The Christian Family is a Domestic Church
By Deacon Keith Fournier
(C) Third Millennium, LLC
The Christian family is called to be a "domestic church" on mission in the world.
Catholic Way - "But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way." (1Cor. 12:31)
I woke up in church this morning.
Not on a cold dark floor or surrounded by votive candles and stained glass. But next to my partner in faith, my best friend, my co-pastor, my beloved wife of 25 years, Laurine. Down the hall slept three of the ecclesial community in the home. The oldest two are off pursuing further training for their mission in life,still discerning their states in life (married or single for the Lord) and, hopefully, growing in a mature understanding of the implications of their baptismal vocation to holiness.
However, I was truly "in Church."
From antiquity the Christian Family has been called "the domestic church." Perhaps the most often quoted use of the term is from the "Golden Mouth", John Chrysostom in Antioch (the city where they were first called Christians) in the fourth century.
After all, the church is first a relational reality, "when two or three are gathered..." said the Lord. Also, at least within the Catholic and Orthodox Church, Christian Marriage is a Sacrament. In other words, it is a very participation in- and sign of- the Life of the Trinity!
Yet all too often we neither see it nor live it- that way.
Even the most sincere Christians can still live out their Christian life with a certain dualism. They see themselves as living "in the world" and "going to Church." Family life sometimes gets included in "the world" or perhaps it is seen as a part of a "duty in the Lord" which often "competes" with the Christian mission.
Please understand,as a Catholic Christian, I love to frequent beautiful Church buildings and to participate in the beauty of formal worship. However, the point I am trying to make is a vital one. We live in Church. We were baptized into the Lord and we now live in His Body. The Christian family IS a church, the smallest and most vital cell of that Body. The extended church community is a family of families. This understanding is more than piety--it is sound ecclesiology, solid anthropolgy...it is reality.
The day would soon burst into a flurry of activity with a unique ritual pattern. To the untrained eye, it would look rather "hectic". But with the eyes of domestic faith, Laurine and I would see the deeper purpose in the routine.
There is almost a liturgical sameness to the pattern that emerges after so many years- by practice, developed spiritual purpose, and just plain ordinary human repetition. But it can all become transforming when lived out "in Christ". It is here, where the "rubber hits the road" for most Christians. It is here that the universal call to holiness, in all its real, earthy, incarnation is lived out-in all of its humanness and ordinariness.
Here is also where true progress in the spiritual life can find its raw material. The question becomes whether we who are called to live Christian marriage and family as a vocation do so by seeking to respond to grace and by developing the eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to accept the hidden invitations to love found beneath the surface of the daily "stuff" of Christian Marriage and Family life.
The Greek word translated "emptied" in an extraordinary passage in the letter to the Philippians Christian is "kenosis."
"Have this mind among yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself... " (Phil. 2:5)
This word refers to the voluntary pouring out-like water-of oneself in an act of sacrificial love. This "emptying" is the proper response of the love of a Christian for the One who first loved us.It is also the very heart of the vocation of Christian marriage.
However, in order to move from the realm of fuzzy feelings or theological theory to reality-the emptying is lived out in a unique and grace filled way in Christian marriage and family life. As Christian spouses, mothers and fathers, we need to have our eyes opened like the disciples on the Road, the way, to Emmaus. This call of married love and life is more than a covenant (though it is that), more than an ordinace (though it is that)- it is an invitation to sacrificial love--to holiness, and a sacrament.
When the right choices are made in this life of "domestic kenosis", we cooperate with the Lord's invitation to follow Him by exercising our human freedom; we choose to give ourselves away in love to the "other." In so doing, we are gradually transformed into an image, a living icon, of Jesus Christ and we actually participate in His Kenosis.
This way of holiness is not easy, as anyone who has lived the vocation for more than three months can attest, but make no mistake; it is a very real path to holiness. It is also a wonderful one.
The true challenge lies in the choices we make, daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment. The same two trees still grow in the garden of domestic life. They both invite the exercise of our freedom.
There is the one like the one in Eden where the first Eve said, "no I will not serve." We are always tempted to choose the "fruit" of this tree of self centeredness whenever we seek to hide from the call and refuse to love "kenotically" Then, there is the one that resembles the tree on Calvary where the "second Eve,"(as the fathers of the Church called Mary,the Mother of Jesus) stood with the beloved disciple John, beheld her crucified Son and her Lord who was "Love Incarnate", and again proclaimed her "Fiat", her "yes." In doing so she models the response of all Christians for all time.
However, as it was with the Mother of the Lord, (both when the angel Gabriel came and made that extraordinary announcement, and again on that mountain when she beheld her Son and Savior), the choice is our own--- to be made daily, even hourly. With those choices, presented to us from the moment we open our eyes every morning to the time we close them at night, we proceed on the way of the Cross.
That is the more excellent way, the way of love.
That is the Way of holiness.
Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon, who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with approval. He is a human rights lawyer and a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is a co-founder of the Your Catholic Voice Movement and the founder of Common Good.
Your Catholic Voice Movement
http://www.yourcatholicvoice.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Founder, 757 546-9580
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