In a culture all abuzz with the word “influence”—where we navigate the onslaught of messages coming at us from so many sources in the world at large—the home still holds the primary place of influence over every person’s life. It is good to consider what kind of influence is within and going out from one’s home life and whether the values fostered and the priorities placed are reflective of who we are as Christians.
The home is a sacred space. It is where we birth or bring home babies, where people pass from this life to the next. It is where life-changing decisions are made, where heartfelt discussions happen. It is where children pass milestones, where we wrestle with heartbreaks. The atmosphere of a home can make a difference in how each of these events of our lives become for us a moment of good memories and lessons learned or added heaviness on our hearts.
The home, for a Christian, is the domestic church. It is the stage where much of our lives play out. When we take seriously the call to build up our domestic church well, the atmosphere in which we live our daily lives, it influences the way in which each individual who is part of that home lives their lives inside and outside the home. We are formed in our home, for better or worse, and this trickles out into the way our lives play out in the drama of society at large.
What does it mean to build up our domestic church in a way that is good for its inhabitants? First and foremost, we must place Christ at the center of our homes and all that we do. We are called to be “a community of life and love,” (Familiaris Consortio, 17) and Christ is the One who shows us the way.
The domestic church is the primary place for fostering and passing down the Faith. Children will not be convinced of Christ simply by attending a class once a week for an hour. They need to see it lived out. They need to learn how to develop a relationship with the Creator. He needs to be a real part of their lives. This is convincing in a deeper way than the most erudite explanation of theology for any person, old or young.
The way in which persons within a household relate to each other is another part of that witness. That often touted phrase among Christians during the aughts—WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?)—is a good one to reflect upon. It is easy to allow ourselves to give only the dregs of our days, but, really, we should be giving our best to those closest to us. Developing loving relationships with those of our household, ones marked by charity, mercy, and mutual understanding, should be a top priority in the building up of our domestic church.
Fostering the unique lives within our homes, helping them discern individually the calling God has mapped out for their lives. Often, this will touch the community within the home in a profound way or may require an adjustment or reorientation for the whole community not recognized until the individual is attended to with the disposition of Christ.
A little bit ago, I chatted with some other Catholic families about what living out their calling as a domestic church looks like within their individual homes. One thing that commonly stuck out as a helpful practice was having a regular time of saying communal prayers together and/or developing a common devotion together, such as saying the Rosary daily or fostering a devotion to a particular saint.
Frequent reception of the sacraments, including attending Mass regularly, often bolstered hearts during moments of difficulty. The graces of the sacraments are not to be underestimated in the strength they give. Adrienne, a mom to four school-age children, shared with me:
Last summer, we endured a time of deep suffering within our family. We were brought to our knees in bearing our cross. At the time, my husband suggested we start meeting for daily Mass once a week as a family. The graces we received during that time were incredible. The Mass and Eucharist (which also allowed frequent reception of Confession) was such a balm to our soul during that time and truly sustained us.
When we carry out those prayerful moments, regularly connecting with God, they become a powerful witness within the home and to others in the world. John and Marianne, who are both parents and grandparents, said,
We say Grace before every meal whether we are at home or at a restaurant, whether it is just the two of us or our entire family. As a family, we join hands in prayer, thanking God for all His many blessings. We do so openly and visibly.
In giving thanks before meals, the family is reminded of where our blessings truly come from. In doing so in a public place, this serves as a reminder to others outside the home as well.
We are not called to make these efforts in a building up our domestic church in a perfect way, but a faithful one. Some seasons are easier than others for maintaining a prayer routine, but every effort is huge in the eyes of God. Anne Marie, a mom of two littles, shared with me:
We have been trying to do a family Rosary once a week. It usually ends up being a little noisy and filled with interruptions having littles in the house but we know that Our Lady will take our efforts and prayers and arrange them beautifully before the Lord.
Those efforts and prayers rise like incense before the Lord and edify the persons in a household, even the tiniest as they grow.
The way in which one is home is called to live out their role as a domestic church will vary, sometimes drastically, from others. It is vital we discern with the Lord how specifically one’s own home is called to witness. As Kathryn, a mom of six ranging from college age to kindergarten, pointed out,
I think it’s important to live your family culture for what makes sense for you. We spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to others who appear to be “just like us” and then we fall deep into the rabbit hole of comparison. Be confident in who God is calling your family to be. You’re unique and God has a specific plan for you. Quit thinking it has to look just like someone else’s to measure up.
Jiza, a homeschooling mom of four, shared with me this beautiful quote from St. John Chrysostom on the domestic church. I think it perfectly encapsulates the major pillars of arranging and building up our domestic church:
Paint your house with the colors of modesty and humility. Make it radiant with the light of justice. Decorate it with the finest gold leaf of good deeds. Adorn it with the walls and stones of faith and generosity. Crown it with the pinnacle of prayer.
If we want the influence of our domestic church to be for the good of its inhabitants and reach out into the world, we must build it up in the love and life of Christ.
The family, within its domestic church, has an important role to play as a witness to the world.
As St. John Paul the Great says in this apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio:
The family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do. The role that God calls the family to perform in history derives from what the family is; its role represents the dynamic and existential development of what it is. Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored…. (FC, 17)
Let each domestic church strive to live up to this calling from the Lord.