding like-minded families with whom we could interact (not a constant traffic, but a little goes a long way). When our children found peers with parents as "crazy" as theirs, the situation changed dramatically for the better. No family in our circle of friends had exactly the same policies or understandings regarding fantasy (and other aspects of the culture) as any other family, but we all sensed the need for more effective discernment. We all knew that the power of modern culture is so great that there really is no safe place on this earth, and that we are trying to raise our children in the midst of a tsunami of cultural corruption—and extremely invasive corruption it is!
There is no simple solution, but we can make certain steps which I have found from experience gradually shift the balance in our children's lives.
Here are my suggestions:
1) First and foremost, beg God every day for the necessary graces to protect, guide, and nourish your children according to the mind of Christ. Never discount grace, because God and all heaven desire to help your children.
2) Ask Him specifically for particular graces for this specific battle for your children's souls. The help of their guardian angels is especially important in this regard. Pray to their guardian angels.
3) Ask God for the gift of an inner "radar" that will alert you to any incoming cultural material that may have a negative influence, such as birthday gifts from extended family or friends, friends who bring a video over to the house, friends who will have a video at their own parties, etc. That inner faculty is already there in us, and just needs awakening and practice.
4) Daily Mass, if possible. Frequent confession. If you have in your region any perpetual adoration chapels where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, make visits there as often as you can, and take any young people along who are willing to go. Make the visits short in the beginning, so you don't turn them off. They won't become mystics on the first visit and may find it "boring." But the Lord is pouring out unusual graces through this practice, and I believe he wants all of us to come to Him in this way more and more. Pope John Paul II has urged that every parish in the world have such a chapel, or to make the exposed Blessed Sacrament available as often as possible. He encourages us all to frequently visit Our Lord in this way.
5) Ask Our Lady, the Mother of God, to intercede for your family. We pray the Rosary every day as a family, and my wife and I have found this to be a major influence in bringing our children through the swamp of modern society to mature Christian adulthood. They all have faith and are leading good lives. Not without many problems along the way, however. But in retrospect I see that my own (and my wife's) lack of complete trust as we went through dark times made it harder on us all. We came through, but it needn't have been so anxiety-ridden as it was. If we had prayed more and relied less on our own strategies, it would have been so much easier. Our Lady has been given by God a major role in our times in overcoming the devourer of souls. If you ask for her help—and keep asking day by day—she will pour out the graces you need, which have been given by her Son for precisely this purpose.
6) Abandon forever any tendency to express anxiety (in content and tone) in your discussions with your children. Anxious or pleading tones merely reinforce their subliminal feeling or conscious opinion that maybe Mom is a bit extreme and doesn't understand. Fear breeds frustration and anger, and anger is especially corrosive when expressed. You lose credibility quickly if you give in to it. Ask the Holy Spirit for a deep inner gift of confidence in the eventual victory of Christ in your children's lives and their vocations in life. Ask him for supernatural peace, calm, TRUST! Ask for this every day, since we know that every day brings challenges that so easily undermine our trust.
7) As far as possible, be of one mind and heart with your spouse on these issues, because if the children sense any conflict between parents on a given subject, your authority is seriously weakened.
8) Ask God for a miracle regarding the problem of peer pressure. Ask him to arrange through divine providence that you meet other like-minded people in your area. There surely must be some. Everywhere I've lived and traveled, no matter how small the place, they are there. It's just sometimes hard to find each other, especially in big parishes and cities. Maybe you could post a note on your church bulletin board, something to the effect: "Parents concerned about questionable trends in children's literature and film are invited to an informal get-acquainted meeting at our home [or parish] next Saturday night. Refreshments served. Let's brainstorm and share our resources!" etc.
9) Search high and low for stimulating young people's literature. We have haunted used book shops for more than thirty years, and have about 6000 books in our home, much of it children’s and young adults’ literature. Our children will never exhaust this supply, and we keep adding to it. To heck with retirement funds! This is our investment in the future. Do you know about Bethlehem Books? They are a fairly new Catholic publisher that has published and reprinted many fine books.
