Written by Deacon Roger Carr-Jones Marriage & Family Life Coordinator for the Diocese of Westminster
These are two great titles of work undertaken in recent years by the Marriage and Family Life Team at the Bishop’s Conference. Both resources merit a revisit during this time of lockdown, when couples and families are finding a new way to live, love and make Christ present (links to the resources at the end of this article). Both are the fruits of listening to families and accompanying them by revealing the ways in which our shared family history shapes and forms us.
Until recent days we would often think about going from home to church, but not always thinking about taking ‘Church’ into the home. The image of the family as the ‘domestic church’ is ancient in origin and one which, however imperfect it may be at times, makes Christ present in the midst of the messiness. That image of an imperfect attempt to strive for perfection is beautifully captured in a single phrase from Amoris Laetitia “The Lord's presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes”. So, although ancient in form, the family is a place that is always being re-created, a place where, through the sacrament of marriage, the loving grace of Christ is ever present and a place where we can grow in holiness. Family life is never static and takes twists and turns that surprise us, sometimes hurt us, but where God’s love is ready to felt and experienced.
Have you ever watched historic re-enactments, or programmes that have a modern-day family experiencing what it was like to live in, say, Edwardian times? These are fun to watch, but at a deeper level impossible to authentically participate in. Much effort is made by the re-enactors to ensure that what we see is as authentic as possible, with appropriate attention given to the dress, food and behaviours of a particular moment in time. The problem is that we unconsciously bring to these events the insights, prejudices and views of the time that we live in. This is a useful reminder that the past, no matter how glorious it might seem, is something that we can only appreciate from a distance. We cannot possibly replicate the inner life of people, who lived in a time that is different to our own, even those who share our faith.
Each age has had its own challenges and problems to address. To think otherwise is to view the past through rosy coloured glasses, a habit that we can fall into but one that rarely resolves the needs of today. Of course, we could shut the front door and pretend, but would it be a real experience? Would it not seem strange to be working in 2020 and then once through the front door to exist in say, 1950, or 1970? Our real experience of life, family and the world is today and that should always be the starting point for any ministry in the Church that seeks to support, enrich and accompany families as they create their unique model of the domestic church. The best resources that are available are designed to accompany families in the ‘here and now’, rather trying to recreate attitudes, feelings and insights of a distant past that families simply cannot make real today.
Our family history is formed and shaped around our past history, our family of origin, and then the new narrative that a couple and their family begin to create on a daily basis. Within this mix of the family is the deep treasure of God’s love, a love that is constantly being recreated and reenergizing our families when we open our hearts to allowing God’s grace to guide us. In this time of pandemic when we have a new set of challenges to face may all of us through our prayers and support walk in harmony with the domestic church as they guide and support the next generation to grow in faith and love of God.
As we remain within the confines our homes, why not take time to share those memories of family, those moments of faith that have formed us, and deepen, through a lived experience, our appreciation of the evangelising role and mission of the Christian family? Stay safe, stay in contact and stay on course in creating your own unique reflection of the domestic church with Christ at its heart.