“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.

~ ~ ~
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.

“It’s Just Easier to Do It Myself” (And Other Lies Satan is Using to Undermine Your Domestic Church)

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.

One of the most important ways families celebrate the Rite of Christian Relationships in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is by “responding promptly, generously, consistently, and cheerfully” to each other’s needs. That said, a recent poll of Catholic HŌM members found that this was one the most difficult practices in the Rite of Christian Relationships (which also includes “extravagant” affection, and “Discipleship Discipline”).

In the follow-up discussion, the most popular reason members gave for struggling with “meeting each other’s needs promptly, generously, consistently, and cheerfully was, “it’s easier to do everything myself than to ask for help.”   Not surprisingly, the second most common concerned expressed was, “feeling overwhelmed.”

The Rite Way to Work

The  Liturgy of Christian Relationships is intended to challenge the selfish and sinful ways families to treat each other and, instead, learn to care for each other with the love that comes from God’s heart. A big part of this relates to the way families must work together and learn to function as a team.  Not surprisingly, the secular world and Christians have very different attitudes toward work–especially the work involved in maintaining your domestic church.

Generally speaking, the following attitudes reflect a more worldly vision of  work.

–Work is just about “getting stuff done.” The best way to draw “meaning” from work…is to finish it.

–Because work is just about “getting stuff done,” the most efficient way to get something done is always the best way.

–You get a gold star (i.e., approval, certain rights and privileges) for getting stuff done yourself (even if it makes you grumpy and resentful).

–“Running away from everyone and everything” is the just reward we earn for “doing everything ourselves” (especially if that makes us grumpy and resentful).

 

Contrast this with a Christian attitude toward work.  (see Catechism 2427 and following)

–Work is a way to praise God for the blessings we’ve been given and to say, “I love you” to the people God entrusts to our care. Cultivating these attitudes makes household work a “little way of holiness” by enabling us to do small things with great love.

–Even if it is less efficient, the “best way” to get things done is to work side-by-side, caring for each other.  The “stuff we have to do” is, in a sense, just an excuse to get people who love each other in the same room together so they can strengthen on their relationships and build community. Viewing work this way is how Christian families “choose the better part” (Lk 10:42).

–“It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).  We aren’t meant to work alone.  In general, the more we work alone the more resentful we become. Working side-by-side–especially with the people who love us– builds intimacy and “mutual self-giving” (see Theology of the Body). It also creates a discipleship relationship with our kids. Having our kids work alongside us teaches them that doing work and chores promptly, generously, consistently, and cheerfully is one of the most important ways we can say, “I love you.”  Love isn’t just words.  It’s working for the good of the people you love.

–The reward for doing work in a rightly-ordered way is the permission to pace yourself so you don’t burn-out, and the opportunity to create closer, more loving relationships with the people you’re working side-by-side with. Working in a rightly-ordered way actually makes us want to spend more time with the people we love.  Doing everything by ourselves makes us feel like we have to run away from the people we love to save ourselves from being sucked dry.

When we consciously reject the lie that it’s “just easier to do things ourselves” we…

  1. use household chores to create a close, loving, supportive family team
  2. help our kids develop more loving, communal, humane, Christian attitudes toward work.
  3. remind ourselves to  praise God for all the blessings we have been given and to feel grateful for those blessings.
  4. cultivate the peace, joy and gratitude that comes from being part of a group of people that work hard to look out for each other all day long.

Action Item:

It takes a pretty big mental shift to move away from the more worldly “it’s easier to do everything myself so I can just get stuff done and reward myself by running away” mindset and embrace the more Christian, “I want to look for ways I can work side-by-side with the people I love so we can take better care of each other, build a stronger sense of team, and feel more grateful to God for the blessings we’ve been given.”

You can start today by creating some simple “family work-together rituals” that allow you to…well, work together.  Choose one of the jobs around the house that tends to make you feel burned out/bored.  Ask yourself, “How could we do this job together as a family in a way that feels like we’re saying ‘I love you’ while we do it?”  In other words, if you didn’t just focus on “just getting things done” but rather “using the work that has to be done as an opportunity to build relationships” how would you approach the job differently?

