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

Intentionality Requires Vision

I believe that being intentional is the key to having a thriving domestic church. Creating an authentic atmosphere of faith in our homes or living according to rhythms of the liturgical year don’t happen by accident. We must intend to do such things. But what if we are struggling with a concept of what that looks like in our families? Vision is imperative.

 If we lack vision for our domestic churches, then we will probably struggle to be intentional about building habits and culture in family life.

Scripture gives insight to this phenomenon in Proverbs 29:18:

Without a vision the people lose restraint; but happy is the one who follows instruction.” (NABRE)

The footnote in Bible Gateway reads: “‘Vision’ and ‘instruction’ mean authoritative guidance for the community.” We need authoritative guidance for our domestic churches; we can’t begin being intentional until we know what it is we are going for, what it should look like — both theoretically and practically. Thank goodness we have the Holy Spirit working through Church tradition, the Catechism, and a wealth of encyclicals to inspire vision within us!

But part of constructing a vision involves deconstructing old habits, patterns and norms. And sometimes we need both the Church’s inspirational and prophetic voice to help us in this process. The RSV translation of the above passage reads like this:

“Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but happy are those who keep the law.”

We sometimes misunderstand this word “prophecy” to only mean “predicting the future.” While some of the prophets did foretell things in Scripture, that is not the complete purpose of the prophetic. An important role of the prophetic, both in individuals given the gift of prophecy and the Church’s prophetic voice, is to correct us when we lose our way. Continue reading “Intentionality Requires Vision”