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.

Your Family: On A Mission From God

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.

Every Christian family is on a mission from God.  I want to walk through some simple steps every family can take to discern their mission. But first, where does this idea of a mission even come from?

The Roots of Your Family Mission

The Sacrament of Marriage is founded on the idea that God, himself, has called a particular couple together–not only for their mutual benefit–but as a visible sign of his free, total, faithful, and fruitful love in the world.  Christian couples and families don’t just live for themselves.  God means to use your marriage and family life to be an outpost of grace.

As a vocation, marriage–like Holy Orders–represents a particular way that a couple has been called by God to live out their three-fold baptismal mission of priest (blessing the world by modeling Christ’s sacrificial love), prophet (being a witness of how God’s children are meant to live), and royal, (using their gifts to be a blessing to others).

Likewise, in Familiaris Consortio, St John Paul said that every family serves three important tasks in build the Kingdom of God.
1) To create an intimate communion.
2) To serve life by being open to children and forming those children to be Christian disciples.
3) To be a force for good in their communities. (i..e, “participate in the development of society.”)
4) To be an outpost of grace in the world. (i.e, “to share in the life and mission of the church.”)

Likewise, a Christian household is called a “domestic church.” That means that Christian households are meant to be little branches of the larger church, bringing God’s love and grace out to the world.  Like the larger church, your domestic church is charged with building the Kingdom of God.

These various calls and tasks serve as the roots of both your personal and family mission.

It’s Not What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It

A “mission” represents the specific way a particular person or community lives out a more general call. So, while all Christians are called to be priests, prophets and royals, and all couples are called to witness to Christ’s free, total, faithful, and fruitful love in the world, and all families are called to live out the four tasks in their lives, what living that out looks like for you and your house is going to vary widely from what that looks like for every other family.

Developing a family mission represents your effort to discern the specific way God is asking you and your household to live out these various calls in the unique circumstances of your lives. It’s as simple as that.

How Do You Create A Family Mission?

There isn’t one way to create a family mission but there are some general suggestions.  We walk through the following steps in more detail in my book, Parenting with Grace, but this will get you started.

  1. Pray Together (in general)–You can’t develop a family mission unless you are going to God together as a family ask asking him why he called you together and how he wants you to live.  Every day, get in the habit of asking God to help you be the family he wants you to be and to understand how to live out your call in the unique circumstances of your life.
  2. Pray Together (About Your Mission)–Pray as a family about the particular virtues or qualities God is calling your family to exhibit so that you could face the challenges you need to face more effectively and live more abundantly. Would you like to be more joyful, loving, responsible, faithful, generous, respectful, and so on?  Obviously we all want to grow in all the virtues, and you will.  But for the purposes of discerning your mission, you want to focus on the specific virtues or qualities you need to live more abundantly in the circumstances God has placed you.  Identify the top 2-4 (max) qualities or virtues that would help you take the life you are currently living to the next level.  That is, what qualities would enable you to celebrate the joys in your particular life and rise to the struggles in your particular life in a more graceful, godly way?  Write them down.
  3. Discuss–Next, take each of the virtues you identified one-at-a-time. Each person in the family (starting with Dad and Mom and then down from the oldest child) should suggest one or two ways you could use that quality to be a better parent or brother or sister and at least one example of how that particular quality might help your family handle a specific situation better than it currently does.  For instance, if you were discussing joy, you might say, “If I were going to be a more joyful dad, I would make a point of playing a more active role in planning family activities, instead of leaving that to mom so much.  And to be a more joyful family, I think we need to put regular family time on the schedule so that we aren’t just trying to squeeze each other in whenever other stuff wasn’t happening.”

    This part of the discussion should focus on the particular action steps you want to try to focus on to help you do a better job of living out the virtues that make up your family mission.

  4. Reflect/Revise–Discuss your mission on a regular basis.  Over dinner at least once-a-week, ask each other to reflect on each of the virtues in your mission.  How are you doing?  What’s working well?  What are the challenges?  How can you do a better job supporting each other as a family to overcome those challenges?  What choices do you need to make (i.e., activities to be involved in, priorities that need to be set, rituals that need to be created) to help you live out those qualities more effectively? Use your mission to help challenge each other to be better living, breathing examples of the virtues that make up your mission and to help you make decisions for your family that enable you to live out those virtues more effectively in your daily life together.

These are some basic steps of creating a mission. For more ideas, check out Parenting with Grace and join the discussion at our FB Group CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

 

 

Hurting/Angry Over Mass Suspensions? Finding Spiritual Consolation in Times of Pandemic

It felt like a gut punch.  This past week, the Ohio Bishops’ Conference, along with many other dioceses and bishops’ conferences across the country have suspended the celebration of Mass through Easter.