Then, sit down with your kids and spouse.  Talk about wanting to change the way you approach work in your family.  Explain how “working well together” is an important way families say, “I love you.”  Elicit ideas from the family about the jobs you’d like to do together and how to do them in a way that would make you all feel taken care of.

Just having these conversations can create an important change in your family dynamic.  Use these conversations to create Family Work Rituals that help you cultivate a Christian attitude toward household chores.

Let the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life free you from the tyranny of having to do everything yourself and feeling so alone while you do it. Let the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life help you heal the selfish and sinful ways your family relates around work and chores and empower you to create a stronger, more loving team.

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.

 

 

Parents, Is Sheltering In Place Burning You Out? There Might Be a Simple Solution.

A friend brought this article to my attention. I have been reflecting on it in light of our larger conversation about the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.

This is certainly a challenging time. Even the strongest families are feeling the strain, not only of being together 24/7 but also for the reasons we’re obliged to be together. But I do think there is at least one major false presumption the author makes which makes home life even more difficult than it needs to be. He writes:

“There’s a subtle expectation that parents must find creative ways to handle this on their own. My in-box, social media feeds, and countertops are filled with creative ideas for educating and caring for your kids. Workbooks, games, creative projects and experiments, virtual yoga, virtual doodling, virtual zoo visits, virtual everything. I honestly am too tired and stretched thin to read the suggestions, let alone try them. The few I have tried have been met with astounding and fierce rejection by my son.”

The problem, as I see it, is that our culture has convinced us that our children need to be entertained by us. They don’t. That’s why kids can sometimes push back against all these “creative ideas.” Kids don’t want to be entertained by us. They just want to BE with us.

The author gets at this when he writes, “[My son] stormed upstairs to cry, he told me it was because I had stopped smiling at him. Knife, meet heart.”

“Knife meet heart” indeed.

That’s the point of the Rite of Relationships in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life. We don’t need to kill ourselves coming up with craft projects, or new awesome games, or the NEXT BIG THING we can do with our kids to keep them happy and occupied.

We just need to remember to smile at them. To hug them more. To read more stories together. To let them talk about what they’re interested in and actually listen. To see what games they’re playing and join in as we can. To “waste time together” (as Pope Francis puts it). To ask them to come with us and keep us company (and maybe even help out) while we fold the laundry and do the dishes, and dust, and….whatever. Kids don’t actually mind doing chores with us IF the focus is THEM and not just pushing through the chore.

The Rite of Relationships challenges parents to stop thinking that all the stuff we do at home is just stuff we have to get through so we can finally do other stuff that is more entertaining. The Rite of Relationships invites us to ask, “How can I do whatever I’m doing RIGHT NOW in a way that lets me share God’s love with the people around me and draw closer to them.” The Rite of Relationship h
elps us “choose the better part” and discover the gift of presence. It allows us to stop acting around each other and reacting to each other and Just. Be. Together.

Parenting IS hard. Parenting during this pandemic is even harder. But let’s stop making things even worst than they need to be. Let’s stop thinking of our kids as projects and just connect with them as persons who love us and just want to BE with us. Let’s allow the grace of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life to remind us that we are human beings, not human doings. It’s easier than you might think. It’s certainly a lot easier than the alternative. And it just might let us all learn to enjoy our families a little more.

Nailed It! Do I Have to Be “Crafty” to be a Catholic Parent?

In the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, The Rite of Family Rituals asks families to create regular, daily times to work, play, talk, and pray together. Rituals like these enable families to practice the prophetic mission of their baptism by modeling Christian attitudes toward work, leisure, intimacy, and spirituality.

Crafting is one great way families can model a healthy approach to fun, and religious crafts can give kids a concrete way to connect with spiritual concepts. That said, to loosely paraphrase Jesus, it’s important to remember that crafts were made for man, not man for the crafts (see Mark 2:27—sort of).

