Building a Domestic Church: Going Deeper

In my last post, I outlined what I believe to be the essential practices for living family life as a domestic church. However, many of you may already be doing these things and are looking for inspiration on how to deepen the practice of your Christian faith in your family. This post is for you!

Although every Christian family images the love of the Trinity (in a distant, but still real, way), families are still made up of unique individuals, so it makes sense that each family is unique as well. Every family has its charisms, gifts, favorite hobbies, and, of course, idiosyncrocies too. This means that, after the essentials, how we live as a domestic church is going to vary somewhat from family to family. Which is a beautiful thing! I imagine a tapestry of families making up the body of Christ, with different patterns and colors, and all of them glorifying God in their own unique way.

With that said, here are some examples of how a family might live out life as a domestic church. I encourage you to pray with your spouse and kids about which practices to incorporate into your family life (you don’t have to stick to this list).

    Go to daily Mass. This is such a transformative practice, and it can be done, even with young kids! The more you go, the easier it gets. Daily Masses are shorter than Sunday Mass so your kids might even do better. I have a friend who goes every single day with four kids (she’s my hero). If this seems crazy to you, maybe just start with one extra Mass a week, or even a month, and work your way up.
    Say the rosary together. Outside of the Mass, this is one of the most powerful and transformative prayers you can pray to change the world and sanctify your families. And it only takes about 15 minutes! Pope Pius XI said, “The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin…If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors.” If you have younger children, it will likely be hard for them to focus, but a quick google search will produce a ton of free printable rosary coloring pages for them to work on while you pray. Don’t be afraid to try it! Your family rosary will not be perfect; in fact, it might be a complete mess, but it will still be efficacious. And if this seems too overwhelming right now, just start with a decade a day.
    Decorate your house according to the liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Most people decorate for Christmas, but have you thought about the other seasons as well? As bodily beings, it helps draw us deeper into the life of the Church to have visible reminders around us that constantly remind us of the current liturgical season.
    img_0150-2.jpgEnjoying our “hole-y” and “Spirit-filled” donuts for the feast of Pentecost!
    Celebrate holy days and the feast days of the saints . You could do this just for big holy days (such as Pentecost, which we just celebrated), for your favorite saints, your confirmation saints, the saints who are your namesakes, or even every feast day on the calendar if that’s your thing! Catholic All Year is a fantastic place to reference for resources and ideas on how to incorporate saints’ feast days, holy days, and the liturgical seasons into your family. The creator, Kendra Tierney, also wrote a book on concrete ways to live liturgically – definitely check it out!
    Celebrate Sacrament anniversaries. My kids are young, and we just started this practice for my oldest, who is a newly-minted 5 year old. I kept it super simple and bought a white cake from the grocery store. During dinner, we lit his baptismal candle. I tried to make him feel special and talked a little about what baptism means and how he was baptized on that day. You could definitely be more creative if you want, but it doesn’t have to be complicated!
    Volunteer together, specifically focusing on the corporal works of mercy. This is an amazing way to live your faith within the context of your local community. It also helps to instill in your children, and foster in yourself, empathy, kindness, self-sacrifice, gratitude, and an understanding of the dignity of all human life. If your kids are babies or you don’t have children, you can do this with your spouse and individually. One of the greatest plagues of our western society is our obsession with ourselves, which makes us miserable, of course, because we are created to give ourselves in love to others. Volunteering is a wonderful remedy for this!
    Make a pilgrimage together. A pilgrimage is an ancient practice of traveling to visit a holy site of our Lord, our Lady, or the saints. It can be done to honor God, in penance for a sin (this was more common in the middle ages), or to ask for a particular favor. Of course, it would be amazing to make it Fatima, Rome, or the Holy Land, but that’s not feasible for every family. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a pilgrimage though! There are several sites than can help you find one local to where you live. This is one I’ve used before and like.
    Invite people over for dinner! This should include your friends, but I encourage you not to limit yourself only to those you feel most comfortable with. Invite new neighbors, acquaintances, your parish priest, people you know of who are going through a hard time, the families of your children’s friends, etc. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in knowing who God wants you to reach out to. I love this post from Haley Stewart about the significance of hosting people for meals, and it may address some of the objections that are popping into your head. (I know it did for me).
Family hike in the Berkeley Hills
    Get outside and talk about God. Since the beginning of time, people have been drawn to God through the beauty of His creation. I know many people for whom this is the reason they believe in God’s existence. For those who are already Christians, being in nature is a way for us to draw even closer to our Creator, by admiring its beauty, which is a reflection of Him, and by seeing the complexity and grandeur of nature as a sign of His love for us. My family loves to go on hikes and explore the wildness of creation. But even just spending time in a park full of trees and green grass can be a way to teach your children about God and His great love for us.
    Foster a love for beauty in art and music and teach your children that beauty draws us to God, because God is beauty itself. You can do this in so many different ways, but some examples are to listen to music in your home, create art, go to museums and art shows, and attend concerts together. Sacred music would be especially appropriate, but beauty can be found in many genres!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways that your family can live as a domestic church. It’s also not meant to overwhelm you. Some of these practices are more important than others. Read through this list, pray with your spouse and children about it, jot down ideas that aren’t listed, and ask God to guide you in deciding what practices you want to begin as a family. You can always start small. God loves to do great things with little, and He will surely multiply your efforts!

