Our Bishop Joe Vasquez has declared this coming year as the “Year of the Domestic Church”. It couldn’t come at a better time. On top of all of the other moral assaults upon the family, the Coronavirus Pandemic has wreaked havoc. Churches have been closed or severely restricted. Work has been changed or even disappeared in too many cases. Public schools have seen drastic reductions in academic achievement, and parents are struggling to educate their children. The family has borne the burden of these crises.
The “Domestic Church” is the answer to these challenges. Even the Universal Church is under assault. Rome and the Vatican have been closed down much of the past year. Church attendance is down worldwide. Secular forces have attempted to blame the churches for spreading Covid-19. That is a lie, of course, but then secular forces have never been friendly to the Church.
Without a strong Domestic Church, we wouldn’t have a Catholic Church. The Universal Church is built upon the Church in the home. The Domestic Church is where we learn to pray and learn the context of our human lives. If it doesn’t happen at home, where will it happen? Public schools? No way. There simply is no equivalent for the power in our lives that we receive from the Domestic Church.
I was not born into a Catholic family. When I was 17, I began to see just how powerful the influence of Catholic family is. I witnessed it first in the life of a friend, a practicing Catholic. It dawned upon me that I wanted what he had. As I looked around, I began to see a pattern in other practicing Catholic families. They weren’t perfect, but they prayed and worshipped together. Their family traditions were strong and uplifting. They had foundation and character that I had never known. I wanted what I was seeing, but never knew.
There was a problem. I was not Catholic. However, I attended the inquiry classes (Called “RCIA” now.) I was baptized on my 18th birthday and began learning how to be a practicing Catholic. You all know that I am a widower. I was married to a Catholic woman (Also a convert). We have six children and now eighteen grandchildren. Cynthia died “young” of cancer. But the two of us, former Protestants, formed a Catholic family. Perfect? No. Of course not. But we had a compass to guide us. We chose to be practicing a Catholic family, and it has been a blessing.
As a priest, I have experienced the ways Marriage and the Sacraments make people better than they would be without them. Most of the time when two immature adults become enamored of each other (They say they are in LUV!) and marry, they gradually become different, better versions of themselves. And, if they practice their faith, they hold themselves and each other to a higher standard than they might otherwise live. They sacrifice, even suffer and mature in ways that two young, enamored kids cannot understand. They share children and become the product of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony lived out. They become servants of each other with time and patience, and some struggle. The Greeks had a word for it, “Agape”. Agape is the word for love when it becomes other-serving, sacrificial, unconditional. The “other” is more important. When they first married, they could not know the kind of love they would experience years later. In my own experience it was like falling ever more deeply in love, with her, with our family. There is such a Grace in this experience. God blesses this kind of love. This is how God loves.
When Cynthia died, I tried to go back to being single. I couldn’t do it, living for myself, by myself. After more than a year I realized I needed to find a way to live my life in love. Not being loved, but sharing my love openly, for another. I could not envision a way forward living just by myself. I didn’t need another woman, but I needed to love. I spoke with my Bishop about it and he sent me to the seminary. The similarity of priesthood to sacramental marriage constantly surprises me. I have found love again. I still have my family, but I also have my Church, my parish where I serve.
The Domestic Church taught me how to love. “Domestic Church” is not simply a catchy phrase. It is a way of living our lives. It’s not easy. It’s never perfect. But it is “perfecting” us in ways we could never achieve by ourselves, constantly drawing us out of our selfish ways.
From the book of Sirach we hear,
God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
When I got married to Cynthia in our early 20’s, neither of us had any idea what Sirach was teaching.
St. Paul taught,
Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,
as is proper in the Lord.
Since the 1960’s those have become fighting words in our culture, particularly with those swayed by the “Feminist” movement. Many people stop listening and don’t catch the next lines,
Husbands, love your wives,
and avoid any bitterness toward them.
Paul was telling us how to make “Domestic Church” with “Agape” love, as servants of one another, sacrificing, concerned for the other with shared values.
The Holy Family is our example. Mary and Joseph certainly faced adversity, even risks to their lives. Together, they had to give up everything to protect and nourish their child. They were poor. They were migrants. But they shared a deep faith, and a strong bond of unity, and a sacred mission. Domestic Church is our mission. That is where we learn to love.