Understanding The Parable of the Talents–What Does It Mean For Us?

This past Sunday, The Parable of The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)  was read as the Gospel reading at Mass. As you may remember, this is the story in which “The Master” entrusts his servants with his property. One servant is given five talents. The second is given two. The third is given one.

The servants who received five and two talents respectively, doubled what they were given and pleased their master. The servant who received one talent buried it and only returned what he was given, which caused the master to punish the servant.

Over the years, I’ve heard many comments from people who are confused by this parable. Not only do they feel that the servants are being treated unfairly at the outset, but they are often disturbed by what a jerk “the Master,” who “reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he scattered no seed” appears to be.

Here are my thoughts, I hope it helps:

1. The Master who “reaps where he did not sow, and gathers where he scattered no seed,” is not a jerk.  He is God. God harvests salvation from the fields of the Devil (i.e., the fallen world). God brings good out of difficult situations. He reclaims what sin has worked to destroy.

2. The talents are a metaphor for grace (they are NOT merely abilities or money). The different sums are a sign of the receptivity to grace of each of the servants. The message here indicates: No matter how much we are open to receiving God’s grace, he gives us as much as we are willing and able to receive.

3. When the servants cooperated with grace, they saw the work of grace expand exponentially.

4. The third servant did not do anything with the grace he had been given because, literally, he “was afraid.” Fear separates us from grace.  Think about it.  Grace is the presence of God.  God is love and “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). 

The third servant did not cooperate with grace. Instead of clinging to God, he clung to his fear. Ultimately, the third servant separated himself from God by choosing to focus on his limitations over God’s Providence.

5. Grace will not be thwarted. Even when we resist or reject God, he finds ways around our resistance and redistributes it to those who will receive it and cooperate with it.  God’s will will be done!

Superficially, this seems like a harsh parable but ultimately, it is about the superabundance of grace, the generosity of God, and the fact that nothing–not even our fears of our own limitations–can stop grace from building the Kingdom.

Why Would God Let This Happen?—Keeping The Faith When Times Get Tough

Why does God let bad things happen? Why am I going through this? What does this mean for me? … Do these questions sound familiar? You’re not alone.

Although we can sometime feel guilty when we question God or doubt his love, it’s more than okay to ask these questions. In fact, it’s even good to ask these types of questions—as long as we bring these questions and struggles to God. The world is not as it was meant to be, and figuring out how to respond to everything that is broken in our lives and in the world is a big job that carries a lot of pain with it. The good news is, God doesn’t want us to have to deal with this pain on our own. He wants to help. He wants us to bring the hurt to him.

Theology of The Body reminds us that faith and life are not meant to be separate things.  In fact, being a disciple of Christ begins with giving our body to Christ so that every part of us can serve him and learn to love others as he would have us love them. Truthfully, rather than making things simpler, living out our faith can make things seem more difficult at times because bringing our lives and relationships in line with Gods will is hard work.  Doubts and struggles are not a sign of weak faith. Theyre an invitation to deeper faith.  As long as we keep bringing our doubts, struggles, and confusion to God–instead of letting them lead us away from him–the more God will use those struggles to draw us into closer union with his love and his will.

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Do you want to learn more about balancing struggles and your faith?

Check Out:
Broken Gods—Hope, Healing, and The Seven Longings of The Human Heart

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How do we bring our struggles to God? Keep the following tips in mind.

Be Where Youre At–We often think that we have to pretend with God; like were not allowed to admit that we have doubts, fears, or even anger with God.  But Jesus reminded us that we are not meant to approach God as fearful slaves, but as friends.  God desires our friendship, and friends are real with each other.  They dont pretend.  They dont put on airs.  God wants to be with you wherever you are, so let him.  Tell him your doubts, be honest about your fears, vent your anger.  Trust that God is big enough to take whatever you have to dish out. 

Why does God want you to be this honest and vulnerable with him?  Because it is only by revealing your heart to God that he can heal the hurt.  The best way to experience Gods mercy, love, and healing, is to simply be honest about where you are at and how you feel about him, your faith, and your life.  Let it out and ask him to heal whatever is broken, to give you the wisdom to see things the way he sees them, and to respond to everything in a manner that will glorify him regardless of what youre dealing with.  If you can manage that much every day, God will take care of the rest. 

Re-center Yourself–Because we tend to turn to our faith and spiritual practices as a source of comfort, we also tend to abandon them when we feel like were not getting the emotional payout we were hoping for.  Thats especially true when we are experiencing faith-related struggles. 

While its understandable to want to give up on God, our prayer life, or even our faith in times of spiritual dryness or pain, abandoning these things simply creates a vacuum that tends to be filled with unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that cause us even more pain.  Instead of giving up, re-center your spiritual life with a few simple steps.  First, re-examine your approach.  If the way you are praying isnt bearing fruit, try a different approach.  If you usually talk to God, focus more on listening and meditation.  If you usually use a more spontaneous approach, explore some of the more traditional prayers of the church—or vice-versa.  Whatever you do, dont quit–RECOMMIT! 