In order to gain the spiritual benefits of any family ritual—including crafting–it needs to build relationships. Any activity that becomes about itself and not the people doing it, misses the point.

For instance, if you play Monopoly and winning the game becomes more important than building your relationships, you end up tearing each other to shreds. If you bake together, and decorating the cookies “just so” becomes the point of the experience, you’ll end up chasing the kids out of the kitchen to make sure it gets done “right.” And if you’re crafting for crafting’s sake, you have a family that looks great on Pinterest, but that’s about it. The last example is, I think, the modern take on Jesus’ “whitwashed tombs” (Matt 23:27).

We run into a lot folks who feel guilty that they aren’t crafty like “so-and-so.” In some circles, it can seem like being a holy family is synonymous with being a “crafty” family. How are our kids ever going to get to Heaven if we don’t make handmade nun’s habits for all their Barbie dolls—and in all the liturgical colors?!? “Now stop talking and hand me those ribbons for Heaven’s sake!”

If that’s your thing, and it truly draws your family together, that’s awesome. But if your family projects never quite work out as planned, or the very idea of working with construction paper makes you itch, that’s ok too. Failing to be a latter-day Martha Stewart doesn’t make your family less holy or your home less domestic-churchy than anyone else’s.

Living the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life isn’t about making beautiful props that turn your home into a miniature version of St Peter’s Basilica. It’s about spending time connecting, really connecting, with the people that God has given you to love and be loved by. It’s about being silly together, and cuddling together, and serving each other, and trying to be a physical sign of all the love God has in his heart for each of you. Whatever rituals help make that happen in your house are the “right” ones—even if they’re completely different from the rituals that the family in pew next to you (or that online family you admire) do in their domestic churches.

The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life isn’t about trying to get every family to do the same things or act the same way. It’s meant to be a template that helps families cover certain important bases in their own unique way. So, be mindful of the 3 Rites of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, but ask God (and your family) how you can use the model to bring out what’s best in your family.

The Church At Home: Celebrating the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life

By Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak

Whatever else God might be doing at this time, it seems clear that he is calling us to discover the power and importance of the Domestic Church.  With masses suspended and churches closed, we simply don’t have access to the spiritual resources we normally rely on. We are, quite literally, stuck at home with little choice but to figure out how to encounter God as we shelter-in-place.

Despite the very real limitations we’re all laboring under, God has not abandoned us.  His Holy Spirit is still moving powerfully in the world and I believe that it is time to learn how to encounter God more meaningfully in what I like to call “The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.”

Developed as a result of the Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality  the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a model of family spirituality that helps families experience God more meaningfully in their every day circumstances and experience the faith as the source of the warmth in our homes.  The following is a kind of FAQ for celebrating the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life in your home. I hope it will help you have a more meaningful encounter with Christ in your everyday life with your loved ones.


What is the “Liturgy of Domestic Church Life?”
“Liturgy” is a word that refers to “work” God does through his church to heal the damage that sin does to our relationship with him and each other.  The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the “summit and source” of that healing, uniting us with God and giving us the grace to create communion with others. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is the primary way lay people exercise our common priesthood, consecrating the world to Christ by literally bringing Jesus home with us and letting him transform our common families into dynamic domestic churches!

Why Do you Say That Christian Family Life Is A “Liturgy?”
Great question!  We have a larger presentation (available on request) that explains the basis of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life in Church teaching and the Catholic theology of family.  That said, check out this link for a brief explanation of the 5 Reasons Family Life is a Liturgy.

How Do You Celebrate the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life?
Every family is different, so every family must feel free to chose specific practices that work for them.  But drawing from both the Catholic theology of family and social science research into what makes families in every culture around the world healthy and strong, we suggest that the Liturgy of Domestic Church is made up of three “Rites.”  The more your family looks for ways to practice these rites in your unique circumstances the more God’s grace can transform your family into a dynamic domestic church! The three “rites” are…

The Rite of Relationship:  Godly families are called to love each other—not just with the love that comes naturally to us broken, sinful, human beings–but  with true, incarnational, Christian love.  By challenging each other to live Christ’s sacrificial love in their homes everyday, the Rite of Relationship enables families to exercise the priestly mission of baptism.

