Catholics love the family. To be Catholic, one could say, is tantamount to affirming family life in its manifold expressions. We affirm the many good things that happen at the heart of the home as essential to nurture individual lives and to build society.
Family life holds a special place in the Catholic imagination. It is in the family where we learn to relate to others, love, share our feelings, argue, listen, forgive, negotiate and grow in the great adventure of being human.
At the heart of the family, we learn about what is true, good and beautiful. The younger members of the family often rely on the guidance of the more experienced ones to discern values. We learn from one another as we face our mistakes and their consequences.
It is in the family where we first discover that God walks with us in history. Building upon the fragility of human love, one learns about God’s merciful and infinite love in Jesus Christ. In the context of the family, we learn to be in conversation with God through prayer.
From antiquity, Christians have referred to the family as a domestic church. So did the Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium” (No. 11).
The events affecting our lives during this time of pandemic have led many Catholics to reencounter our families. Ironically, many of us do so while asking, what does it mean to be family today?
Everyone is part of a family, one way or another. In fact, as we marry, befriend, travel and expand our horizons, we find ourselves belonging to many families. Still we ask the same question.
In the midst of the progress, energy and innovation that characterize our contemporary world, we seem increasingly aware that family life is not always a priority on our value scale.
The fact that at this time of crisis many seem to have rediscovered family as something novel, desirable and fulfilling — all great things — should give us pause. Why did many not experience this before? What were our priorities before the pandemic? At what point did we stop appreciating family as the domestic church?
The tone of lament among many Catholics grieving lack of access to our large churches these days is quite revealing. I also miss my church, I must say.
The present circumstances, though, serve as an invitation to revisit with renewed appreciation other ways of being church, especially the domestic church.
Let’s not capitulate before the idea that only people outside our homes can share the faith. While the sacraments are central to our identity, Catholicism has not ended because an ordained minister is not available day and night.
Let us remember that the early Christian communities were family-based and gathered mainly in homes where many family configurations celebrated their faith in the risen Lord.
In most parts of the world, Catholics live and practice their faith primarily in the context of the domestic church. For millions of Catholics, having access to a priest or a large church 24/7 is a rare privilege.
Every now and then, we need to revisit what sustains our Catholic imagination. Yes, let’s hope for a return to our beautiful temples. Let’s also affirm the value of the family as domestic church, and let it flourish!
This is a perfect time for catechists of all ages to arise in the context of the home; a time for Gospel-inspired rituals and practices that make God present in the daily life of the family; a time to recognize the face of Christ in every member of our household.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.
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