Second, instead of focusing on your feelings and processing your faith through your emotions, process your feelings through your faith.  Confess whatever you are feeling to God–no matter how ugly or messy it is–but ask him to help you sort out your emotions in light of what is really true, in light of what gives glory to him, and in light of his grace.  Feelings are important but when they occupy the center of our lives instead of our faith and spiritual life, they tend to cause a lot of pain and confusion.  Dont deny your emotions, but make sure to process your feelings through your faith.  Youll be amazed at the peace this can bring.

Talk to A Spiritual Mentor--If you feel like your spiritual struggles are too much for you to manage on your own, reach out for good spiritual support.  Talk with your pastor.  Seek out a spiritual director or pastoral counselor who can help you reconnect with your spiritual resources.  The Theology of the Body reminds of what God said in the Book of Genesis, It is not good for man to be alone.”  Dont let the devil separate you from the heard and pick you off like a lonely gazelle. If you are struggling in your faith, reach out to the people God has put in place to help you.  Dont be too prideful to seek out a Simon of Cyrene to help you carry your cross.

If you would like to talk to a spiritual coach or pastoral counselor, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Challenging Times—Understanding Grief and Our Experience with The Pandemic

In these difficult days, have you noticed that you can feel fine one minute only to feel sad, confused, disengaged, or overwhelmed the next? If so, you’re not alone.

What’s the cause?  Believe it or not, you may be experiencing grief. We’ve lost a lot this year either directly or indirectly. While many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, all of us have lost our sense of normalcy, our connection with the friends we used to see, or the activities we used to participate in. With COVID-related church closings, we have lost many of our spiritual coping tools.  In many ways, we’ve even lost our natural coping skills—we just can’t do the things we used to do to take down our stress and get the break that we all need. Although we tend not to recognize it, all of these losses are producing a massive, world-wide grief reaction resulting in heightened emotions and often unpredictable mood swings.

But why is grief so difficult to manage? The Theology of The Body reminds us that although grief and loss is part of this life, God never meant for us to experience grief or loss and he intends to restore all things to us when we are one with him. The world tells us that loss–whether the loss of a job, a relationship, our health, or a loved one–is an ending.  In our broken world, the most natural response to loss is to give up; to settle. 

Seen through the eyes of faith, loss represents an opportunity to enter into a deeper experience of Gods mercy, providence and abundance.  “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be consoled.”  God wants us to approach loss differently.  He wants us to see him, not the world, as the source of all good gifts. Nothing is ever really lost to someone who loves God.  Whatever it is that we think is lost to us–our ability to provide for our needs, the people we care about, the situations or people we depend on—God wants us to turn to him for guidance on how he wants us to respond to that loss.  If we ask God to help us deal with our losses gracefully he will show us how to fill up the hole thats left inside by the things we’ve lost.

Here are three ways that God calls us to respond to our grief:

Be gentle—In challenging times, we must be gentle with ourselves and others. We often have high expectations for ourselves. When we don’t meet those expectations we think, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do what I used to do?” Be gentle and change this hurtful thinking to something more helpful, like,  “What do I need to do to feel taken care of in this moment?” “What is one small thing I can do now to take a step in the right direction?”

Seek connection—our natural response to grief is often to hide out, shut down, and withdraw into ourselves. This is the opposite of how God wants us to respond. God calls us to seek connection, to find community, and reach out to others who can walk with us and support us effectively through our experience.

Honor what we’ve lost—Working through grief requires us to honor what we’ve lost. We can honor a loved one by calling to mind their strengths and the ways they were a gift to our lives, then intentionally working to display those strengths in our own lives and being a gift to others in similar ways. We can honor the activities that we’ve lost by finding connection with them in new ways. If our kids are missing school we can ask them what they’re missing most about the school day and do our best to recreate some of those experiences at home. We can honor the connections they’ve lost by helping to keep them connected to their friends, or by encouraging them to draw pictures or writing notes to send to the people they care about. If we’re missing participating in certain events, brainstorm other productive and enjoyable things to do with that time.  The key is not simply sitting around waiting for someone else to program our life again, but to take charge and start living more intentionally.  By taking this approach, we honor the parts of our life that we miss while actively creating the new life God is calling us to grow into.

If you would like to seek support and find help working through your experience with grief, contact us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Strengthening Faith Amidst Pandemic

*This post is one among a series of articles discussing the liturgy of domestic church life. For more information, join the conversation on facebook in our group Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems every day brings new changes, adjustments to the “plan,” and a “new normal” to adapt to. One of the many things that have changed is our ability to go to church. Many of us have not been to church in months, maybe we attend online, maybe we’re able to attend a service outdoors, or maybe we’re able to go to church in a way that meets the limited capacity requirements. But with all of these changes, how has our faith life been impacted?

A recent study by PEW Research found that most people’s faith has remained unchanged (47%) or grown stronger (24%) despite not being able to go to church during the pandemic. Only 2% report struggling in their faith because of events related to the pandemic.

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Transform your family into a joyful place where each member experiences life as a gift from God by checking out

Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids

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How can this be?

For a lot of us, the changes in our ability to attend our regular church service has caused us to be a lot more intentional and prioritize our faith in a different way. As research shows, some have had great success in developing their faith life in new ways, but for others this has been more of a struggle.

