Renewing the Domestic Church – Part 1

By Kok Leng Yeo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeowatzup/314819829/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12535522

The domestic church—the Catholic family—is an essential part of the life of the Catholic Church as a whole. Recently, I have become increasingly aware of certain points of vulnerability within Catholic family culture, and these phenomena put our domestic churches at risk of failing to fulfill their vital role within the body of Christ. 

As I see it, there’s not one single issue at play here, but rather the interplay between a collection of growing cultural norms within the lives and rhythms of American Catholic families. In order to unpack and do justice to each of these related, yet distinct issues, I’m dedicating a summer blog series to examining the ways in which our domestic churches are vulnerable and discovering how we can renew them, in order that Catholic families may better serve Christ’s mission for His Church as a whole.

Before outlining some of the significant cultural issues at play here, we need to remind ourselves what the role of the domestic church actually is within the body of Christ. The Catechism tells us that the Catholic home is the “first school of Christian life,” the place where each individual within the family acquires the necessary virtues for the Christian life, “above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life” (CCC 1657). I am particularly moved by the Catechism‘s description of Catholic families as “islands of Christian life in an unbelieving world” (CCC 1655). 

What an image that paints for our imaginations. We see that Catholic families have a distinctly missional role within the greater Church. Our domestic churches are meant to form individuals (both parents and children), through the structure and rhythms of family life and being, into self-giving vessels that bring the hope of the gospel to the world. Here’s my question: do we Catholics walk out daily family life with this purpose in mind?

When I honestly examine the culture of many Catholic families, I have to say that I don’t see this end being sought after with intention. What I see more often than “islands of Christian life” easily accessible to their communities are islands that have been cloistered by impenetrable walls, islands of well-meaning families that have knowingly or unknowingly cut themselves off from the world outside their doors.

Is it possible that we have made family life into a self-serving culture? Do we perhaps elevate the life of the family above the mission of the Church, making the Church subservient to the family rather than placing the domestic church at the service of Christ’s mission for his Church?

These two questions get to the heart of what I see taking place within many Catholic families in American culture today; and I think the repercussions of failing to ask why and how this may be happing are too significant to overlook. Within this summer series, subsequent posts will focus individually on primary issues related to the larger question of whether our domestic churches are fulfilling their mission within the Church. Some of these topics include: the absence of deep friendships, the isolating nature of our technology, confusion about the sacrament of Confirmation, the lack of intention in family rhythms, and the role that fear plays in sabotaging our mission.

I hope you follow along with me on this series and contribute your constructive thoughts along the way. We need to consider these issues in earnest. We often discuss and decry the outside attacks on the family within the greater culture, but I wonder if we have been insufficiently introspective and ignored indications of how we have been thwarting our own mission from the inside.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

All Things New: A Reflection

During this season of Easter, the readings in the Divine Office have been taken from the book of Revelation. There is one passage that has particularly grabbed my heart and offered much fruitful meditation and consolation. Revelation 21 speaks powerfully of the “new heaven” and the “new earth,” and how God himself will come to his people to “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Then verse five invites us to take in the re-creation, as the One on the throne says: “Behold, I make all things new.”

Do you feel the invitation to inhale this truth deeply and exhale peacefully when you read those words?

I do. I so often need to remember this truth and allow it to sink into my heart. I have brokenness, and I have loved ones with brokenness. I regularly experience the consequences of brokenness, and I have felt sorrow for all that needs to be made right. We all daily experience the reality that there is much wrong with the world. And how do we respond? We sometimes distract ourselves. We sometimes are paralyzed with grief. We sometimes bravely move forward on our pilgrim journey with great faith, despite the dismal circumstances that result from our fallen humanity. 

Whatever our response has been to the brokenness in our world, we need to inhale deeply of the truth that our Lord is the one on the throne making all things new. This is no greeting card sentiment; this is a promise that will be fulfilled.

