Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Christian family is a domestic church

Published: October 9, 2004

By Sandy Compas
Special To Arkansas Catholic

Have you ever thought of your mini-van as a chapel or confessional, or your kitchen table as a sacred gathering space? The family vehicle may become a place of prayer as parents take advantage of quiet time during their daily commute. Children and teens often raise questions and share confidences along the road, or over an after-school snack.

The Church has long been aware of the connection between the family table and the altar. Our U.S. bishops affirmed the insight of the Church by calling the Christian family a “domestic church” in “Follow the Way of Love,” their pastoral message to families (1993). The following is an excerpt from that letter.

You carry out the mission of the church of the home in ordinary ways when: You believe in God and that God cares about you. It is God to whom you turn in times of trouble. It is God to whom you give thanks when all goes well. You love and never give up believing in the value of another person.

Before young ones hear the word of God preached from the pulpit, they form a picture of God drawn from their earliest experiences of being loved by parents, grandparents, godparents and other family members. You foster intimacy, beginning with the physical and spiritual union of the spouses and extending in appropriate ways to the whole family.

To be able to share yourself — good and bad qualities — within a family and to be accepted there is indispensable to forming a close relationship with the Lord. You evangelize by professing faith in God, acting in accord with Gospel values, and setting an example of Christian living for your children and for others. … You educate.

As the primary teachers of your children, you impart knowledge of the faith and help them to acquire values necessary for Christian living. Your example is the most effective way to teach. … Your wisdom and theirs comes from the same Spirit. You pray together, thanking God for blessings, reaching for strength, asking for guidance in crisis and doubt.

You know as you gather — restless toddlers, searching teenagers, harried adults — that God answers all prayers, but sometimes in surprising ways. You serve one another, often sacrificing your own wants for the other’s good. You struggle to take up your cross and carry it with love. … You forgive and seek reconciliation.

Over and over, you let go of old hurts and grudges to make peace with one another. And family members come to believe that no matter what, they are still loved by you and by God. You celebrate life — birthdays and weddings, births and deaths, a first day of school and a graduation, rites of passage into adulthood, new jobs, old friends, family reunions, surprise visits, holy days and holidays.

You come together when tragedy strikes and in joyful celebration of the sacraments. As you gather for a meal, you break bread and share stories, becoming more fully the community of love Jesus calls us to be. You welcome the stranger, the lonely one, the grieving person into your home.

You give drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry. … You act justly in your community when you treat others with respect, stand against discrimination and racism, and work to overcome hunger, poverty, homelessness and illiteracy. You affirm life as a precious gift from God. You oppose whatever destroys life, such as abortion, euthanasia, unjust war, capital punishment, neighborhood and domestic violence, poverty, and racism.

Within your family, when you shun violent words and actions and look for peaceful ways to resolve conflict, you become a voice for life, forming peacemakers for the next generation. You raise up vocations to the priesthood and religious life as you encourage your children to listen for God’s call and respond to God’s grace.

This is especially fostered through family prayer, involvement in parish life, and by the way you speak of priests, sisters, brothers and permanent deacons. No domestic church does all this perfectly. But neither does any parish or diocesan church. All members of the Church struggle daily to become more faithful disciples of Christ.

Excerpts from “Follow the Way of Love: A Pastoral Message of the U.S. Catholic Bishops to Families,” page, 8-9. Copyright by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Reprinted with permission.