Many of us are still searching for new ways to live our faith at home and grow in faith as a family. The changes caused by COVID-19 have clear implications for our domestic church life. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a way for Catholic families to make faith the source of the warmth in our homes.  Below are a few ways we can do just that:

1. Make prayer time cozy, not uncomfortable—Many of us feel that for our family prayer time at home we must all be kneeling and perfectly still. If this is comfortable for you as a family, great! But often this sort of expectation makes prayer time (especially with younger children) a bit of a battle. Make prayer time cozy and inviting. Set soft lighting, play relaxing music or praise and worship songs softly in the background, surround yourselves with blankets and pillows and cuddle up together as a family. Make your prayer space and prayer time feel like a warm hug in the arms of God—the one who knows us best and loves us most. This is a great way to developing a loving relationship with God for our kids and for ourselves!

2.  See God in your day-to-day—Make a point of noticing God in little ways throughout the day. Find a great parking spot, say, “Thanks God!” Out loud. Catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Acknowledge how God painted the sky today. Had a good conversation or meeting? Thank God for letting it go so well. By acknowledging how we see God working in our day-to-day lives allows us to prioritize God in a beautiful way. Check in with the family at the end of each day, maybe even over dinner, and ask, “How/where did you see God in your day?” Discuss those little (and big!) blessings.

3. Keep traditions alive—Let’s face it, we all love coffee and donut Sunday. It’s a fun way to get a special treat, have some nice conversation, and make our faith life a bit more fun. Keep traditions such as this alive at home! After watching Mass online, share coffee/juice and donuts/muffins (or whatever your favorite family treats are) together—even for a few minutes. This would be a fun way to get a few minutes together as a family, enjoying each other’s company (and maybe sharing our mass take-aways) before going about the rest of our day.

For more ways to live out your faith as a family, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids. And join our discussion on facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship!

Attachment and Eternity: The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life and our Heavenly Destiny

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship

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In the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, the practices associated with the Rite of Christian Relationships are all intended to promote “secure attachment.”  Secure Attachment isn’t just a good thing for your mental health, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life helps us see the spiritual significance of fostering secure attachment as well. But let’s start with the basics.

What is “Secure Attachment?”

Secure Attachment is the gut-level, natural ability to fully participate in healthy relationships. People who are securely-attached have the ability to choose healthy people to be in relationship with and have a gut-level sense of how to give themselves to others in healthy ways. Securely-attached people are certainly not perfect, but on a natural level, they are much less likely to put themselves in situations where they will feel used/taken advantage of by others and they are much less likely to use or take advantage of others.

Where Does Our “Attachment Style” Come From?

Over 80 years of research shows that people develop secure attachment by being raised in families that…
1) are extravagantly affectionate
2) respond promptly, generously, consistently cheerfully each other’s needs
3) adopt loving-guidance approaches to discipline.
4) prioritize family time and emphasize togetherness.

By contrast, when families are stingy with affection, resentful or resistant to responding to each other’s needs, use heavy-handed approaches to discipline, and/or do not prioritize family time and togetherness, people tend to develop “insecure attachment.”  People who are insecurely attached tend to be more naturally inclined to be used (anxious attachment) by others, or to be users themselves (avoidant attachment). They don’t mean to. It just feels normal to be treated/treat others “that way.”

In light of the above, you can see how attachment research helps us understand why St John Paul argued that the opposite of love was not hate, but “use.”  The tendency to allow ourselves to be used or to use others stands as a block to authentic, intimate communion with others–and even with God.

Insecure Attachment: Two Types

People with Anxious Attachment always feel like it’s their job to “get” other people to love them, They blame themselves (instead of setting limits) when they are treated poorly. In fact, for some people with Anxious Attachment, being treated well feels “fishy.” A client with anxious attachment once said, “I always feel like they (i.e., a person who truly loves them) want something even when they say they don’t. I’m like…, ‘then why are you being so nice to me?’ I don’t like it. I don’t trust it.”

Human attachment predicts “God Attachment.”  Anxiously God-attached people tend to fear being on-the-outs with God.  They tend toward scrupulosity and, in general,  struggle to trust that God “really” loves them in a personal way. Although they know they “should,” they don’t really feel like they can count on God’s love, especially when they have sinned or feel that they don’t deserve it.

People with Avoidant Attachment are allergic to the idea of being needed “too much” which tends to make them stingy with affection, approval, or service. They often feel “suffocated” in relationships and even normal levels of intimacy feel “needy” to them. As a result, they often end up taking much more in relationships than they are ever willing to give–especially with spouses and children. They usually aren’t conscious of this, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Again, human attachment predicts “God Attachment.”  Avoidantly God-Attached people tend to either struggle to have a relationship with God at all or tend to have a very duty-bound, quasi-contractual relationship with God. They follow the rules and expect God to look out for them in return.

Attachment and the Christian Walk

Christians know that we are created for communion. St John Paul reminded us that building the kingdom of God was primarily about creating “communities of love” this side of Heaven.  It is the Christian’s “full time job” (so to speak) to cooperate with God’s grace to both heal the damage sin  does to our relationships and create the most intimate communion possible with the people God has placed in our lives.