Our God sits on the throne and is in the process of making all things new: in my life, in your life, and in all of the world. We do not see clearly how now, but we are assured of what we hope for and given evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). With that in mind, I offer the following reflection exercise that you can take with you into your quiet prayer time with the Lord:

  • Quiet your heart as you enter His presence. He is there already, waiting for you, in the space of your Interior Castle. 
  • Be conscious that you are bringing your heavy burdens with you—every one of them. Perhaps, imagine them strapped to your shoulders like a large hiking pack. 
  • Imagine the glorious light of God’s presence ahead of you. Look forward and see our Lord on the throne, in all His glory and goodness.
  • Take Him in. Take in the glory of His presence and the truth of His sovereignty over all the world. Spend a few moments with this vision and worship Him for who He is. 
  • Then, take off that heavy pack of burdens and set it at your side.
  • Open the top and take out the first broken thing you see. Walk with it toward that glorious throne and leave it at His feet. As you release it, pray over it by name, and ask our Lord to make it new.
  • One by one, take out each broken thing you have carried. Walk each one to the feet of Jesus. Ask Him to make each one new.
  • When you are finished, when you have emptied your pack of all your brokenness and all the brokenness of others you love, take in the sight before you. See all that you have carried at the feet of the King. See these things in their redeemed state; see them in the light of His promise to “make all things new.” And worship Him again for His faithfulness.
  • As you leave this time of prayer and worship, know that His presence stays with you and your burdens of brokenness stay at the foot of the throne. They are being made new. You are being made new. 

Go out in joy and peace, giving thanks to God. Alleluia!

Revelation 21:5

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

The Voice God Uses

As we are within the season of Lent, we are expectantly listening for God to speak to areas of our hearts that need to be redeemed. I doubt that most practicing Catholics who approach this season with sincere intentions for repentance would be surprised to find that God has a specific message of conversion in store for them, but they might be surprised by the particular messenger He sends.

I don’t know about you, but when I imagine God speaking to me or I sit down for prayer desiring Him to do so, I have a good idea of what I expect Him to sound like and what I expect Him to say. Whether it be Lent, or any old time of the year, I often take for granted that I will recognize the sound of His voice and the tone of His message. He will meet my expectations exactly, right? I’m afraid that I have been proved wrong more often than not.

The problem with our expectations is that they are often rooted deeply in pride; they can be tied heavily to our emotions and formed from our deceitful heart condition. We expect the type of correction we feel we can tolerate, the one we have determined to be bearably fair. We are very good at looking just long enough to find a sin that isn’t too inconvenient or a means of conversion that won’t be too difficult. But Jeremiah 17:9 tells us: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” God, that’s who; and He’s the only one. His perfect comprehension of the state of our hearts and the root of our actions often results in His message sounding quite different from the pre-vetted ones we have conjured up for ourselves.

But it is not only His messages that often surprise us; His methods and messengers do as well. God is no respecter of persons, and He uses all kinds. He uses both the people from whom we have asked advice and those from whom we’d rather not hear. He uses both beautiful rhetoric and plain words. He uses brilliant minds and simple ones alike. He uses both saints and sinners.

I want God’s reproach to be palatable, and I want His messenger to handle my feelings with kid gloves. I want the corrections to be as sweetly worded as possible, so as to not trample my delicate emotions nor overlook my admirable achievements. Oh, pride. Oh, deceitful heart. In trying to place a protective hedge around it, I have blocked out the voice of the Father who wants to heal it and make it new.

And though the Father’s voice is one of love, he often uses sinners (just like you and me) in their sin to deliver his messages to us. He’s going to use the disrespectful child’s remark, the husband’s frank observation, the grumpy stranger in the grocery store, the gossiping woman in the carpool line, or the parent who never thinks you do anything right. I believe that it was Elisabeth Leseur who said that every time that someone offends you it is an opportunity for you to examine your own conscience. I think she’s right. If we are waiting for God to use perfect people to speak to us, then we will often miss the voice that He is using to show us where our hearts are deceiving us.

I’ve had to learn the hard way–usually kicking and screaming–that God’s going to get His message through to me one way or another. It’s truly a grace that that’s the case, that He doesn’t stop speaking when we are hard of hearing. Perhaps if I would listen sooner it wouldn’t be such a hard pill to swallow, but then again pride is always a hard pill to swallow. And isn’t it ultimately prideful for us to insist that had the message been more gentle we would have obeyed immediately? Our track records prove otherwise. What we require is humility to hear His voice, whatever the method or messenger. May we take to heart the Invitatory antiphon that we pray during Lent: “Today, if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.”

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey