Domestic Churches

Last year my husband and I penned a resolution to find a ministry that we could do together. This is how we found ourselves at our parish’s ministry fair, caught up in a conversation with the coordinator of Sacramental prep about our daughter’s upcoming Baptism. He asked if we had considered working with engaged couples who were preparing to be married in the Church. We admitted we had, hoping to get connected with some other young couples in our parish. This “yes” turned out to be a larger commitment than we had initially expected (which, it turns out, is an occupational hazard of saying ‘yes’ to God). Not surprisingly, the Spirit had something for us in this undertaking, too.

The January class dates that had seemed so distant, arrived promptly in the first week of the New Year. As did our doubts about what on earth we had been thinking. Doubts like: ‘Do we have any wisdom to impart on this group after only five years of marriage?’; ‘We are not teachers by trade—are we going to be found out?’; ‘Can we stand in front of a room full of folks who may not be excited to meet these marriage prep requirements for 2 ½ hours each week?’; etc. So, with fervent preparation at our kitchen table and a pleading prayer in the church parking lot, we walked in to meet the class that had quadrupled since our initial roster. (Thank you, Christmas engagements)!

The next four weeks were a journey for all of us, I think. We began with the question ‘What significant thing has happened to you in the past week?’ It was touching to observe these couples, committing intentional time to big decisions around jobs or homes, conversations, readings, and other homework with more enthusiasm than a simple to-do list obligation, even as they planned for their upcoming weddings. The questions and insights they shared were honest and beautiful, and a reminder to me that those preparing for marriage have an inspiring desire for a solid foundation to build upon and resources with which to do that. Our privilege was to hold up the work that they are doing and to name it, good and holy preparation work.

It also proved to be good maintenance work for us. It gave me a glimpse at my own husband’s heart from a rare vantage point. It was tremendous to listen as he presented the course work alongside of our lived experience—as glorious and mundane as it can be—to name it good, and to see how we are developing as a family. Most important I think was the discussion around the ‘domestic church,’ an idea beautifully articulated in Lumen Gentium (Light to the Nations), a Dogmatic Constitution on the Church written during the Second Vatican Council.

To dignify our very dwelling places and familial rituals as holy work, holy places, going so far as to call parents ‘first preachers,’ is to invite the laity, the Church, the Body of Christ into a much deeper, richer, more substantial understanding of vocational calling. This is not to be taken lightly. It is a tremendous gift. Once we hear the invitation to participate in a lifestyle that gives witness to neighbors and children, we cannot un-hear it. Suddenly every part of the day, from the way we speak to our co-workers, spend our money, what we watch, who we welcome, how we interact with our spouse or children has a deeper meaning. To participate in this call to the domestic church is to acknowledge our home address has the same capacity for faith formation as our home parish.

The daily ritual that animates us and invites each of us to be engaged in the world inside and outside of our front door seems to surprise and delight those who come to hear it. That this calling is not reserved for monks, saints and hermits alone, as we can be so quick to tell ourselves, but instead this invitation to holiness is to those of us caught up in the messiness of relationships that is family life.

This is humbling. This is beautiful!

Our class, whose weddings are quickly approaching, was a refreshing glimpse at the desire couples have to be part of such an experience. It was also an important reminder to affirm examples of intentionality and prayerful practices that families develop (because it does take work), lest their importance be overshadowed alongside of formal opportunities for catechesis. We need both, of course. Yet in terms of evangelization to our spouses, children or neighbors, there is little as compelling as an integrated life of faith, which starts at home. As Blessed Mother Teresa reminds us, ‘Do little things with great love.’

Whether you are married, unmarried, vowed, ordained, etc., what practices or rituals are already a part of your domestic church year? What practices might you be invited to explore?