In a sense, these are theological ways of referring to what psychologists call “Secure Attachment.”  Developing Secure Attachment is more than just a “nice thing to do” to improve our quality of life on earth.  I would argue it has a great deal to do with the next life was well.

Attachment and Eternity: A New Perspective on Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell

As Christians, we know that we are destined to spend eternity in the most intimate communion possible with God and the entire Communion of Saints. In Heaven there will be no secrets, no divisions, no defenses, no using or being used. In theory that sounds amazing, but for some, the reality could be more than a little terrifying.

Think about it.  If healthy, intimate relationships  in this life could feel so… “uncomfortable,” “intimidating,” “threatening,” and “suffocating” for some that they would need to “get away” to protect ourselves, just imagine what it would be like for such a person to spend an eternity surrounded by the most intensive relationship possible–the very heart of Love Itself– without any possibility of escape. 

What if everywhere you turned, everywhere you went, there was just…MORE.  More love. More intimacy. More intensity. More relationship and relating. And what if everywhere you turned you were greeted by the inescapable demand for more and more and more from you in return. Would you know how to rise to this? Rejoice in it? Or would you just want to run and hide?

And what if there was no where to run?

The securely attached person would be hard-pressed to  think of anything more wonderful. Why would you want to run from this?  It’s what the securely-attached person dreams of!

But the insecurely attached person could find this image terrifying. They already feel tormented by the demands of intimacy in this life.

What if Purgatory was simply the logical extension of God’s Divine Plan for healing the attachment wounds caused by sin–the attachment wounds that threaten our ability fully and freely participate in loving communion with God and others?

What if the fires of Hell were simply the flames of God’s love licking at the hearts of those who could not melt?

What if it was the responsibility of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life to help people achieve the secure attachment that enabled them to experience the full presence of God without fear? Isn’t that what it means to think of family as a “school of deeper humanity” (Gaudium et Spes, 52) or, more colloquially)  a “saint-making machine”

Earned Secure Attachment:  Embracing the Cross

Whatever our current attachment style may be, by cooperating with grace to challenge ourselves and those we love to develop “earned” secure attachment–that is, the Secure Attachment that comes from doing the work necessary to make our relationships as healthy and intimate as possible– we prepare ourselves, on a human level, to enter more fully into the experience of grace that is the Beatific Vision.

But even the most securely attached person isn’t prepared for the love God has waiting for us. What if, “taking up our cross” really means doing the truly hard work we need to do to achieve the secure attachment in this life that facilitates  our full participation in the Heavenly Communion in the next?   How would that change your perspective on the importance of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life in God’s plan for saving the world?

To learn more about how you can begin to heal your attachment wounds, visit this site for an excellent, professionally-validated test to assess your attachment style. Whatever your results, know that by dedicating yourself to living out the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life you are not only making your earthly relationships richer and more rewarding, you are also preparing yourself and those you love to spend eternity celebrating the experience of being in the very presence of Love Itself.

You are a Parent Forever In the Line of Malchizedek–The Common Priesthood in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

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On our radio program today, we got a call from a gentleman who accidentally offended his wife of 20 years by saying that if he had the relationship he has with God now when he was coming out of high school, he might have become a priest. He said that his wife, upon hearing this, felt like she was some kind of consolation prize.  Of course he didn’t mean it that way.  He said he just meant that he was a little envious of the opportunities a priest has to live so single-mindedly for God and that he sometimes struggles to experience God as deeply as he would like with all the distractions of daily work and family life.

Of course he isn’t alone.  I think most faithful lay people have felt this way from time to time.  I think most faithful Catholics–men and women–feel a similar call to “priesthood” at some point. What most people miss is that this genuine and authentic call to priesthood isn’t necessarily a call to the ministerial priesthood.  For most of us, the call to priesthood is a call to more deeply live the ministry of the “common priesthood,” but frankly, for a lot of Catholics, this feels like “second skimmings.”  That’s not because the common priesthood is any less important in the Kingdom of God, but because we haven’t effectively developed the theology of the common priesthood and what it means to celebrate it .

This is one of the reasons what we are calling the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is so important.  The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life offers a more systematic way to appreciate how the common priesthood of the laity complements the ministerial priesthood and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  It gives us a way to relate to the common priesthood in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re being patted on the head and told, “There, there, lay person.  Of course you matter too.”

Two Priesthoods, One Christ.

Theologian, David Fagerberg, points to this complementarity between the lay and ministerial priesthood when he writes,

The common priesthood of the laity is directed toward the cure of this now corrupted structure of the world, and the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood to equip them for their lay apostolate….. Therefore, “though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial… priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ”  (2004).

It’s inherent to the nature of priesthood to preside over liturgy. For instance, that’s why the church celebrates the institution of both the eucharist and the ministerial priesthood on Holy Thursday.  The two are inextricably tied.  It’s impossible to speak of priesthood without simultaneously referencing the liturgy over which the priest presides. The ministerial priesthood consecrates the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ through the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  In a sense, the common priesthood consecrates the world to Christ through the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  In the words of one Eastern-Rite bishop who attended a talk on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life model, “The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life represents the mystical vehicle that allows the grace of the Eucharist to be communicated to all the world through the living Body of Christ.”

