The little church of the Family in a time of Crisis.

"The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state." Lumen Gentium 11

It was in graduate school at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family that I first really considered the concept of the family as a 'domestic church'. Simply stated it means that the Christian family, strengthened by the graces of the sacrament of matrimony, are called to, in a special and profound way, live together in a community of prayer; learn together about the faith, human virtue and Christian charity; and help evangelize the world. Like a little church. It's not a new concept of course. This idea of the family as the core of society and thus as a seedbed of faith in the world has been around since the beginning of Christianity. In fact, one of my favorite classes at the Institute specifically explored the writings of the early Church fathers on this topic and the origins of the concept in Scripture. At the time, my fiancé (now husband) and I were in a long distance relationship that necessitated lots and lots of time chatting on the phone. (Remember when people used to do that?) He was working on one of his many degrees in music with the hopes of living his life as a Church musician. (What a dream, right?) As such, he was spending lots of time learning about the Liturgy and the Mass. As you would imagine and as exciting as it sounds, this resulted in hours of conversation considering the similarities between the Church and the domestic church, the big Church and the little church, the physical building and the home, the daily life of the family and the Mass. I remember after considering the Theological connections I would daydream about what our own family might look like one day, about what our home would be like, about how we would be AS a family. I dreamed of a beautiful home with artwork and decor that called us to a peaceful atmosphere and fostered reflection on the things of God. I dreamed of daily prayer with children who, taken up in the spirit, experienced the unfathomable love of Christ. I dreamed of conversation enriched by charity and saturated with classical literature and music. I dreamed of a fire of faith that burned so brightly in our little family that it could not help but spread to our community and our world. ( If you're laughing right now Ok, I was in my twenties, give me a break.)  I haven't thought about those daydreams in a while but these past two weeks have brought back a flood of memories and thought about that time.

Here in isolation from the world, inundated with fear, and separated from the Sacraments, this reality of the family as a 'little church' takes new focus. The idea is a beautiful one; that as an acorn has in its tiny structure the raw material that, if cultivated, becomes a mighty sprawling Oak, so too does the family as a microcosm of our own parish communities and of the universal Church, have in it the most concentrated potential for sanctification of the human soul, for formation and cultivation of service and prayer, for charity, grace and evangelization. Beautiful. Of course, a vignette into any of our homes right now would show a more 'textured' reality. Amirite? In my own home from sun up to sun down you can see any variety of 'unchurcy' happenings. There are fights, power struggles, tantrums, uncharity, and the children have their problems too! My home is not a sanctuary of peace but a glorified laundry basket of chaos. Our family dinner conversations consists of complaints about the rare cameo of a vegetable and and inundation of questions from the kindergartener about why we have to wear pants 'even if we aren't going anywhere'. (Which, in all honestly, he has a point.) Alexa blares, not Mozart and Bach, but kids bop radio and baby shark and there are so many legos underfoot that any hopes of a discalced existence is shattered.  In the midst of my sudden and emergent new calling as homeschool mom to my own children and yet distance learning teacher to my actual students, as short order cook and perpetual washer of dirty dishes and clothes and people, in the constant presence of my volatile attitude toward my husband and children, I can begin to despair that the visions of that young and zealous grad student will never come true. That we are failing, utterly, to live out this beautiful and important call to do our part as a tiny, but vital cell in the body of Christ. Maybe, in the noon hours of these days, as you retreat to the sanctuary of your bathroom to find solace from your own family you've been tempted to that same thought. My answer, when I begin to think that way is always the same. Get some perspective. Take a step back.

 If we are to be the seedbed of the Church then I have to first ask myself, "What is the Church for?" The purpose of the Church is to continue the mission of Christ in the world. Full stop. TO MAKE HIM PRESENT! He came into the world so that (as my morning reflection so poignantly revealed) "men might have light and stop thrashing about in the dark." There will be darkness, yes. That is unavoidable."In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33) In our domestic church, not unlike our universal Church, there are fights, power struggles, tantrums, and uncharity, even (and maybe especially) amongst those who are tasked with leadership. But how, in the midst of that, are we letting His light shine? Darkness can feel all consuming and scary, but light, even the tiniest bit, is pervasive! Yes, there are moments of bickering and frustration but in this place where we can be nothing else but family there are also moments of beauty in abundance, moments of un-rushed charity, moments of kindness, of patience, of unrestrained laughter, of truly SEEING the other. One tiny light has the power to overcome the darkness. It finds the tiniest crevices and illuminates the uncertain. As the herald of the role of the family, Pope Saint John Paul II taught us, "Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are." BECOME WHAT YOU ARE! 

