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 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