What’s the Liturgy of the Common Priesthood?

I would argue that our understanding of the value and dignity of the “common priesthood of the laity” has suffered for so long because we’ve been attempting to talk about it without adequately defining the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life to which it is inextricably attached.  Building the Kingdom of God doesn’t necessarily require us to “do BIG THINGS for Jesus”  like building hospitals and converting entire nations to Christ. For most of us, building the Kingdom of God simply requires cooperating with grace to heal the way sin damages our relationships. The common priesthood facilitates this necessary and essential process of healing through the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.

Loosely speaking, it’s the role of the common priesthood to build and heal the Body of Christ while it is the role of the ministerial priesthood to feed the body of Christ.  And although Catholics haven’t historically tended to think of it in these terms, both roles are of equal importance and dignity. Seen through this lens, creating strong families through the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life isn’t just a nice thing to do.  It is the primary way the common priesthood of the laity participates in the salvific mission of the Church.

Two Liturgies Making Love Incarnate

Similar to the way that the ministerial and common priesthoods represent distinct yet complementary means of participating in the one priesthood of Christ, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life should be thought of as a true liturgy that is distinct from, yet complementary to, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Of course, the relationship between these two liturgies is enhanced by the fact that they are the only two liturgies where love, itself, becomes incarnate in flesh and blood—the former through the conception of children and the latter through the consecration of the Precious Body and Blood.

Your marriage and family life should never be seen as an obstacle to living your call to the priesthood. Your call to the common priesthood isn’t a lesser  The fact is, Catholicism is meant to be “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). The common priesthood is a real priesthood that presides over a real liturgy. Celebrating the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life means celebrating–in a manner of speaking–that you are parent forever in the line of Malchizedek (c.f., Hebrews 7:17), a full participant in the one priesthood of Christ that serves as the source of the power, dignity, and spiritual authority of both the ministerial and common priesthood.


Dr Greg Popcak is the author of many books and the director of both CatholicCounselors.com and the Peyton institute for Domestic Church Life. You can hear him and his wife Lisa each day on their call-in radio program, More2Life airing Monday-Friday at 10amE on EWTN Radio and SiriusXM130.

 

Kids Aren’t Projects: The Myth of Parenting “Techniques” (And What To Do Instead)

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.
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For the most part, the world views parenting as a series of tools and techniques you use on a child to get them to behave. By contrast, the Catholic

Image: Shutterstock

theology of family views of parenting as a discipleship relationship parents build with their children with the intention of helping them form a virtuous character and leading them to Christ.

Of course, techniques can play a limited role in every relationship. For example; there are different techniques married couples can use to handle conflict more effectively. There are techniques co-workers could use to negotiate differences. And, yes, there are techniques parents can use to help their children more clearly understand the lessons they are trying to teach.
Technique vs. Relationship
But techniques can’t stand in the place of actual relationship. Like a car runs on gas, techniques can be said to run on the strength of your relationship with your child. If a parent is out of rapport with their children, applying even more of the best parenting techniques in the world will actually make the situation worse. Not because the child is broken or willful, but because God created us to be loved as persons, not treated like projects.
I see this all the time in my counseling practice. Parents will describe some behavior problem and then say, “First, I tried this technique. Then I did that technique, and then I did this other thing but he just gets more and more defiant no matter what I do.” Ironically, the parents are often using all the right techniques, but when I ask how often they hug their kids, or cuddle up and read together, or get any kind of one-on-one time the answer is often, “not much” or “there just isn’t time” or worse, “that’s just not me.” In each of these instances, the problem isn’t that the parents don’t have the right techniques. It’s that they haven’t been able to invest in cultivating a heart-to-heart, discipleship relationship with their kids—a relationship that would make any techniques actually work.
People Not Projects
Children don’t want to be treated like projects any more than anyone else does. For the most part rebellious children become rebellious, not because their parents’ techniques are bad, but because the child is trying to say, “I need you to see me as a person and stop treating me as a project. And if I have to burn down the house to get you to see that, I will.”

St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body teaches that every human being—including children—is a person who deserves to be loved. God actually created us to rebel against people who treat us like an object or project.  The Catechism says, “Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons” (#2222).

God built human beings in such a way that we naturally want to reject people who treat us as objects or projects because, generally speaking, those people are not safe to be around. Regardless of their intentions, people who treat us like projects or objects are violating our basic human dignity. We deserve better–especially from parents who are supposed to be the face of God to their children (CCC #239).

The Rite of Christian Relationship attempts to remind Catholic families that it isn’t enough to load up with all the best and latest techniques. The heart of a Christian family is the time and energy we put into making love incarnate in the home and affirming the personhood of each member of our households. The practices we recommend for the Rite of Christian Relationship are some simple ways to start: extravagant affection that enables our love to be incarnate, discipleship discipline that focuses on capturing the child’s heart and forming their character instead of simply punishing bad behavior, and prioritizing family time over other activities, which gives parents the time they need to cultivate meaningful relationships in the home.

“Imperfect People Need Not Apply” Does the Domestic Church Discriminate?

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

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There is a perception that the term “domestic church” is an exclusive club that only admits happily married couples with children.  Nothing could further from the truth.

