Renewing the Domestic Church – Part 4

In this final post of this summer series on renewing the domestic church, I want to come full circle to answer the question posed at the outset:

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?

The answer is often–yes. We can easily get Catholic family culture wrong because we get the mission of the domestic church wrong. Domestic churches are meant to link arms with each other within the body of Christ to effectively be the hands and feet of Christ in this world. This is the mission of Christ’s pilgrim Church on earth; as we travel onward to heaven we should be trying to bring as many people along with us as possible.

Yet, often, we don’t see Catholic (or Christian) families living out this mission. In practice, we can act as if the family is a bunker or safe haven from the outside world and maintain a separateness that prevents the members of our families from collectively doing two things (which are really one in the same): serving as the hands and feet of Christ and His Church, and impacting those outside the Church with the Gospel.

Let’s honestly ask ourselves how we think about the Church. Perhaps we take from her rather than give with her and through her. Do we as Catholic families in America live like the Church exists merely to provide the sacraments to us and our children, or do we see ourselves as members of the Church with the responsibility to bring her sacraments to a broken world. Are we only interested in our own salvation from the world and preservation on this pilgrimage, or do we see ourselves as agents in the salvation of the world?

Let’s look at how we may be incorrectly viewing the sacraments and our role in bringing them to a world that desperately needs them:

  • Do we approach receiving the Eucharist as merely “a power pill” that gives us a leg up in our spiritual lives? We should be approaching the Blessed Sacrament with a much larger picture of sacrifice and salvation history in mind. After all, what we are doing in each Mass is uniting ourselves with Christ as an offering to the Father; we are participating in the salvation of the world.
  • Do we think of the sacrament of marriage as only something that we received from the Church? We should, in fact, be living marriages that transmit the grace particular to that sacrament into the lives of those we touch daily.
  • How do we think of our children’s Confirmations, or our own Confirmation for that matter? So many times people incorrectly describe it as “getting the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power.” We received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism; we didn’t just get a little bit of Him. What many Catholics don’t realize, either in principle or in practice, is that Confirmation is about being “sent out” to fulfill the Church’s mission in the world. Do we live like that? More importantly, are our homes preparing our young people for that mission? Is life after Confirmation a continuation of insulating our child from the world outside our door, or does it involve the celebration of what great things he will do to help Christ’s Church redeem the broken world in which he lives?

What I’m coming to at the end of this series is this: do we accept our mission to bring others with us to heaven, and are we inspiring our children with that same life goal? Do we live and raise our families to serve Christ’s mission, or have we invented all sorts of programs for how His Church can serve our own designs? God help us, but I think there is a lot of the later mixed in. I know first-hand how easy it is to choose to stay in our spiritual comfort zones. We like to be served more than we like to serve; because service costs us something. But the truth is that the alternative costs us more. Christ tells us that “the first shall be last,” and quite frankly, I don’t know of a single saint that made it to heaven on that program. To get to heaven, it seems that we have to want to bring people with us–and not just the people we like or live with.

So let’s set our families on a heavenward path. Let’s start living with more intention to bring others to heaven with us. Let’s give ourselves to the service of Christ and His Church, and let’s give our children back to Christ. Let’s let go of our own designs and celebrate–above all else–the mission that God calls each member of our family to at Confirmation. We can have the kind of domestic churches that raise up generations of Catholics that do as St. Catherine of Siena said: set the world on fire.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

Renewing the Domestic Church – Part 2 – Friendships

In the first post for this series on renewing the domestic church, I posed the following question regarding Catholic family 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?

I want to ultimately get to answering this question; but I think before we examine whether our family culture is best serving the Church’s mission, we must first ask whether our family culture and rhythms are forming us into the kind of people who are equipped to successfully carry out that mission. And I think when we look here we see a couple of glaring problems staring back at us: the absence of deep friendships and the lack of intentional family rhythms, as I mentioned in the first post.

Now, let me say at the outset: these are not Catholic problems; these are wide-spread trends in American family culture today. But, if our Catholic families are going to be successful at pointing society to Christ and his Church, then we have to live differently and address the ways that we have moved with the tide of culture. We will get to intentional family rhythms later in this series, but I want to focus on the lack of deep friendships in this post.

I could cite so much research demonstrating that American culture norms, even within Christian communities, are resulting in friendship deficits for adults. But I don’t think I have to; I think if you and I look around–either in our own lives or the lives of people we know–we see that friendships are not being nurtured in an optimal way. While I think most people do have “friends,” the quality of these relationships and the level of intimacy present is problematic. Barna reports, “The majority of adults have anywhere between two and five close friends (62%), but one in five regularly or often feels lonely.”

