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.
I 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!