In his presentation at the Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality, (and in the upcoming book, Renewing Catholic Family Life, OSV, 2020) theologian Tim O’Malley criticized the tendency to have an overly romanticized, Rockwellian vision of the “domestic church” as a large, perfectly happy, family who drives a huge van, takes vacations to pilgrimage sites and whose home is chock-full of liturgically-oriented art-and-craft projects. He says:

This romanticized account of family life tends to bypass the experience of actual families. It is an almost idolatrous vision of family life that passes over the difficulties that a family will experience in becoming a civilization of love. There are families suffering from the plague of domestic violence. Some couples are unable to have children, experiencing the agony of infertility rather than the communion that leads to a large brood of Catholic children singing along to the Salve Regina. In the United States, migrant families are separated, attempting to make a life apart from each other—sometimes by choice and sometimes because of political policy. Families in the United States suffer from poverty, unable to keep a roof over their heads let alone enjoy a meal together. Parents agonize as their children are arrested, struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, experience divorce, and even die prematurely.  If the term “domestic church” is to function prophetically within society, it must take into the fullness of the human condition—not only an idealized, upper middle class account of Christian life.

Part of the problem, of course, is that the Church hasn’t provided us with an official definition of what it means by the term, “domestic church.” Inevitably, that causes people to make up their own definitions that either exclude huge swaths of people or cause them to worry that maybe even they don’t belong.

Even so, looking at the way the Church has related to this phrase over the years, I would suggest that while “domestic church” is a specific term, it isn’t an exclusive one. Just like the Kingdom of God is both already present and not-yet-fulfilled, the domestic church lives in a state of constant tension between what it’s meant to be and the messy world it actually lives in.  And both can be legitimate expressions of domestic-church life.

Domestic Church: A Working Definition

My own working definition of “domestic church” is, “a household of persons united to God and each other through the sacramental life of the Church, and committed to living out the Christian/Trinitarian vision of love in their home and in the world.”

In this vision of the domestic church, grace supersedes both blood and outward appearances. Being a domestic church is less about how you’re related to each other and what your household looks like from the outside, and more about what you are working together to help each other become through a shared experience of the sacraments and a life of grace.

Icons of the Trinity

Of course, Christian families that are united through the sacrament of marriage do deserve special consideration and respect because of their role as “icons of the Trinity.”  We honor these families, not because Catholicism has a Leave It To Beaver fetish, but because every Christian is called to exemplify the love that lives at the heart of the Trinity in all we do.

For all its many faults and imperfections, a Christian family that is both united through the sacrament of marriage and genuinely intentional about living out the Christian vision of love in their homes really is the best witness to the Communion of Saints that we can manage to create this side of Heaven.  Even so, this kind of family doesn’t earn this “pride of place” (for want of a better way to put it)on its own merits or because of outward appearances. Rather,  I would suggest that a domestic church rooted in the unity and grace afforded by the Sacrament of Matrimony is honorable because of what it represents and what it is aspiring to become.  These families are on exactly the same journey that every other Christian–and Christian household–is on.  We look to these families–not as an idol or a finish line–but as a living sign that even in the face of our brokenness and sinfulness, it is still both possible and worthwhile to strive to exemplify Trinitarian love in our own lives and relationships.

Broadening Our Understanding

But even if all the above is true, Domestic Church life does not begin and end with intact, married households with children.  I would argue that any Christian household that is 1) united to God and each other through the sacramental life of the Church and 2) intentionally and actively trying to live out Christ’s love in their relationships with each other and the world is a domestic church. The more you can say this about your household–whatever its composition–the more “domestic churchy” your domestic church is.

It’s exactly this broader understanding of “domestic church” that gave rise to religious communities and monasteries. Historically, these Christian communities were considered to be a kind of domestic church.  Christianity overturned the notion of what constituted a family.  The traditional Roman view of family was tribal.  If you were related by blood, you were in the club.  If you weren’t, you were out.  Pure and simple. Cut and dried.

But in the Christian view of family, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  Religious communities and monasteries were never intended to be alternative forms of clergy, or even a kind of Religious SuperLaity. They were just a different variation on the Christian understanding of what a family actually is. That’s why religious communities have “brothers” and “sisters” and “fathers” and “mothers.”   The Christian family is not defined by blood but by grace and the desire of the members of a particular household to support each other in living the Trinitarian vision of love in their lives.

The Domestic Church: What’s It All About?

All that said, being a domestic church requires effort and intention.  The Liturgy of the Eucharist doesn’t just happen because you walk into a church building and stand around with a bunch of other people.  You have to actually be intentional about celebrating the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  In a similar way, a household doesn’t automatically celebrate the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life by living together under the same roof and sharing a data plan.  To be a domestic church–whatever your household looks like on the outside–the people under your roof have to  be about the business of supporting each other in living a sacramental life and exemplifying Trinitarian love. “Domestic Church” is more verb than noun.

No Family? You Still Belong

But how do people without their own families fit into this model?   Again, the Christian vision of family as domestic church is different from the secular “Roman” idea of family.  In the secular vision of family, if you don’t have one, you’re plumb out of luck.  But in the Christian vision of “family-as-domestic-church,” everyone who loves Christ is part of God’s family. The domestic church is a physical representation of that larger, broader community where we all belong to one another in Christ (c.f., Rom 12:5).

