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The time is now

“And Nothing is very strong,” C.S. Lewis’s senior demon, Screwtape, advises his junior demon-nephew, “strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why.”

A “dreary flickering of the mind.” It’s as if C.S. Lewis, in the early 1940s as he wrote “Screwtape Letters,” glimpsed our screen-saturated daily life.

“You will say that these are very small sins,” Screwtape continues, “and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy ... Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Imagine for a moment the story of a good Catholic dad’s gentle downward slope. This father knows that his home is a “spiritual womb,” that he and his wife at their children’s baptisms said “yes” to the “responsibility of training” them “in the practice of the faith.” He knows that he can invite God’s grace to transform his family’s daily life into what St. Therese called a “little way of holiness,” a domestic church, a taste of heaven. In his head he agrees with Pope Francis that “The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures,” in which his fatherly role is integral.

But the road is so gradual. First, he stays longer at the office. Then for the first time, he takes a call from work in his driveway. Then another turning, so soft underfoot: He responds to a colleague’s urgent text during family dinner. Soon after, he notices the rest of his family bringing screens to the dinner table.

Conversation atrophies. Their dinner falls to the benchmark of the 11-minute average American dinner. The culmination of the family’s daily togetherness begins to feel hollow. Sure, study after study may show that “Kids who have dinner with their families do better across pretty much every conceivable metric” (Time). But his vision for the home — for its transcendent capacity and his sacred role in that — is dimming. And the years are short.   

“Without milestones,” this good man’s home, like his own mind, is becoming “a dreary flickering,” a place not of “spectacular wickedness” but of daily de facto separation from the Enemy (the Lord). “Without signposts,” this well-meaning dad is finding that his family is not among the 17 percent of Catholic families who regularly pray together; he and his family have become members of the 83 percent.

If “the family that prays together” does in fact “stay together,” he is leading his precious family oh-so-far out onto a very thin layer of ice, described by Dr. Jean Twenge when she noted that iGen children today are “on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades”; he is leading his children to number themselves among the 80 percent of young people who leave the faith by the time they turn 21.

But this separation from God into the “dreary flickering” is so gradual. So gentle. So soft. How can we fault this Mass-going, tithes-giving, married, good Catholic father when all around him, men are collapsing into “spectacular wickedness?”

My brothers, tomorrow is not promised. May we no longer forestall the day of our reckoning. The time to repair what we have broken is now. The time to say no to the labyrinthine tunnels of regret is now. The time to turn to our spouse, ask forgiveness and renew our vows to cherish her, is now.

The time to reclaim our homes for Christ is now. The time to clean our rooms and restore beauty to even just one small corner of our homes — the family prayer corner — is now. The time to re-enter the battle for our family’s attention, respect, love and eternal spiritual well-being is now. The time to consecrate our homes not as “dreary flickering” recreational centers but as trinity houses — spiritually vibrant places in which the holy Trinity dwells and where we rediscover the “little way of holiness”— is now.

The “nothing” is so very strong. Alone, I cannot resist the dreary flickering. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” “As for me and me house, we shall serve the Lord.”

Johnson is co-founder, with his wife, Ever, of Trinity House Cafe (trinityhousecafe.com) in Leesburg. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019