     -The Rite of Rituals: When godly families make a little time, everyday, to work, play, talk, and pray together, they model how Christians are meant to relate to work, leisure, relationships, and God. In this way, The Rite of Rituals enables famlies to exercise the prophetic mission of baptism, showing each other and the world how Christians are called to live.

     -The Rite of Reaching Out: As Christians, we’re mean to be a blessing to others. When Christian families live their family lives with others in mind, being kind, charitable, hospitable, serving others, and working to discern their unique mission and charisms, they exercise the royal mission of baptism by serving with Christ and building the kingdom of God.

What Are Some Examples Of How Families Can Live the Rite Of Relationship?
Catholic familes are called to do more than just live under the same roof and share a data plan! When Catholic families love each other through the priestly mission of their baptism, they practice the sacrifical love that comes from God’s heart.  Every family must be free to choose specific practices that let them live this rite in their own circumstances, but here are some examples of things every family can do.

     -Extravagant Affection—Christ’s love is incarnational and embodied.  The more we share generous, healthy, and appropriate physical affection in our homes, the more our family’s love resembles the incarnate, embodied love of Christ.

     -Prompt, Generous, Consistent, Responses to Each Other’s Needs—Psalm 139:4 says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all.”  God is immeasurably generous to us.  Families model God’s love when each member—parents and children—encourage each other to go above and beyond, responding promptly, generously, and consistently to each other needs and concerns.

     -Gentle Discipline—Christ is the Good Shepherd. He tends his sheep gently. He leads with love. He is slow to anger.  His mercy is neverending.  St John Bosco developed a method of discipline he called the “Preventive Method” which rejected heavy-handed punishments in favor of “reason, religion, and lovingkindness.”  He argued that a gentle approach to childrearing was more consistent with the call to Christian discipleship because it required parents to develop as well as teach self-mastery.  We discuss effective approaches to gentle discipline in our book, Parenting with Grace.

     -Prioritize Relationship—Christ encouraged the very busy homemaker, Martha, to “choose the better part” (c.f. Lk 10:42) by making time for intimacy over activity. Godly families follow Christ’s call when we prioritize one-on-one time and, as Pope Francis put it,  “waste time with each other,” even when that means opting out of activities that compete with the importance of family time.

     -Catch Each Other Being GoodThe Christian life is all about growing in virtue. Godly families do well to encourage virtue by “catching each other being good,” acknowledging the little gifts of service and love we give to each other throughout the day, and intentionally discussing opportunities to grow in respect, love, generosity, togetherness, joy, and all the other virtues that help us live life as a gift.

What Are Some Examples Of How Families Can Live the Rite Of Rituals
More than just “nice things to do” regular family rituals give families a way to exerise the prophetic mission of their baptism. Not only do family ritual create a strong sense of community, they give families a way to model the Christian way of life by cultivating goldy attitudes toward work, leisure, relationships, and prayer. Every family must be free to choose specific practices that let them live this rite in their own circumstances, but here are some examples of ways families can Work, Play, Talk, and Pray together everyday

Work Rituals—When families take a few minutes every day to do simple chores together, like cleaning up the kitchen after meals, folding laundry, picking up the family room, and other household tasks, they model teamwork, stewardship, and cheerful service.

     -Play Rituals—When godly familes make a point of taking a few minutes everyday to do things like play simple board games or card games, play catch, bake together, do a project, have read-aloud time, take a walk, or enjoy each other’s company in any other way, they model healthy, godly ways to have fun.

     -Talk Rituals—When familes take a few minutes of every day—perhaps over their regular family meal(s)–to discuss topics like the highs and lows of the day, the little ways God has blessed them, and how they might do a better job taking care of each other, they create experiences of heart-to-heart communion in the home.