Last weekend was the first weekend I haven’t been to mass since…I can’t remember.  It was certainly the first time I have ever missed mass without being ill and unable to leave the house.  And I have never once missed any of the Holy Week liturgies—especially Easter Sunday mass. I found myself experiencing a mix of emotions; sadness, frustration, a spiritual ache, even some anger.

Not Alone

I know I’m not alone. I have had many conversations with clients in my Catholic tele-counseling practice and callers to my radio program around this issue.  People–already worried and anxious about how the pandemic is impacting their lives–are feeling cut off from their most important spiritual resources.  As one caller put it, “They are taking away the Eucharist when we need Jesus the most!”  

As I was praying through my own pain of not being able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, I felt the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  I remembered the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

The Good Samaritan

You may remember that in the story, a man is beaten by robbers and left to die on the road. A priest passes by on the way to temple, but can’t stop for fear of being made unclean from contact with the wounded man.  Next, a Levite, also fails to stop to help the man for fear of being made unclean and unable to attend temple.  Finally, a Samaritan stops to tend to the man’s wounds and bring him to a place where he can be cared for.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenges us to be like the Samaritan. 

What does this have to do with our present crisis? It means we need to step back and ask our selves, “What is the point of going to Church?  What is the fruit the Eucharist is meant to bear in our lives?”  The answer, of course, is that by attending Mass and receiving the Precious Body and Blood, God heals the broken parts of our hearts so that we can more effectively love our neighbor as God needs us to.

Love One Another

Of course, the Eucharist exists to be a source of personal consolation, but it has to be more than that.  It has to ultimately equip us with the grace we need to love more, to love better, to love as God wants us to.

Loving someone means “working for their good.”  If the entire point of receiving Christ in the Eucharist is loving others, what does it mean to “work for the good of our neighbor” in the midst of this pandemic?  It means willingly embracing the cross that social distancing requires of us so that we can “flatten the curve” and end this crisis quickly with as little loss of human life as possible.  Sometimes, true love requires abstinence.  This is one of those times.

A True Lenten Mortification

In Lent, we’re called to make sacrifices that will enable us to love better and build God’s kingdom. Sometimes, it can be tempting to choose sacrifices that make us feel good about ourselves.  “I’m going to do THIS for God!  Aren’t I wonderful?!?”  Although rooted in a good intention, this misses the point. True sacrifice isn’t about doing what we want to do for God. Rather, it’s about doing what God asks us to do for him and our neighbor.

It takes real humility to cheerfuly accept the sacrificies God brings into our lives, to consecrate those sacrifices to him, and to ask him for the grace to rise to these challenges in a manner that glorifies him, helps us respond to the people around us in a way that works for their good, and helps us become the people he wants us to be.  

Spiritual Communion & Commission

If you are struggling, as I am, with not being able to attend mass for the next several weeks, bring it to God. Offer up your pain with a prayer that goes something like this.  “Lord, my heart is longing to receive you, but while I am waiting to be reunited with your Precious Body and Blood, fill my heart with your love and grace. Heal the broken parts of my heart.  Help me respond to this challenge in a way that gives you glory, shares your love more fully with the people in my life, and makes me the person you want me to be.”

This prayer, and others like it, are what Catholics call “spiritual communion.”  It represents a desire to pursue union with God and the grace to build his kingdom even when the normal avenues of grace (i.e, the sacraments) are not available to us.  God gives us the sacraments as a gift, but he is not bound by his sacraments and his love and grace rush to fill in any space we open to him.  

While we wait in joyful hope to be able to encounter the Lord at mass and receive him once again in the Eucharist, make a spiritual communion as often as you can and participate in masses broadcast on TV or the radio as opften as possible. Until we can once again receive the Body of Christ, let us all pray for the grace to be the Body of Christ—especially to those the Lord has placed in our path.

Not a Gumball God – A Gospel Meditation for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

God Goes to Flavor Town – a Reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?”

How often do we try to be someone or something else? How often do we try to fit into someone else’s mould of holiness?

Personally, I think this is an especially big temptation for us Catholics. We have so many examples of holiness to look to, both in the saints and in the sanitized version of the saints we see on holy cards, that we can feel inadequate by comparison. We strive in vain to meet their standard, adapt to their way, and mimic them… mostly poorly.

But Christ doesn’t want us to assimilate to some other standard of holiness. Instead, He cruises into the spiritual Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives that are our hearts and tells us, radically, that our flavor is enough. He loves your flavor. He designed it. In His grand plan for the Universe, He intends your specific and unique flavor to serve as a vital ingredient in the donkey sauced-gumbo of creation. He doesn’t want you try in vain to exchange your flavor for someone else’s lest you lose your flavor in the process.

Christ doesn’t need any more Saint Patricks or Saint Theresas. He needs a Saint You. Christ doesn’t need anymore missionaries to Ireland or Corinth; He needs a missionary to your specific family, to your friend group, to your people. He wants you to “shine before others”. He wants your seasoning, your flavor. What are you going to do to give it to Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.