The Domestic Church
by Fr. Peter deSousa
The Church is a mystery that cannot be explained adequately in words.
Avery Dulles, helps us to understand the Church a little better by
presenting us with five models namely the Church as Institution, as
Mystical Communion, as Herald of the Good News, as Servant and as Universal
Sacrament. The home is a "little Church" or a "domestic Church" and we can in some way
look at these models in our "home Church".
In the institutional model we look at three functions of teaching,
sanctifying and governing. Parents are teachers of the faith and morals and hand down traditions, which
contain Gospel values to their children. If the parents do not themselves,
practice what they teach, then their teaching is shallow and ineffective.
When the traditions do not contain values that are based on the Gospel and
are irrelevant, they can be hypocritical. We live in a world of changing
values and we are in need of sound teachers.
Parents cannot sanctify children by merely sprinkling them with holy water,
although they should bless their children and pray over them. Nor are pious
lectures and moralizing effective. Children will see how close their parents
are to Jesus and how they pray and live the Gospel. Parents certainly need
to protect their children and guard them from evil, as a shepherd guards his
Government has ministers of home, defense, finance, health and so on. They
govern in a spirit of service rather than to assert their power or control.
In a home, these ministries are divided between the Parents when the
children are small.
In a joint family, other adults may also assume some of these
responsibilities, but always respecting the parents as the primary formators
of their children. Grown-up children may also assume some responsibilities
and perform some services.
The father is the head of the house and the mother the heart. The father is
called to be a "watching-over" father who protects those entrusted to his
care, rather than a "watching" father who is there to punish infringements.
The mother is the heart of the home. She creates an atmosphere of love,
warmth, unity and tenderness in the home. Both are important, head and
heart. Children obey and respect their parents and cooperate with them. Read
The second model is that of "mystical communion". Members of a family are
"united in heart and soul" as we are told in Acts 4:32. In this domestic
Church there should be a) respect for each individual b) bearing one
another's burdens c) listening d) caring e) forgiving f) sharing g) serving
h) spending oneself for the others. The freedom they enjoy is not from
without (fear, want, boredom or oppression) so much, as from within
(selfishness, self-interest, jealousy, divisions, anger, grudges) As members
of the Body of Christ, there is mutual trust, forbearance and kindness.
But they are not an inward turning group. The family should welcome the
poor, the deprived, the suffering and share with them, not only material
goods but also spiritual blessings. For they all belong to One Body.
The third model, is to be a herald of the good news. Mission is an
essential part of being Church. OIKOS is a Greek word for the members of
one's household. In the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and letters of St
Paul, we find several examples of people who on hearing the good news first
of all share it with the members of their own household. They have found
the Lord and so very naturally want to tell those they love. OIKOS includes
not only one's immediate family but also the extended family, those who work
in the home and are close neighbors or friends and come over often to
celebrate family festivities and share their sorrows. We do not preach so
much, as share by the change that takes place in our lives, when Jesus
becomes Lord of our lives. Our example, our new priorities, our joy and
peace in the Spirit are infectious. As we reach out to love and serve others
with joy, they want to know the reason for the change in our lives. Share
Jesus simply without moralizing. Ask the Holy Spirit how to pray with them
and share the Good New with them. He will guide you.
The fourth model is that of servant of the poor and the underprivileged. We
want to belong to the Kingdom of love, justice, peace, freedom from
oppression and sin. Our home welcomes others so that they may meet the Lord
in and through us. In turn, we too are evangelized by them. Many are
constantly in search of more comfort, security, pleasure for themselves and
entertain those who can pay them back in the same coin. Jesus tells us
rather to celebrate with and invite those who cannot repay us. But we should
not appear patronizing or superior. Rather let us see Jesus in the disguise
of the less privileged, whom we are sent to in his name. Then we will deem
it a privilege to share with them. Let us not broadcast what we are doing
lest we will have had our reward already. The poor and suffering have many
valuable lessons to teach us. Let us also be agents of reconciliation
between people rather than taking sides and causing further rifts between
opposing or warring people. Be peacemakers like Jesus.
The fifth model is to be a universal sacrament. A sacrament is a visible
sign of Jesus' presence and action right now. Jesus is living in us and
through our sharing, caring, bearing one another's burdens, as spouses,
parents, children, siblings, we make him present to one another everyday in
our lives. We can truly say: "I now no longer live. Christ my Lord lives in
me." We are his hands and voice to each other. Universal means going beyond
the narrow boundaries of family, caste, language or social groups with whom
we normally spend most of our time. Who are those most in need? Who are the
ones who are pastorally abandoned? Who are the sheep without a shepherd? How
can we enter into their world or invite them into ours? Jesus is our model
in the way He reached out especially to sinners, the poor and the people on
the fringe. St Paul was tireless in his search for the abandoned and lost
sheep. We too will find them if we ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct
So in these five ways our home can be a domestic Church that will bear
witness to Jesus. Our children will experience Jesus as their personal
Savior and Lord of all the areas of their lives. In turn, they will continue
to bear witness to Jesus in the world in which we live.
May Mary, the Mother of the Church enable us to open our lives always to the
Holy Spirit and the Word of God so that we may be other Christ's in our
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For Better or for Worse copyright © Fr. Peter deSousa. All rights reserved. Image titled 'Circumcision of the Heart' copyright © Gwen Meharg