     -Pray Rituals—Simple practices like morning and bedtime prayer, grace-at-meals, blessing each other, a family rosary or chaplet, family praise and worship times, bible reading, and other accessible, age-appropriate spiritual practices help families invite God into their homes and relate to him as the most important member of their family!  The one who knows them best and loves them most.

What Are Some Examples Of How Families Can Live the Rite Of Reaching Out?
When families love each other and their “neighbors” through the royal mission of their baptism, they cultivate a spirit of loving service in their hearts.  Although its important to find ways to serve your parish or community together as a family, true Christian service begins at home.  Every family must be free to choose specific practices that let them live this rite in their own circumstances, but here are some examples of ways families can practive the Rite of Reaching Out.

Serve Generously At Home—A true heart of service begins with serving the people closest to us. Look for ways to make each member of the family’s days easier and more pleasant.

Think of Others While At HomeRemember to take care of clothes, toys, and other things you have so that you can pass them on to others who may need them in your community.  When you’re cooking, make a little extra for the sick, pregnant, or elderly neighbor. Consider the ways you can be a blessing to others without even having to leave home.

Be Hospitable—Make your home a welcoming place for others.  Regularly invite people to share meals and enjoy opportunities for good, clean fun and even prayer together. Be the house on the block where the neighborhood kids like to gather. Host a neighborhood BBQ.

     -Be Kind in the WorldWhen you go out as a family, make a point of being kind and respectful to customer service people, waitstaff, and others. Practice good manners. Be thoughtful. Say, “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me.”  Hold the door for others.  Be aware of the people around you and how you can model kindness in the simplest interactions.

     -Serve Together Don’t let your parish life or charity work be one more thing that pulls your family apart. Look for age-appropriate ways to serve your parish or community together as a family.

     -Discover Your Family Mission and Charism—By prayerfully discerning the virtues God is asking your family to exemplify and how to use the gifts, talents, or interests your family shares to bless others, you discover the unique role your family plays in building the Kingdom of God!

~ ~ ~

Imagine what a difference Catholic families could make if we all did our best to live the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  Though simple acts like these, every family could cooperate with God’s grace to transform their homes into loving, sacred spaces and consecrate the world to Christ!

If you’d like to discover more about how the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life can bless your family, I hope you’ll join our Facebook discussion group,
or check out my book Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide To Raising Faithful Kids.
_________________
Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak are the authors of many books, the hosts of More2Life Radio, and the directors of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling service of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.

Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Afloat In Tough Times

Husbands and wives pledge to love each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty. On the day of the wedding, these promises feel comforting. But when bad times come through the door, love often flies out the window.  How can a couple stick together even when the going gets tough?

Decades of research have revealed the following four habits to be essential for staying close through difficult times. They are like four pontoons that keep your relationship afloat (see what I did there?), especially when the storms of life lead you into choppy waters.

1.Meaningful Couple Prayer—Turns out, the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC. was right. The couple that prays together really does stay together.  Research by Baylor University found that couples who engage in meaningful couple-prayer are significantly more likely to think positively about each other and feel closer to each other, especially through hard times.

Meaningful couple prayer isn’t just about “saying words at God.”  It requires you and your spouse to take a little time every day—even just five minutes—to talk to God about your life, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your feelings.  Sit down together and speak to God as if he were the person who knew you best and loved you most.  In addition to the graces we receive from prayer, couple-prayer “works” on a human level because it gives couples a safe, quasi-indirect way to reveal our hearts to one another.  We talk to God while our spouse listens in.  Then, as our spouse prays, we ask God to help us really hear what our spouse is trying to say.  What are their needs, their fears, their wants and concerns?  How do these fit with our own needs, fears, wants and concerns?  By listening to each other in prayer, the Holy Spirit can guide you toward graceful solutions.