In the early Church, if you were single, or a widow, or an orphan, or you lost your biological family for any reason (or if your biological family was attempting to pull you away from the Family of God), it was expected that other Christian households would welcome you to be an active and integral part of their domestic church. I’d suggest that this is the logical, radical, conclusion of what I call “the Rite of Reaching Out.” If anyone believes themselves to be without a family, they need to be invited to become full, integrated members of our own, particular, domestic churches. No Christian should ever feel that they are not part of our family.  If they do, we have failed the Body of Christ.

The Way Forward

As the world continues to wrestle with what it means to be family, Christians need to overcome our lazy tendency to simply take secular, “Roman” and contemporary secular models of family and slap the label “domestic church” on them.  We need to rediscover and reassert the unique identity, mission, and dignity that constitutes the domestic church; an intentional community of persons united to God and each other through the sacramental life of the Church and dedicated to living out the Christian/Trinitarian vision of love in their relationships with each other and the world.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the executive director of both Catholic Counselors.com and the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life.  The author of over 20 books, you can hear him and his wife, Lisa,  on their radio program, More2Life, airing each weekday at 10amE/9C on the EWTN Radio Network and SiriusXM130.

“The Parish Exists To Support the Family Not The Other Way Around.” Popcak Interview with The Angelus on Domestic Church Life

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles just published an article I was interviewed for. It discusses the renewed emphasis on domestic church life–especially in light of the pandemic.  My thanks to Sophia Martinson for the piece.  Since we discussed a lot of things that didn’t make the final piece, I wanted to share the full conversation Sophia and I had.  I hope it will  help you discover the importance of your domestic church in God’s plan for bringing the world to him.

AngelusNews: In a nutshell, what is the domestic church — and more specifically, what you call the “liturgy of the domestic church”?