This time at home has revealed itself to me as a great act of mercy from God. Here, I am no longer able to hold my responsibility to seek holiness for myself and my family at arms length, to rest on the laurels of busyness or appointments, the excuses of the demands of the world. Instead of ordering our life around school, or sports, or playdates and work we have no where to go and no more important task but to 'be what we are.'  In the mornings I sit on my front porch to watch the sunrise and say morning prayer and in the evenings my family sits on the back porch watching the sun set on another ordinary and precious day as we pray the family rosary. In both times I see families, together; walking, riding bikes, playing in the yard, laughing, talking and BEING who they are. I have heard countless stories of families, mine included, who have struggled to have regular or ANY moments of prayer together for years, praying together daily. There is no other kind of dinner but family dinner. There are no other kinds of sports or playdates but those that we have with each other. We are afforded this rare opportunity to push all else aside and 'become what we are.'Aside from our own sanctification, this present crisis desperately needs families to become little churches, and when, God willing, we go back to 'normal' our greater Church will continue to need that in a powerful way as well. A body is only as strong as its tiniest cells and when those cells are healthy and vibrant, so is the body. This is the time for families to become those healthy, vibrant cells of Church and as such, society. So, what are some basic and simple principles that we can enforce now in this space that might carry over into the rest of our lives when things go back to normal. 🤞

1. Daily Family Prayer

Just do it. Set a timer, ask Alexa to remind you (we do this seriously) to have some moments of these days at home when you stop whatever you are doing and reorient yourself to God. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It might not be pretty. It absolutely won't be quiet or orderly. Do it anyway. Some easy suggestions would be to pray the Angelus at noon, a family rosary each day at an appointed time, a short version of night prayer. Or just have a moment of silence and offer a chance for each family member to say aloud something that they are thankful for and some special intention that they might have. Small children love the opportunity to voice their own intentions. They will pray for the cat's tail and their imaginary dragon but they will also remember the poor and the sick. They learn from us so be vulnerable and sincere. Older children may act indifferent but come to rely on the regularity of this time together. In an age of incredible anxiety, family prayer is a source of comfort and constancy for everyone.

2. Individual Prayer

You will have trouble giving what you don't have. Let this time be the time you've always said you would devote to strengthening or developing a prayer life of your own, if you had it. You have it now. Same principle of family prayer applies. Just do it. Not praying at all is infinitely worse than merely awkward, short, inarticulate, or distracted prayer. It will get better. Make an appointment. Stick to it. Ideally, this should be done before the kids get up. Protect this time of prayer and protect it for your spouse. Don't know where to start? Open the Bible. Read the daily Mass readings. Download an app like Magnificat or Hallow. Fill your mind with the word of God and then be silent. Give Him the space to speak.

3. Set up a Holy Space

Make a special place somewhere in your home where you can display a cross or crucifix and any prayer cards or statues that you might have. Let the kids make their own pictures. There are no shortage of resources for holy crafts to include the kids. Check out this one, and this one. No, it won't look like the pottery barn add. Yes, they will love it because they are a part of it. The purpose of this space is to be a visible reminder of the Holy. As they run by throughout the day they will catch sight of these visible reminders and their heart and mind will (even if just for a second) be brought to consider the things of God. It can also be a place where you come together for prayer. Light a candle. Make it a thing. In these weird times it can also be a place where you put your computer to stream the Holy Mass.

4. Gratitude 

The source and summit of the Mass is the Eucharist. The word means 'thanksgiving'. It's part of our identity to give gratitude for the gifts of our very being. This is what we do in Church and so it must be what we do in our domestic church too, with God and with each other. Good will and gratitude toward each other goes a LONG way in building fruitfulness. Start by, as I said before, naming out loud the things you have to be grateful for, each day. Then set the example of being thankful to each other. Thank your kids when they do something thoughtful. They will notice.

5. Play

Take some time each day to play or be with each other. Be outdoors if you can. Throw the ball, make a puzzle, swing, ride bikes, walk, watch movies, laugh. We may not every get a time like this again where we can have an extended period of leisure with our people. Set a precedent, make memories. The fruit of those memories will last a lifetime.

6. Serve and Share

Find a way, in the midst of this crisis, and after, to serve the needs of the greater church and to share the fruits of your little church. It doesn't have to be big or fancy, it just has to be you. You can pray for those in need, FaceTime auntie Mae, color pictures, sew masks, cook a meal for a neighbor, anything really. Share your light! In these times that often looks like pictures or anecdotes on social media but it could also mean you lead prayer (digitally) in your community, make a song to lift peoples spirits or just be joyful outdoors where those who might be sitting on their porches can see and be inspired by your witness.

7. Fast and Feast together

Finally, the Church thrives on liturgical seasons. Life has meaning and beauty because we share in the sorrows AND the joys of life. So too as a family there are times when we should fast and sacrifice together following the precepts of the Church and our individual and community needs. And there are times when we should celebrate together! The Church knows how to party and as a domestic church we should have a priority in celebrations as well. Cook special meals on feast days, take a break from schoolwork and work, sing and rejoice together.

I hope that these considerations and suggestions are something that can be fruitful for you and your family. Imagine for just a second if you are able to incorporate even one of these things into your family way in a profound and lasting way in this time of quarantine. Imagine how your family will be different on the other side of all this. May our little domestic churches sustain and grow us in this time of exile from the greater church community. May we all be changed as greater versions of ourselves by the end of this trial. May we see this as an act of mercy from a loving God who made us and wants us to be happy with Him forever.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)



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