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

My Reading Challenge Pick for…”a novel by a Catholic author”

I’m down to the last four categories of my 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge. How about you? I am continuing to share what I am reading for the challenge with you. This was a repeat author for me…and a beloved one!

Category: “a novel by a Catholic author”

My Pick: Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset

I fell in love with Norwegian and Nobel Prize-winning author Sigrid Undset last year when I read her epic Kristin Lavransdatter and, about the same time, her biography of my confirmation saint, Catherine of Siena.

Undset is a writer with a profound gift for communicating universal themes of the human experience. Kristin Lavransdatter (both the book and the masterfully-written heroine) still pervades my spiritual imagination; and Catherine of Siena set a new standard for biographies of saints. I’ve written about both books here and here, for last year’s Reading Challenge.

Gunnar’s Daughter, written 10 years before Kristin Lavransdatter and a fraction of its length, is a really quick read…really quick. In fact, it’s a real page-turner. If you have a rainy day and a comfy chair, you might rip right through it. I read it over a couple of days. Here’s the crazy thing though: when I finished, it felt like I had just read an epic! The story and the characters make you feel that way. Though it had none of the intricate layers and extensive plot lines of one of Undset’s 1,000-page novels, the character sketches were none the less thick, real, and lasting in your memory.

If you are sensitive about certain content, read a summary of the plot that doesn’t give the story away. Though rape and childhood death are elements in the story, they are not explicit. (She’s not that kind of writer.) Her characters are such real people — ones that could live during any point in history. I’m just impressed at how much of them she could give me in so few words.

Another interesting element of the novel is that it is set in eleventh century Norway and Iceland, about 300 years before Kristin Lavransdatter’s time period. This is Norway’s pre-Christian era. So you get a sense of how different the religious culture was from a few centuries later during Kristin’s era. In fact, famed king and saint Olav, referenced many times in Kristin, is a character in this novel. Good historic fiction is my favorite way to absorb the history of a time, place, and people.

If you haven’t read Sigrid Undset, this might be a great entry point.

 


What did you read for “a novel by a Catholic author”?

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

The Circle of Christian Life

Our 7-week-old Stella Maris was baptized on Saturday. It was so beautiful. It was a small gathering of our family and Stella’s godparents in our church’s chapel on the hill that was built in the 1700s.

Attending a baptism is always a powerful and moving thing. There is no question that something “other-worldly” is happening as the stain of original sin is removed from this little soul and she enters into the eternal life of the church. This realization is certainly intensified when the child is your own, when you are personally responsible for guiding her journey here on earth.

I tried to take it all in with fresh eyes, as her forehead was marked with the sign of the cross, her chest and head anointed, and the cleansing waters blessed and poured over her. Finally, her baptismal candle was lit from the Easter candle, signifying the transfer of the light of Christ that has now come into her life and given it new birth. She now carries that light with her on her journey — however long that journey may be.

We had to exit the chapel fairly quickly, because a funeral was taking place right after. As I took Stella’s gown off and packed her up in her car seat, people began filing in and the Easter candle was moved in front of the altar in preparation for the Mass. I was suddenly struck by the circle of the Christian life that was playing out before my eyes with these sacred and sacramental events in close succession. Continue reading “The Circle of Christian Life”