Dr. Popcak: “Domestic church” is a term the Church uses to refer to Christian families.  One of the biggest blessings of the  Second Vatican Council was the assertion of a “universal call to holiness.”  That’s the idea that all the faithful, not just priests and religious, are called to be holy.  The domestic church is part of this larger idea.  It is the notion that every home is meant to be a sacred space and an outpost of grace in the world. Every Catholic household is meant to be place where we encounter God in a real and meaningful way—in all the stuff we do as families, in the way we relate to each other in our homes, and in the way we interact with our friends, neighbors and co-workers.  It is the primary job of the domestic church to consecrate the world to Christ.
Unfortunately, very little has been done to help families live out this vision in our homes. Until fairly recently, the phrase “domestic church” has been employed as, at best, an aspirational term with little practical relevance.
Most of what we think of as “Catholic spirituality” is drawn from the monastic and clerical traditions. There’s a lot of value in that, of course, but the model doesn’t fit well into messy family life.  The upshot is that most Catholics experience family life as an obstacle to encountering God and growing in their faith.  Most Catholics feel like if they want to be spiritually fed, they have to leave home to do it.  That’s absurd!  Marriage is a sacrament. There is superabundant grace hidding just below the surface of every hug, every dirty dish, every diaper change in a Christian household.  Sadly, even families that might be aware of this in theory have never been taught to access that grace consistently in practice. In fact, for most Catholics, it comes as a shock that they should be able to.
The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a model of family spirituality that seeks to challenge this unfortunate reality.  The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life  presents an authentic domestic-church-based spirituality that allows families to “bring Jesus home” and make the faith the source of the warmth in their homes.
In the Church there is a “ministerial priesthood” (those who are ordained) and a “common priesthood”  (all the baptized). The thing is, you can’t have a priesthood without a liturgy.  They are inextricably tied to each other. The primary liturgy for the ministerial priesthood is the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
But what’s the liturgy of the common priesthood?  How does it make sense to talk about a “common priesthood “ without defining the liturgy over which the common priesthood presides?   That’s where the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life comes in.  The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life becomes the means by which the common priesthood consecrates the world to Christ by giving us a practical, yet flexible, framework for living out Christ’s sacrificial love in our homes and in the world.
AngelusNews: It seems that the concept of the domestic church is becoming more popular within Catholic circles. (For instance, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles recently hosted a town hall on the subject, and a few days before the national Catholic Family Conference took place.) Why do you think members of the Church have paid special attention to this subject lately, during the coronavirus?
Dr. Popcak: Catholics have a tendency to think that the parish is meant to be the center of our faith life. But that’s not what the Catholic theology of Church actually teaches.  In reality,  the parish church exists to support the Christian life and ministerial efforts of the domestic church—the family.  In Amoris Laetita, Pope Francis calls the Church “a family of families.” In practice, the lived experience of Catholicism is too inwardly focused on maintaining the parish instead of forming the family.  Our focus is entirely backward. In fact, Catholic ecclesiology demands that our experience of Church be outwardly focused.  The parish is meant to feed the life of the domestic church and empower it for ministry and witness in the world.
The pandemic is forcing a crisis that is challenging this—in my view—deeply flawed paradigm that represents the lived experience of contemporary Catholicism. As truly painful as it is to be separated from the sacraments, the pandemic is forcing us to rethink how we “do church.”  God is giving us an opportunity to rediscover an idea that has been hidden in plain sight since the early Church (see The Book of Acts) and definitely since Vatican II. Namely; it’s the Catholic home—not the parish, the parish school, or diocesan chancery—that is meant to be the crucible of intentional discipleship and primary outpost of evangelization and positive social change. Everything a diocese or parish does should be ordered to the development of the domestic church, which is the “building block of civilization” and “school of love and virtue.”  Although motivated by good intentions, the institutional Church currently suffers by trying to bear burdens it was never meant to carry—burdens that are the rightful purview of the domestic church.
Whatever else God might be doing through this crisis, I believe he is challenging his Church to adhere more faithfully to its own vision for how we are meant to function as his family on earth.
AngelusNews: You’ve written about the parallels between the liturgy of the Eucharist and the liturgy of the domestic church. As you know, most families are now unable to attend Mass in person. What are the challenges of living the domestic church liturgy without the Eucharist?
Dr. Popcak: You can’t have a domestic church or a Liturgy of Domestic Church Life without the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is the summit and source of our faith.  It’s what facilitates communion with God and makes authentic communion with others possible.
Although the church has not defined the term “domestic church,” my working definition is “a household of persons, united to God and each other through the sacramental life of the Church, and committed to living out Christ’s love in their homes and in the world.”
The Eucharist is both central to this vision and the fuel for this vision.  As one Eastern-Rite Bishop who heard me present this model said, in his mind, The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life represents the mystical vehicle that allows the grace of the Eucharist to be communicated to all the world through the living Body of Christ.
That said, there have been times in the history of the Church were people were discouraged from receiving the Eucharist more than once-a-year or even once-in-a-lifetime. I’m not saying that was necessarily good, but I am saying that grace received through the Eucharist does not have an expiration date. Receiving the Precious Body and Blood of Christ, even once, facilitates a personal encounter with Christ that has the power to change everything—especially our home life—forever. A domestic church aspires to be the embodiment of the Eucharistic vision of love.
AngelusNews: You’ve written about different ways for families to live the liturgy of the domestic church — through the “rites” of relationships, rituals, and reaching out. Could you offer a few practical tips on how quarantined families can live these rites?
“Rites” represent the building blocks of liturgy. As we envision it, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life has three rites, each of which corresponds to three-fold mission we receive in baptism to be priests, prophets and royals.
The Rite of Christian Relationship equips families to grow in the priestly mission of baptism.  By living out Christ’s sacrificial love in the home, Christian families learn to overcome the selfish and sinful ways we naturally tend to treat each other.  Practices that make this possible include things like…
-1) facilitating what psychologists call, “secure attachment”  by responding promptly, generously, consistently, and cheerfully to each other’s needs.
-2) demonstrating generous affection that represents the incarnate love of Christ,
-3) practicing what we call “discipleship discipline” a model of childrearing founded on the “Preventive System” of discipline developed by St John Bosco. This method sees discipline as a two way street that not only sees to the character formation of the child, but leads to fosters spiritual growth and holiness for the parent.  My book, Parenting With Grace discusses this in depth.
The Rite of Family Rituals offers families the means to exercise the prophetic mission of baptism.  A prophet is meant to call people—in word and action—to live authentic Christian lives.  By developing strong family rituals for working, playing, talking, and praying together (four categories that cover almost every type of human activity) Christian families model how to have a godly relationships with work, leisure, intimacy, and faith.
The Rite of Reaching Out represents the royal mission of baptism. To serve with Christ is to reign with him!  God wants to use our families to change the world. Christian families celebrate this rite by cheerfully serving each other in the home, by thinking of others while being a family (by practicing generous hospitality and doing things like passing on gently used clothes, toys, etc to others in need, and making extra meals for struggling neighbors), and by serving together in their parish and community (as opposed to letting service be one more “activity” that tears them apart).
AngelusNews: What is your hope for the domestic church going forward from this time of difficulty? What do you hope Catholic families will learn or gain from it?
I hope this crisis will force us to reckon with the fact that the domestic church IS church.  It isn’t meant to be a patronizing term the Church uses to say to families, “Why yes, dear! Of course you matter too.
My goal is two-fold. First, I would like to challenge families to realize that their homes are meant to be spiritual powerhouses; lighthouses ablaze with the sacrificial love of Christ that serve as a beacon that calls the world into relationship with their Father.
Secondly, I would like to challenge the institutional Church to stop thinking—incorrectly—that “family ministry” is only about doing marriage prep or ministering to hurting families. It is certainly about that, but  “family ministry,” in the fullest sense of the term, is meant to refer to the process by which we equip Christian families to do the heavy-lifting of forming intentional disciples, and serving as the primary outposts of evangelization and positive social change in the world.
TO LEARN MORE: Please join our Facebook Discussion Group, CatholicHOM (Households on Mission)—Family Discipleship or visit CatholicCounselors.com
Dr. Greg Popcak is the Executive Director of CatholicCounselors.com, the author of over 20 books, the co-host of More2Life (airing M-F at 10amE on EWTN/SiriusXM130) and the Consulting Director of the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life an outreach of Holy Cross Family Ministries.