As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, we reflect on the importance of family in our own lives and in the life the Church. Pope Francis does just this in his papal exhortation The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia).
The pope writes that families are essential to the life and mission of the Catholic Church, noting that “the Church is good for the family, and the family is good for the Church (87).” He states that the family is the “domestic church,” a phrase first offered in the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium #11. Francis tells us that the Church is, in fact, “a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches.”
Throughout The Joy of Love, the Holy Father offers insights into what makes the family the domestic church. First, it is the place “where children are brought up in the faith (16),” where children first hear from their parents the story of God’s wondrous love. Because it is the parents who share the mysteries of the faith, children naturally believe them. It is in the family, the pope notes, where children learn “the joy of work, fraternal love, generous–even repeated–forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer (86).”
In the family, we are initiated into the life of the Christian community as we learn to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel, to care for the poor, to protect all creation, to be open to other ideas and insights, to have “moral and material solidarity with other families, including those most in need (290),” to work for the good of all, and to work for justice through the practice of the “corporal and spiritual works of mercy (289).” “When a family is welcoming and reaches out to others, especially the poor and the neglected,” the Holy Father writes, “it is a symbol, witness and participant in the Church’s motherhood (325).”
The pope advises us to reflect on the interplay between the family and the Church. Dr. David Thomas, an expert in the field of Catholic family life and the general editor of the RCL Benziger Family Life series, has spent his life doing just that: reflecting on the interplay between the family and the Church. Following the publication of The Joy of Love, Dr. Thomas has identified ten simple things that families do that proclaim to the world that they are indeed domestic churches:
- Speak with each other regularly and with respect.
- Eat together whenever possible.
- Take a conscious interest in what each person does and likes to do—we show that we care about each other.
- Stay closely connected with our extended families—parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles—so that we learn our family stories and lore.
- Respect and support all family members throughout their lives.
- Help each other whenever help is needed, but allow people to do things on their own when help isn’t needed.
- Celebrate holidays and major family events (births and deaths, birthdays and anniversaries) throughout our lives.
- Come together in times of need to offer support and guidance for each other.
- Respect and value (not just tolerate) the gifts of each family member no matter how different they might be.
- Treasure the time spent together as family, laughing and crying together as appropriate.
As we celebrate with our families again this Christmas season, let us consider both the many ways in which we are already domestic churches and the blessings that God offers to us through our families.
Dan Mulhall has been a member of the RCL Benziger family for nearly 20 years.