2.Talk Together—Create a daily talk ritual; a time where you intentionally discuss topics that don’t natually come up.  Specifically, focus on three questions.  1) How are each of you holding up?  Be honest.  What do you feel like you’re handling well?  Where do you feel like you’re struggling?  When were you at your best today?  When were you at your worst?  2)  When did you feel closest to your spouse/most grateful for your spouse’s support today?  First of all, discussing this question daily makes you more conscious of the need to do things to support each other.  Second, acknowledging the ways you have shown up for each other throughout the day reminds you that you aren’t alone. You have a friend who really wants to be there for you. 3) What could you do to help make each other’s day a little easier/more pleasant?  Is there a project you need some help with?  Is there something you need prayer for?  Are there little things that your spouse sometimes does that mean a lot?  Take this time to ask each other to do those little things that say, “Even when life is falling apart, you can count on me to be here and to take care of you.”

3.Work Together—Your household chores aren’t just something to get through.  They’re actually opportunities to build a sense of solidarity and team spirit.  It’s a funny thing.  You might not know how to weather the latest crisis, but doing something as simple as making the bed together, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner together, or picking up the family room together before you turn in sends a powerful unconscious message that says, “I’m not just here for the fun.  I’m here for the hard stuff and the boring stuff too.  Somehow, we can get through this. Together.”

Research shows that couples who make a daily habit of cultivating simple caretaking behaviors like doing chores side-by-side develop better cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. It turns out that the way you work together to avoid bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s toes while you clean up the kitchen becomes the unconscious template for how you work together to handle that health crisis, financial problem, or other unexpected challenge.

4. Play Together—When you’re going through tough times, you don’t want to play.  We just want to isolate and hide.  Resist that temptation as best you can. Make a little time every day to do something pleasant together. Think about the simple pleasures you enjoy in happier times and make yourselves do them–even if you’re not really feeling it.  It might not be all laughs and giggles, but worst case scenario?  You might help each other remember that life isn’t completely horrible and you’ll have each other to thank for that little moment of joy.  Psychology reminds us that humor and play are two the most sophisticated defense mechanisms.  They help us stubbornly resolve to make beautiful moments even when life is anything but.  The couple that learns how to gently play together even the face of trials are true masters at life and love.

Life can be hard, but cultivating a love that “endures all things” (1Cor 13:7), isn’t complicated. By remembering to Pray, Talk, Work, and Play together, you can build a relationship that can stand up to whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Just Married. Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com

Whose Will You Be? A Gospel Reflection for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”

To whom do you belong? Whose will you be? At it’s core, this is what the Sadducees seem to be asking in this Sunday’s Gospel from the Book of Luke Chapter 20: 27-38. The response that Jesus offers is surprising:  in, “the resurrection of the dead,” he says, we, “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Does this mean, you might ask, that I won’t be married to my partner in Heaven? Depending on the state of your relationship, I imagine you’l be asking that question with either a smile or a frown.

Rest assured, though: as my own theological mentor often says, Jesus is not offering a deletion of relationship, but rather a completion. That is to say, Jesus is painting a picture of Heaven, not as a place which removes the closeness, trust and intimacy we experience with one person in marriage, but where we can experience that same closeness, trust and intimacy with every person. It has been said that Heaven is where we will “know and be known,” and this is the promise to which Christ refers in his admonition to the scholars of the law. In this redeemed order, marriage would simply be redundant. We will all belong to one another and, most ultimately, to God.
This is a beautiful promise, but it also leaves us with quite the responsibility here on earth. According to Christ’s paradigm, marriage is the “preseason” (if you’ll forgive the sports analogy) to the “game time” of Heaven. Marriage is the training ground where I learn to fully give my fullest self and receive my partner’s fullest self in return. Marriage is the place, it seems, where we first “know and are known.”
Of course, few of our relationships match this perfectly. But do not despair! If nothing else, Christ’s words to the Sadducees call us not to settle for the pettiness of the world but rather to aspire to the dreams and standards of God. Seeing as He’s the one who created us in the first place, He’d probably be the one to know if we (and our relationships) are capable of more than we might otherwise settle for.
Start by asking God to give you the grace and courage to discern how he’s calling your relationship to become more Heavenly, and if you need a little extra help and support, pick up a copy of How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.
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.