The domestic church is like an enclosed garden; a planned space
for the cultivation, nurture and care of the family.
The present is the only chance to build our family as a domestic church.
Although the door to repentance is wide open, it is a very tiny door. We have to be very small to find it, and even smaller to enter it. Repentance can only begin with humility.
Our son, a college student, is home for the holidays. As he is wont to do when at home, he goes out with old high school friends and he goes to the homeless shelter on Saturday mornings with his Dad. Every Saturday morning since he was three years old, my husband has brought him along to the local men's emergency housing to meet the men there, have a devotional time with them and take them to breakfast. Our son remembers that once there was a man who was just released from jail the night before and had no shoes. Another man hitch-hiked all the way from Alaska.
The Chinese missionary priest unlocked a small windowless room on the second floor, and we all took off our shoes as our family followed him into the room with the floor covered by a nylon mat. The room was empty except for a low table at one end of the room, and on the table was a small box, and on each side of the box was an electric candle that was lit. He bowed very low with his forehead almost touching the mat, and we did the same gesture. On closer look, the table was an ordinary coffee table and the small box was a cheap jewelry box like a miniature armoire with a clock on it that did not have the correct time. In fact, the clock was not running. Our children asked, "Where is the tabernacle?" The priest pointed to the jewelry box as if he understood what our children asked. The children tried to restrain their giggles. Their gleeful amusement at an unexpected tabernacle with a clock was muted by a great effort to be reverent in the presence of Jesus.
What is there more to do after Gaudete Sunday? After the rose candle of the Advent wreath is lit, many of us almost abandon the last purple candle. The preparations for Christmas start to reach fever pitch as lists, presents, wrappers, home decorations, recipes, guests, and family traditions all vie for our imagination and attention. But it is still Advent. There is one more candle waiting to be lit.
The Gift of Presence
I knew he was swamped with a to-do list three mountains high. I knew he wasn’t sleeping much as he raced against time to stay on top of everything he was responsible for, yet he stood there and listened to me as if that to-do list didn’t exist, as if he had nothing else to do that day, as if he’d been getting a full night’s sleep for a month straight. He listened to me as if listening to me was the most important thing he could do at that moment. He, a priest from my parish, gave me the gift of his presence in that moment, which is to say, he loved me. He gave me the gift of Jesus’ presence through his attentive listening.
It had been a long day and I was sitting outside my three year-old daughter’s bedroom door. She recently decided she wasn’t going to sleep in a crib anymore. I was wary and checking my email while sitting on the hallway floor waiting to get up for the umpteenth time to put her back in bed. That’s when I received a message from Nannet asking if I could read a couple articles she had recently written for her blog, Domestic Church Institute. As soon as I read her first article, Preparing for School in the Domestic Church, I felt the Holy Spirit talking to me. I read it once, then again and again. I encouraged my husband, Paul, to read it. I went back to pray and began meditating on this idea of creating goals for our children that helps them grow holistically. I felt excited and instantly began thinking how we could incorporate this into our family.
"Grandma, I know how Jesus died," a grandson told his grandmother when they were in a nearby park one weekend while his parents were out of town. The grandma was all ears because the parents of this grandson have by all accounts abandoned their Catholic faith and have not had their children baptized.
The few weeks before school starts in the fall, we find that our kitchen calendar (or smartphone calendar) begins to fill up with schedules of sports, musical or church events for the children. Let us take the time to build another sort of schedule for our domestic church. This schedule is not one with time slots or dates, but a plan for each of our children for the coming year. As they are one year older, a bit more mature than last year and more capable of doing a variety of work, we set some goals to aspire for and they serve as guides for us as parents.