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The domestic church is
the family. It is the faith-life of the family. It is this invisible structure
made of the love between each family member and between them and God. It is
resting on the visible members of the family, but it is being nourished by the
invisible energy of grace. It softens what would normally harden. It unites
what would simply come apart. It comforts what would easily give up. How each
family will deal with love and relationships and grace (or lack of it) will
set up the stage for its spiritual health and fitness.
Of course, there can be love in any family, but in a Catholic family, there is love and faith. And this faith is not only the link to God, to Jesus and to the saints, to everything transcendent, it puts the "big picture" about our journey on earth into the proper context. It is from the nest of the family that one can learn how to exercise charity toward the other members of the human family - starting with its own, then reaching out to the world. The virtues of everyday life, such as courage, patience, restrain, kindness and generosity, are all best learned when first practiced within the circle of the family.
The family is the very first school of love.
Most parents know this instinctively, but do not always know how to articulate it. They know that what they are doing within this school of love is more important than any course at a top university. However, that truth is not well propagated in popular culture. Parents often feel they have to swim against the current (just like salmon), and it is a constant struggle. They have to filter the constant avalanche of messages, most of which conflict with the Christian faith: messages about instant gratification rather than developing patience and fortitude, about feeding our own needs rather than exercising love of neighbor, about glorifying individualism rather than working for the common good, about the superficial importance of appearances rather than true character, about use and abuse rather than self-restraint, about greed rather than charity. But, there are many small practical steps that can be taken, and it must start with us - parents or even grandparents. We need to be willing to learn more about our own faith. We need to look at this family faith journey as an adventure because that is exactly what it is - an on-going quest that can re-direct everything to its proper goal: the sanctification of the world and our own inner conversion. It is the abundant life, even from a precarious position.
Globalization and the overwhelming reach of media offer just as many opportunities for the love of God and love of neighbor as it does for sin and turning away from God. To live as a follower of Christ has been a challenge ever since the very beginning. Christians faced persecution from the first days of the Church, and although the modern threats to the family take new forms and many shapes, they are a form of persecution.
As Pope John Paul II said, we need to remember that the family is placed "at the center of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love."
How many factors are at work that can destabilize the family nucleus?
Too many! The list is appalling. Trying to witness as a Catholic family is certainly a challenge. Resistance can come from outside unbelievers as well as from lukewarm members of our own family who can resist faith with apathy. At the parish level, the primacy of the domestic church needs to be recognized and clearly articulated. Teachers and parents can start a faith-sharing group on "How do you share the faith at the dinner table?" or "How do I instill veneration for the saints rather than blind admiration for billionaire sport stars?" Start a Catholic book-club; organize a pilgrimage to a holy site; network with other families.
The importance of the labor of love done within the domestic church cannot be overstated. The truth is that it is sometimes easier to befriend perfect strangers than to love members of our own family. Similarly, this labor of love must continue even when our children are grown and reject the faith; especially then, because our own love, patience, humility and forgiveness might form the only thread keeping them from a life indifferent to God. As long as they are linked to us through love, there is a chance for grace.
We should never shy away from allowing God's grace to flow through us. It is a question of our own humility and gentleness. When we succeed, it benefits us all. It is crucial we remember in times of great challenge to put our trust in the mercy of God. This is not about what we can do, but about putting ourselves into his hands, entrusting him with our family members, knowing his grace can overcome all our shortcomings. The fruits of such trust will benefit our community first, and then it will ripple out in blessings of love and faith, support and peace. Whether the results are initially visible or not, they will eventually bless the whole global village.
My mother's name was "Marguerite" which means "Daisy" in French. My mother died a year ago. I dedicate all my writings on the family to my dear mother.
16/09/2015 Pope Francis last catechesis on the family, which "makes the world a home": "This conjugal, familial community of man and woman is the generative grammar, the 'golden knot,' we could say." Hence, the family is "the foundation of this world culture, which saves us from so many attacks, so much destruction, from so many kinds of colonization, such as that of money or of the ideologies that are such a great threat for the world. The family is the base for self-defense."
posted in October 2015 on the site Catholic365 here .
Copyright ©2008 Michele Szekely - Published
in Catholic San Francisco May 23, 2008.
This is a shorter version of my longer article of 2006 here on the same subject, the family, and on evangelization. With family photos and with references.