Mother of the Domestic Church
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By Deacon Keith Fournier
The beloved disciple John tells us of the last gift that Jesus gave to all of us before He surrendered His life for the redemption of the world. That gift was His Mother: "When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple there whom He loved, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home" (John 19:26,27).
Â From the earliest centuries of the Church this gift of a mother Â has been reflected upon in some of the most beautiful writings in the Christian tradition. Jesus gave us His Mother. The Church is fundamentally a relational reality. Through Baptism we now live our lives in the Lord by living in His Body, the Church, through which he continues his redemptive mission. For most of us, much of that life is lived within the smallest cell of the Body of Christ, the "domestic church" of the Christian family.
The Catholic Catechism tells us: Since the Virgin Mary's role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated; it is fitting now to consider her place in the mystery of the Church. "The Virgin Mary is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. She is 'clearly the mother of the members of Christ' since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head." "Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church" (CCC 963).
Mary thus is also the mother of the domestic church. She was - and is - a real mother. Understanding this is truly important if we hope to respond to the universal call to holiness. It is in our ordinary lives that we encounter the Lord and it is there where we grow into His Image. We never really leave the Church. We leave the building where the Liturgy is offered, but we live in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world.For example, 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 beloved wife of 36 years, Laurine. Â Down the hall sleeps our grandson. His Mom is in the room next door. Around the corner is our youngest son who has left home and moved back home several times now as he seeks to find his own way.
The Virgin Mary in Prayer - Albrecht Dober - 1518
Â Our other children and grandchildren may be spread around the Nation but they are always in our heart. Through our Baptism our natural bond has been supernaturally raised. Jesus said "Wherever two or three are gathered in my Name, there I am in their midst" (Matt. 18:20). The place where that happens the most, is in the Christian family.
From antiquity the Christian Family has been called "the domestic church." This is more than piety; it is meant to become reality, by grace. Perhaps the most often quoted use of the term is from the "Golden Mouth", the Bishop John Chrysostom, writing in Antioch (the city where they were first called Christians) in the fourth century. After all, the church is fundamentally a relational reality.
Also, Christian Marriage is a Sacrament. In other words, it is a participation in- and sign of- the Life of the Trinity! As the Apostle Peter wrote to the early Christians, we are "partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1) Yet, do we view Christian marriage and family life in this 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.
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Please understand, as a Catholic Christian, I love to frequent beautiful Church buildings and to participate in the beauty of liturgical worship. However, the point I am trying to make is a vital one. We actually 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 anthropology, in fact it is reality for those who are baptized into Christ Jesus.
The day will 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, my wife Laurine and I will try to see the deeper purpose. All those years of raising children, and now trying to raise grandchildren, we have come to comprehend the mystery hidden 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 progress in the spiritual life finds 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.
Mary is the mother of every domestic church, of every Christian family. She fully understands the naturally supernatural realities of family life because she lived them. In fact, she shows us the way to make the ordinary extraordinary. She shows us how to embrace our daily lives in a way which allows them to become the means of grace and conversion. She also obtains for us, through her intercession, the graces we need to be made holy in our vocation. She is the mother of the domestic church.
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