Catholics refer to the family as the “Domestic Church” but it would be easy to experience this as a spiritually antiseptic phrase requiring families to be perfectly peaceful, perfectly quiet (and to borrow a phrase from Mary Poppins) practically perfect in every way.
It can be hard to relate to that image of the family. It seems too remote. Too impossible. Too lofty, but it doesn’t have to be. I think the problem is that most of us think of church in too idealized a way which makes the notion of a domestic church all the more inaccessible. In general, we can use the word, “church” in two senses. The first is the ideal sense of the Church as the Family of God, Body of Christ, presence of God in the world. That’s the way most of us think of it, and that is quite a beautiful, true, and good way to view it.
But there is another sense of the word “church”. This second sense is the more realistic, lived sense of church as a group of people who often don’t get along very well, sometimes don’t like each other very much, and usually irritate each other in a million different ways–but are all making a journey to God and sometimes managing to help each other in spite of it all! That’s what GOD’S family looks like, so maybe you don’t have to feel so bad about yours.
We tend to want to think of the domestic church in that first sense of Church too. We only think that God is reaching into our homes when everything is quiet and peaceful and prayerful, but I think this second sense of Church is the more realistic sense of the “Domestic Church.” The domestic church is loud, and noisy and messy, just like the real thing, and God likes that just fine. The Theology of the Body emphasizes that Catholicism is an incarnational faith. It is a faith that does not allow us to run away of the messiness of every day life into some antiseptic spirituality but instead challenges us to enter more deeply into the mess, just as Christ did. This incarnational awareness of faith reminds us that God wants to use every moment–especially the messy, all-too-human-moments-to reach us with his love and grace.
Domestic Mess or Domestic Mass?
On More2Life Radio today, Lisa and I reflected with the Theology of the Body Institute’s Bill Donaghy on the messiness of life in the domestic church. We explored how the domestic mess of noisy kids, and smelly diapers, and busy days, and exhausted nights is a kind of metaphorical, ”domestic mass.” The more we enter into the sacrifice of this “domestic mass” the more God’s love becomes incarnate in our homes and the more likely we experience real communion with each other and God in an authentic family life.
Our domestic church has its own smells and bells–funky laundry, clanking dishes– that, while perhaps not as pleasant as the chiming bells that call us to worship or the incense that lifts our prayers to heaven at Mass, are just as spiritually significant in their own way. They call us to worship the incarnate God who is with us in the here and now. St. Theresa of Avila once said, “God is in the pots and pans.” It is that God who we experience in our messy, noisy domestic church. It is that God we encounter in the little moments of every day life. That God who’s grace allows us to be transformed by doing little acts of family life with great love; wiping noses, drying tears, drawing pictures, playing games, calming fears.
We don’t need to escape our homes to find God and sanctity. We don’t need to run away from home to pray. We need to follow Christ’s example, and empty ourselves, entering more deeply into the mystery of the domestic mess and finding the wholeness and holiness that waits for us there.
Editor’s note: originally published at Patheos.com, with authors kind permission.