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

More “Real” Than Real

We live in a culture that is ultimately material. By that I mean that what is considered most “real” is that which can be experienced with our five physical senses. What we can see, hear, taste, smell and feel is what is real to us. Essentially, that means that what we observe in the natural world and what we have feelings and impulses toward are the only things that exist. Of course those things are real, and yes we experience them in the natural world. But where does that leave us with the question of the supernatural, the order of things not apparent to our physical senses, the truth and reality that is actually happening in the everyday life of the Spirit?

We say that we believe in God and the supernatural world; but unfortunately, many Christians today behave as mere materialists, interpreting their faith and the spiritual life solely within the dimension of the natural, material world. However, there is an ultimate reality — something more real than the reality known to our physical senses — in which we can participate, and I believe that the sacraments of the church are the daily means by which we live in that reality. In fact, the sacraments reveal that ultimate reality to us, as if lifting the veil to expose the full picture of God’s love and redemption story for all of creation.

What reality is revealed?

A sacrament is “the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation,” and the Church’s Catechism explains how God has gifted us with signs observable to our senses that allow us to participate in a reality that exists beyond those physical senses:

“The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a ‘sacrament.'” (CCC 774)

So within a sacrament something is actually happening in the spiritual life. This revelation certainly contributed to me becoming Catholic, and it daily awakens me to what is most real. I will give you a couple of examples of this deeper level of reality, what is actually happening, when we participate in the sacraments. I have been pondering the reality of three sacraments in particular recently: Baptism, Marriage, and the Eucharist.

Baptism — For some people Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation have become merely symbolic “events” worthy of photo shoots and parties afterward. Have we lost sight of what is really happening? Through the anointing oil, prayer of exorcism, and the cleansing holy waters poured on the child, the stain of original sin is being wiped away. This soul is entering into the life of the Church and beginning a pilgrimage in which those witnessing souls are also participating. Remember those Oxi Clean commercials? It’s like spiritual Oxi Clean for the soul! The dirt of original sin is literally removed to reveal a whiter than white fresh soul ready to begin that spiritual journey. But if you are only looking with your eyes you won’t see what is actually taking place right there in that moment in our time.

Marriage — Why is being married in the Church and according to her canon law so important? Because what is actually taking place when it is a sacramental marriage is nothing like a contractual agreement that may at some point in time be dissolved. When the two become one flesh something very real has happened in the spiritual lives of both of those people that impacts completely their physical lives and reality from that point forward. They are suddenly knit together, responsible for helping each other journey to heaven. In fact, the vocation of their marriage is the way God is choosing to sanctify them and make them holy. My husband is not just my companion, my partner in life, my lover — at that altar and in that sacrament he (with all of his flaws and charisms) became the person in this life that will participate in the sanctification of my soul. Mind-blowing. Awesome. Overwhelming.

The Eucharist — Maybe this one is both the most obvious and the hardest to comprehend at the same time. To my physical sense I am eating bread and drinking wine. If I approach that bread and wine as a symbol, I’m not acknowledging that something transformational is taking place. I must realize that I am taking the real presence of Christ into my own body, and that phenomenon radically changes me and spiritually sustains me with graces. That moment of consecration on the altar is not just some ritual; the most ultimate and supernatural reality is taking place before our eyes in every mass! Christ is offering himself for us, to sustain us on our earthly journey. When we enter into that reality — when we get that — we will only be able to participate with total reverence and awe, and our daily living will be sustained like never before.

How do we “sense” this ultimate reality?

If this is the realness that we can live in, then how do we then experience this ultimate reality that is always present with us? As human beings created in the image of God, we have been gifted with a sixth sense — the religious sense.  The Catechism describes this religious sense in several places as the “supernatural sense of faith” (CCC 91-93, 889). Faith is one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope & love). Through the eyes of faith we are able to see our lives, the lives of others, and the world in which we live in a supernatural dimension — we are able to perceive what is most real, the ultimate reality available to us in the spiritual life. We access these eyes of faith, this religious sense, through grace; as with everything in the spiritual life, it is a gift.

But human agency is always a factor. Are we living in a way that opens ourselves up to that gift of faith? Are we taking part in the gift of the sacraments? Have we let patterns of behavior and distractions blur our vision and numb our religious sense? If so, we may find that we are merely living material lives day in and day out. But this will not satisfy. This is not the abundant life that Jesus speaks of in John 10:10. We must foster the religious sense if we want to live in the ultimate reality and be fully alive.


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”