Their website is: www.bethlehembooks.com
10) Hand-to-hand combat: The adversary makes war on our children's souls at every turn in this society. Though you've gone a very long way toward protecting your family from the worst, no one is immune, no matter how many things we get right. So there is always, in every generation throughout history, a struggle over each and every soul. This means fully-awake parents need to develop strategies of prayer. A good place to start is all of the above. But you might want to add this: Every time you feel, sense, or know that something rotten (however minor it may appear) has entered your child's life, pray the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. I also pray for the most hardened sinner I know (a category in which I include myself), and make a resolve to do this EVERY time something corrupting reaches my family. This is the primary level of spiritual combat, which should be a normal aspect of every believer's life. Turn Satan's tactics against him. If every time he makes a little wound in your child's life it rebounds against him, his influence is weakened, his territory is diminished. It is of utmost importance to know (and remember) that he won't give up trying to harm you in the beginning. He may even come on stronger in order to discourage you, make you drop the habit of praying against him, make you think it's a useless habit that leaves you worse off than ever. He's very clever. He has a PhD in psychology.
11) The saints and great spiritual directors tell us that DISCOURAGEMENT is the devil's major tactic in bringing us down. Temptation to sin, of course, is his first line of offence against us all, but I'm referring to those people who have begun to make progress in virtue and spiritual growth. If the enemy can't entice you into grave sin, he will switch to his next best tactic, which is discouragement. So, please don't ever give up. If you keep turning his tactics against him, gradually his influence will decline, and God will bring more and more graces and good food into your lives on every level. As we know, this struggle will continue throughout our lives; this is just normal Christian life in a war zone. But we do have all the helps we need to bring our selves and our families through to Paradise. Yet God always respects our freedom, he will force nothing on us, so we must ask for everything we need.
12) Use the sacramentals of holy water, blessed oil, blessed salt (maybe all three!). Ask the children's Dad to bless them every night, and if possible every morning. And if he can't, you should do it. Always make these moments brief, gentle, and loving, never fear-driven. Fear blocks the bond of spiritual communication between God and man, and between soul and soul.
14) Pray and trust.
15) Pray and trust and make silent hidden sacrifices, offering them to the Lord.
16) Pray and trust and sacrifice and Fast. Don't fast so much that it becomes obvious to others or harms your health or undermines your primary duty as a parent; maybe just delete some little pleasure from your life and offer it up for your children. We live in an increasingly diabolical culture. Subtle it may be, but so is the devil, whom scripture describes as the "subtlest of creatures."
"Some devils are cast out only by prayer and fasting," Christ tells us.
17) TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART!
18) Stand firm. Be willing to be misunderstood. Be willing to be considered a fanatic, paranoid, and obsessive-compulsive. But always stand firm with love. Calm, unshakeable love, with an iron core of determination. No defensiveness, just be unbudge-able. However much the family may rant and resist you, in their heart of hearts they will feel more secure with such a strong mother, and they will respect you for it. As a result, in time they will listen and follow your guidance more attentively.
Well, this list could go on and on. I hope these suggestions will help. Give it time, give it focus (in a quiet but steady way), and watch what happens.
Please say a prayer for me and my family too.
In Christ victorious,
A few days after receiving the foregoing letter from Michael O'Brien, Mrs. Smith replied with an account of a blessing God gave to her children regarding this subject:
Dear Mr. O'Brien,
As I mentioned in my previous email, my oldest son, Peter, received his first Reconciliation on Saturday. My husband and I did as well, and we felt a call to more frequent practice of this sacrament. The graces coming from this were most palpable. Well, according to your suggestions I completely renewed my diligence in prayer, asking for the graces and discernment to protect the children from harmful media.
Last night Peter had a terrible dream. He dreamed that I got a book from the library that he had been wanting, one with a frightening image on the cover. In the dream I told him the book was not so bad after all. I was reading it to him and he became frightened but I refused to stop reading. A devil-figure apeared to him and told him there was no esape, that he must read it and that it would scare him to death. He was dumbstruck, as often happens in dreams, and couldn't communicate to me that he was scared.
This morning we (all three boys and I) had a long discussion about what God could have been telling him through the dream, and why God would allow this devil-figure to appear to him. I can't describe to you the effect it had on them or the deepness of the discussion. It was unreal, really, the kind of miracle I didn't even think could come about. We have all agreed to be more careful about where we put our interests, and they know that the devil is real and would like to open up a frightening world to them.
God Bless you again and again,
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