How does your family live life as a domestic church? Please share below in the comments!

Seven Essentials for Building a Domestic Church

Have you heard of the expression “the domestic church”? It’s an ancient phrase resurrected by the Second Vatican Council which refers to the Christian family. Specifically, it refers to a Christian family that teaches, learns, and lives out their faith in the context of everyday life. The Catechism describes the domestic church as “a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.” The Christian family/domestic church is of vital importance in the Church and to the transformation of the greater culture in which we live.

IMG_8410I will be the first to acknowledge that family life often, even most of the time, does not seem very “church-like”, let alone God-like, which we are told it is, or at least should be. As a mom to three young kids, including 22-month old twins whose sole purpose in life seems to be destroying my house (send help!), my family life is usually chaotic, messy, and sometimes even just plain gross. Yet Pope St. John Paul II tells us that “the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life” (Letter to Families, 6). So we have a juxtoposition that so often characterizes human existence, that of the body and the soul, the mundane and the sacred.

Given the often chaotic and imperfect nature of real family life, how do we discover and foster the deeper meaning of the family? We do this by accepting God’s grace (especially in the sacraments) and continually working to build our own family as a domestic church. It’s become clear to me in my study of and prayer about this topic that there are some practices that are essential to being a domestic church and others that are more “optional” or, at least, variable in expression from family to family.

Here are the seven practices I see as essential to living life as a domestic church:

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  1. Go to Mass together every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Occasionally, this may not be possible, but making every effort to go to Mass with all the family members together is so important and will be fruitful. This is true even if you don’t hear a word of the Mass because your kids are crazy – believe me, we’ve all been there. There is something objective that happens at Mass, something that transcends your subjective experience of it. So definitely try your best to pay attention and participate, but if you can’t due to the shenanigans of young children, just know that God’s grace is still powerfully at work. Also, ideally, you will attend Mass at your home parish every Sunday, but if it’s the difference between going and not going, definitely check out times at other parishes near you! Masstimes.org is a fantastic resource for finding Mass while you’re traveling or when you can’t make it to the times your parish offers.
  2. Attend regular confession as a family. Confession can be a sensitive subject. If you haven’t gone in a while yourself, that’s the first place to start. The more you go, the easier it gets and going often will help your children become more comfortable with it as well. For me personally, going every month or so really helps keep my spiritual life from stagnating. Here’s a good guide for going to confession if it’s been awhile.
  3. Put your marriage first. I find it helps to continually remind myself to do this and to make it to the confessional when I forget (which is often). We all love our children and they are truly precious, but believe me, you’re not doing them any favors by neglecting your marriage. Marriage is the foundation of the family, and the sacramentality of marriage is the foundation of the domestic church.
  4. Cultivate your own personal prayer life. This doesn’t have to be complicated! If you’re not praying every day already, one way to start is by subscribing to a devotional email that you can pray on your smart phone in the morning (I pray this one with the daily readings), or just by reading your Bible for five minutes. You can start small and then pray about how to incorporate other practices and devotions as you get in the habit of personal prayer.
  5. Pray as a couple, if your spouse is willing, and do it everyday. If not, (and either way), don’t forget to pray for your spouse! Our job as spouses is to help the other get to heaven. It is so easy to forget to pray for one another at times (I forget too!), but this is an essential part of our vocation. Sidenote: I also find praying for my husband helps me to be more compassionate toward him and wards off resentment.
  6. Pray as a family in some way everyday. Obviously, praying an evening rosary would be amazing, but when you’re just getting started, this might be too daunting. An Our Father together followed by personal prayer intentions or things you each are thankful for would be a great start!
  7. Talk about your faith. I know this can be awkward if you’re not used to doing it. But I encourage you to dive in anyway. Kendra Tierney at Catholic All Year has a great article about concrete ways to do this. If you feel unsure of yourself in this realm because maybe you don’t know why you believe what you believe as well as you’d like, this is a great opportunity to do a little learning. I’m a big fan of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – I refer to it all. the. time.

Okay, that’s it for now! Remember, these are just the essentials. So if you’re already doing all of this and are longing for more, I’ll follow up with another post soon on ways to dive deeper into living life as a domestic church. In the meantime, I’d love to hear the ways you live out your family life as a school of faith. Please share in the comments!