Loneliness. Isolation. I hear these words often from women describing how they feel in their life and family experiences, and I can only imagine that men express the same (especially if statistics regarding male friendships are accurate). This should sound an alarm for us that something is wrong with the status quo. Clearly there is not a wide-spread cultivation of deep friendships, and I think we can identify why that is the case. What we have come to designate as “friendship,” even within our Catholic communities, falls below the richness that Christ would desire for us in our relationships. Let me briefly sketch out what seems to be passing today as friendship:

  • We see each other at Church
  • We chat at our kids’ mutual recreational/extracurricular events
  • We text each other
  • We work together
  • We run into each other once in awhile at large group events
  • We visit during playdates for our children

The list of hypothetical situations could go on, but notice the common thread here: we often designate unintentional moments of connection with other adults in our social circles as “friendships,” and those types of interactions are often as deep as the relationships go. What’s missing from this list that is integral to nurturing deep and meaningful friendships?

  • Face-to-face conversations (regular, not intermittent)
  • Intentional time scheduled together without distractions
  • Exhorting each other in spiritual truth
  • Having the relational space and security to be vulnerable and honest

I know what is probably on many minds at this moment: but we are all so busy! Yes, we are. But we need to consider what it is that keeps us so busy that we don’t intentionally spend time nurturing friendships. Seriously. We either don’t believe that adult friendships are vital for our overall well-being as humans, or we are too distracted and busy to assess whether our behaviors align with our values and beliefs.

Catholic men and women need deep friendships–men with men and women with women. We don’t need a dozen of them, but we need at least a couple. And these friendships, like so many other important things in life, don’t grow by accident. We have to prioritize face time and conversations with those friends that are going to help us grow and provide wise and godly counsel and support during life’s seasons: both joyful and sorrowful ones.

I’ve witnessed life lived both ways. I’ve see adults and spouses go through their whole lives never prioritizing friendships (either individually or as a couple). Not only are the hard times difficult and lonely, but the good times lack cheer-leaders and support as well. Then I’ve seen the men and women who know how important friendships are, who don’t take them for granted, and who have made time for them in the weekly rhythms of their family life; and these people thrive. These are the people I see living the most dynamic lives, and their family culture seems to encourage deep and healthy friendships for all members in their domestic churches. When dads and moms prioritize strong friendships, their children have a model of both the kind of friends to cultivate and practical ways to deepen and grow those relationships throughout life.

I hope it’s obvious why deep friendships are essential to living vibrant lives of faith and serving the Church’s mission. We don’t get to heaven on our own. Our lives are not our own to be lived for our own individual purposes and pleasures. We–along with many others–make up the body of Christ. Together we fulfill Christ’s mission. The words of English poet John Donne express this truth so well:

"No man is an island entire of itself; 
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

Young Hearts Experience Conversion Too

“I hate church!”

This had become a weekly outburst the moment our 5-year-old realized that it was Sunday…again. “I hate Sundays,” he would add. And when that didn’t get quite the response he was looking for, he would throw in, “I do not love God!”

Have you been there? Do you have one of these kids? I don’t think of myself as an overly sensitive or easily scandalized parent. I knew how to take these outbursts with a grain of salt. However, they did leave me a bit sad for him week after week. I started taking my convictions and beliefs about prayer for my children seriously, purposefully asking God to touch his young heart.

A few weeks ago after dinner my husband said he wanted the family to pray a couple of decades of the rosary together. We went for two decades, feeling that would be ambitious with our group of four kids under age eight.

It was so peaceful and beautiful.

All of the boys actually prayed each Hail Mary, fingering their wooden beads one by one. After the two decades, the boys didn’t want to stop. In fact, our anti-church 5-year-old kept right on with his Hail Marys (until he reached what he determined to be the end) while we ushered everyone up for bed.

As I tidied up downstairs, I could hear his excited voice talking to my husband upstairs. “I love praying!” I heard him say. Wow, I’m thinking to myself. He’s really getting into this.  I minute later he burst into the room with a radiant smile on his face. “Mommy, I love praying! I really do love praying…….and Mommy…..I do love God!”

Let me insert here that it had been a particularly rough day with behavior, and that family rosary had done a lot to restore my tired parent’s heart. But when I heard his words spoken with such sincerity, I could have easily relived that horrible day over again with joy.

He was experiencing a REAL conversion of heart. He was tuned-in to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and something profound had happened in his interior, spiritual life. He continued on excitedly as new realizations hit him. “Sundays…I will like Sundays now! I will like going to church, because I get to pray there.”

I hugged him and told him to remember this wonderful moment, because one day he would need to be reminded that he loved God, and therefore loved taking time to pray and worship in Mass. I knew this spiritual experience didn’t necessarily mean that he would always feel this way. Why? Because he’s a person just like me. Just as I forget the joy and privilege of prayer, he will too. Just like I need to be reminded that my feelings aren’t always leading me to truth, he will need to remember the truth when his emotions lead him astray.

This experience crystalized for me a truth that we parents must strive to keep forefront: just as the Holy Spirit continually converts our hearts, he is continually converting the hearts of our children as well. In fact, these young hearts are often closer to conversion on a daily basis than we older hearts are. Let us never act in a way that presumes to take over the Holy Spirit’s role in our kids’ interior lives. We are the parents. God is their Creator, and he is continually chasing after them with a love that never gives up.


**Full disclosure: yeah, he needed to remember a week later. 🙂

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey