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

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