Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Moderation vs. Extravagance


When building a home as a Catholic family, stewardship and moderation should always be in the back of the mind. Just like in any other purchase of material things, what is "needed" versus what is "nice to have" versus what is "over the top" should be considered for a number of reasons. First, our money is not "our" money, it's God's gift that He has entrusted to us, and He expects us to use it wisely (see Matthew 25:14-30). Second, our children our watching us. If we send the message that we care about material things, or place their importance on the same level (or higher) than our faith, marriage, or family, then we are training our children to value material things in the same way. Material things can be objective goods, and in fact are gifts of God, but the trick is treating them as such and not seeking possessions as ends in themselves.

For us, this means is that the old adage, "all things in moderation," needs to be followed in the design of the home. It also means that we spend our money wisely, and that any money spent on the home comes after tithing substantially and regularly (giving our first fruits to the Lord). This home is meant to foster building up treasure in heaven, not on Earth. Practically, a few ways this philosophy manifests itself are:
  • Budgeting for what we can truly afford, after tithing, so that we do not financially strap our family
  • Luxury items and status symbols are to be avoided
  • Square footage of the home is to be relegated to what will be truly useful
  • Environmentally friendly design and building practices should be used, especially when there is no cost-penalty to do so
  • Where "extra" money is spent, it should be spent on items that contribute to the quality and permanence of the home
These are just a few examples.

I came across what I think serves as the opposite of this philosophy on CBS' 60 Minutes television program. Here's the link to the site, which lets you watch clips of the report, entitled "Living Large: Real Estate Dreams." A couple of highlights:

The woman who owns this 6,800 sq. ft. home, a size which she calls "modest", with her husband, her 1 son, and her dog "Co Co," discusses their 6 TV's and 7 bathrooms among other things. The pic on the right is a bathroom... a two-story high bathroom.

The couple who own this 11,000 sq. ft. home... 11,000 SQUARE FOOT HOME(!)... answer Morley Safer's question of what they wish they had done differently. Their answer? The wife wishes that she had a BIGGER kitchen, and the huband wishes that they had a BIGGER "gathering area" for guests to congregate once they enter the home. Appropriately, Morley Safer interviews a pundit that refers to this kind of suburbia as "Vulgaria." Obviously you could be WAY less opulent and indulgent than these examples and still be bad stewards of God's gifts. These are just the most extreme examples.

How does anyone know what's appropriate? First, the Lord must be the center of everything we do, and praying and working for detachment from material things is necessary as well (which I've had to do a lot in the past 10 years or so). Also, I think that cultivating the virtue of temperance, and praying for an increase in this virtue from the Holy Spirit, and working hard at habitually practicing temperance, is a very good start. Here's what the Catechism (1809) says about temperance:
[Temperance is the virtue that] moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.
And when the goal of the home is to aid in training children in the practice of virtue, we parents need to be working on virtue ourselves.


daisy said...

Hi Brendan,

I really enjoy reading your blog because it's very well written, thoughtful, and contains so many things that I find interesting, too (architecture, art, the Church, the domestic church)...I've printed out quite a few things for my mom and dad so that they can keep up with your progress, too! :)

Two things:

1) In the Oct. 14-20 issue of The National Catholic Register, there's an article entitled "Den of Sanctity." The writer talks to four families who have home chapels (they're more like rooms set aside for that purpose, rather than what you envision yours to be). Pretty interesting read, though...(It's online, but only available by subscription. I'd be happy to mail you my copy if you'd like...)

2) I found the study about fathers very interesting. I would have thought mothers would be more influential--I seem to remember several male saints who were influenced to grow in the Faith because of the example shown by their mothers...


Brendan Koop said...


Thanks so much for your comments! You scooped me! I swear, I have that very article from the NC Register up right now on my taskbar at the bottom of my screen, and it was ready to be my next post!

My brother, Evan, who's in the seminary, e-mailed me this very morning with that article tip. The only reason I hadn't posted on it yet was that he saw the print version, and he said that in the print version there was a picture of the home in Lake Elmo, MN with a home chapel, and I've been trying to get contact info for these people to see if I can visit. I asked him to hold a copy so that I can see if scanning the picture would be useful.

