What does it mean to create a Catholic home? To some, it primarily has to do with the customs and traditions a family celebrates. To others, it has to do with the art and sacramentals (e.g., crosses, statues, holy pictures, etc) that adorn the house and remind the family of Christ’s presence in their everyday lives. Still others might point to the charitable works their family is involved in. And, of course, it has everything to do with celebrating the sacraments–especially the Eucharist–together and having a prayerful home. All of these things are absolutely true. But I believe there is another ingredient that is often overlooked by Catholic families; a Catholic home must, first and foremost, be an intimate and generously loving home.
The Eucharist and the “Domestic Church”
The Church tells us that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith. In the Eucharist, God takes some time off from what must be the busiest schedule in the universe to make a personal, intimate, one-on-one connection with each of his children. In that blessed Family Meal, we encounter Christ in a real and intimate way. He gives everything he has to give to us–body, soul, and divinity–so that we might know, in our bones, that we are loved. And then, he asks us to go out and share that love with the world. In a similar way, Catholic families–which Catholics also refer to as “the domestic Church”–are challenged to take that Eucharistic encounter with Christ home and allow it to be the fuel we rely on to build a generously loving, joyful, intimate connection with our spouse and children. The 4th Century Church Father, Tertullian, once famously noted that all the world marveled at the intense loving connection Christians shared. “The pagans all say, ‘Look at those Christians! See how they love one another!”
Look at Those Families, See How they Love!
What was true 1700 years ago needs to ring true today in homes that bear the name, “Catholic.” A truly Catholic home must be a home where the mother and father work hard to love and serve each other, to put the other’s needs first, to organize their priorities with time for family connection at the top of the list. It must be a home where parents don’t just love their children the way their neighbors do, but love them extravagantly, as God loves them, with generous affection, loving conversation, and ample time to hear their stories, comfort them in their sorrows, celebrate their little successes. A Catholic home must be a home where children are taught how to give back all the love they receive by being respectful to their parents by saying “please” and “thank you” and “Can I help?” and “Ok, mom” and “I love you too”; being generous and thoughtful to their siblings by cheerfully playing each other’s games, and taking turns, letting their sister ride shotgun, or their brother go first, and being good servants to the people they meet in the world–their extended family, teachers, and friends. Many people reading this will think that I’m describing some fantasy of family life that just doesn’t and can’t exist in today’s world. They’re wrong. This is exactly why Catholic families exist, to show the world that the kind of love that everyone craves in their deepest heart of hearts is possible. Even more, they can’t deny it’s possible because they’ve seen you–with all your well-known quirks, flaws, and idiosyncrasies–live that kind of love in your home. Your Catholic home. A friend of mine related a story of another friend who, though previously un-churched, started showing up at Mass on Sundays with his wife and kids. My friend said that he wondered what brought about the change but he was afraid to ask. He didn’t want to pry and he didn’t want to scare them off. A couple of weeks later though, my friend had a chance to comment that it was great seeing the other man and his family at church and how much their kids seemed to like running around in the playground after church. My friend’s friend nodded and said, “It’s funny. You know me. I was never really much about God and all that religion stuff, but every time our families got together, my wife and I would say that you guys just had something. We couldn’t figure out what it was–except your faith. And you made us want that too. Thank you.” My friend was stunned. He couldn’t recall a single conversation where he talked about God or discussed anything remotely religious. He knew their wives hadn’t either. But somehow, God shone out through my friend’s marriage and family life brightly enough that it led someone else to seek the source of that light. That’s what a Catholic home looks like. And that’s what your Catholic home can do.