As far as Mothers' influence on the faith lives of their children, mothers are so very influential in their modeling of unconditional love, and their continuous witness to the feminine genius that draws women to the faith more easily than men. The issue with kids though, is that if Mom is doing it by herself, the kids perceive her faith (generally speaking here) as being due to her femininity and natural draw, and not something that is necessarily objectively necessary for everyone. There are always exceptions to this, but generally speaking kids perceive the father's faith as a sign that faith is a serious and critical issue. In the case of the saints you mention, you might look to see if the father was also active in his faith, as that would have made the mother's influence that much more substantial. And of course, there are always a few that are influenced solely by their mother.

The other thing is, we can't get discouraged by the numbers in the report. Despite fathers' significant influence, can we really only expect 33% (at most) of our kids to attend mass regularly? Certainly we can expect more than this, because the study only looked at church attendance and no other factor. Church attendance alone (which includes nominal Christians who attend every Sunday only out of habit or obligation) is not going to get our kids to own their faith, it needs to be a whole life experience. Families who approach faith this way can expect more fruit in their children.

Molly Koop said...

I thought I would also weigh in on this issue as Brendan and I have discussed this at length. I think my experience in this matter speaks to the opposite of the majority as my father rarely attended mass when I was a child. He was present on major feast days--Christmas and Easter--and always expected my mom to take his children to mass regularly. Despite this, I continue to be a faithful Catholic. My sister also attends Mass regularly. My brother, however, does not. He, in fact, claims complete agnosticism. I would find it interesting to see this study separated by gender as it is my guess (and Brendan's too) that a male child takes his father's faith, or lack thereof, more seriously than perhaps a female child might. My mom was for sure the primary influence in my faith, at least in terms of "having faith" although perhaps not in learning the teachings of the faith. Yeah, moms!!
All that said, dads definitely need to be the spiritual head of a family. Just recently our children were playing "house" as they often do. Aidan was the dad, of course. As I walked by, he informed me that he was the dad and he was going to have "men's group" now. Clara then informed me that she was the mom and that she was telling everyone to pick up the house because the men were coming over. (Oh, boy, I'm busted.) Our children definitely model our behavior. Thanks be to God that Brendan has taken his responsibility so seriously!

Sarah said...

Hi guys! I've been keeping up on your blog and really appreciate your latest entry. As an evangelical believer, I would appreciate them so much more if "catholic" could be changed to encompass the whole body of Christ (i.e. believers) as I believe your statement - specifically the latest about moderation in living and setting a good example for your children definitely is a goal, or should be, for ALL believers in the body of Christ. It IS Biblical. Christ himself pleaded for unity in the body of Christ in his prayer in the garden. You could so encourage this attitude of unity in the body and also maybe get a wider range of readers for your blog. I do understand that some parts of a catholic home would be different in the set-up from a "non-catholic" home, but many aspects are good TRUTHS for all homes striving to follow and obey Christ. Just some Thursday thoughts for you.

Brendan Koop said...


Good to hear from you, I've received a number of notes from non-Catholic Christians who read the blog and I am very glad the blog has attracted a wider audience, particularly when it comes to building up the family. I have struggled a little (at least subconsciously) when I write entries in regard to the very point you brought up. I think you're right that for general issues that are of importance for all Christians, "Christian" should be used instead of just "Catholic." As our family is Catholic, I quote from Catholic sources, we look up to saints of the Church as examples in holiness, we are faithful to the teachings of the magisterial authority of the Church, etc., the Catholic faith will always be the context for this project and the blog. I am heartened that you read and can find the vast areas of commonality in the faith and in Christian family life, God bless you for your own contributions to unity between Christians! I hope you keep reading the blog!

Brendan Koop said...

Sarah, I just realized that you are our friend Sarah! (I think) Sorry, I didn't realize it was you when responding the first time, my response probably seemed like I didn't know you :-) Anyway, hope you are doing well (we're getting together for your birthday soon aren't we?) I'm glad our families think the same in regard to life and raising our children, what a blessing. Certainly, though we believe the Catholic faith represents the fullness of truth, there is so much that Catholics and Evangelicals agree on that I think it makes us the best of ecumenical partners when it comes to witnessing to the world the importance of the family, respect for life, and salvation through Christ. We are so blessed to have you as our friends in Christ!

Sarah said...

Thank you Brendan! I really appreciate both of your comments(Yes, I'm that Sarah - how'd you know:)