Corpus Christi Blog

The Domestic Church

10-17-2021Weekly ReflectionJen Arnold, M.A. in Theology and Catechetics

While the pro-life movement typically focuses on the physical life of the human body, as Catholics, our understanding of life continues on to our eternal life and the desire for it to be in heaven with the triune God. However, getting to heaven is not something to be left to chance or an over-reliance on God’s abundant mercy. Rather, we must be intentional about how we live our lives as Christians -- moving toward virtue and away from sin. Similarly, we must be intentional with how we raise our children in the Faith so that we will help prepare them for their own eternal life. Children hold a very special place in the heart of the Church and, as a pro-life religion, we must raise them up with the care their souls deserve.

The Church has designated the family as the Ecclesia domestica, or the domestic church (CCC #1656). It is within the family structure that children learn about and absorb particular philosophies, values, virtues, vices, and conduct. In other words, if you want the children in your family to obtain eternal life in heaven, you must instruct them how to achieve that through intentional words and actions. While the mother and father of a child ought to be the primary educators of the Faith for their children, the Catechism is quick to point out that all members of the family participate in the education of the children “by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity” (CCC #1657). This means, that if you have grandchildren or nieces and nephews, you also have the responsibility of providing a sound Christian example for them to emulate.

It is unfortunately common today for families to think that going to Mass on Sundays, or perhaps dropping them off at religious education classes once a week, is enough for a child to be fully formed in the Faith. The truth is that the family should be the primary place of the catechesis of children. In fact, “Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith” (CCC #2226). In other words, religious education classes and good homilies are supplementary and secondary to what the family teaches children about the Faith. As wonderful as our catechists and priests are, they cannot replace the family as the primary bedrock in the education of our children. “The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute” (CCC #2221).

The word intentional is very important when dealing with matters of the Faith. Our children will not learn Church teaching or remain Catholic throughout their lives by mere accident or because their parents took them to Mass on Sundays. The world we live in these days has many, many forces working against our efforts to help our children on the path to holiness and salvation. It is all too common for these forces to prevail against them. You very likely have members of your own family who have fallen away from the Church or have succumbed to the world in other various ways. While our efforts can never promise 100% success with any particular soul, we must be able to look at God and tell Him that we did everything we could for our children, especially with regard to the care of their spiritual health.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to solid family catechesis is a lack of confidence or knowledge of the Faith and Church teaching on the part of the adults within the family unit. While this is understandable, it is certainly not insurmountable. The one telling us we are unqualified to teach our children is the father of lies who does not want them to obtain salvation. It is God, though, who thinks you are so abundantly qualified that He entrusted these particular souls to your care, or placed them into your extended family, because you are exactly the right person for the job. If God has confidence in your ability to raise up these souls in holiness, then you have nothing to fear and everything to gain.

Our Church does not abandon us in our efforts because it is also her overall goal to save as many souls as possible. To that end, she provides us with an abundance of resources to help us. First and foremost, we have the Catechism which contains the official Church teaching on any topic. Similarly, the Vatican website houses every document, papal homily, and official statement to come out of the Catholic Church. Any question can be easily answered by way of a quick search. Just be certain to use sound Catholic sources.

However, it is not just textbook information that helps our children’s developing faith. We must appeal to the innate desire for truth, beauty, and goodness that exists in each of them. Therefore, we can influence them through religious art, music, and demonstrations of virtuous behavior. There are countless ways we can facilitate encounters between the children in our lives and Jesus. We just have to be creative and intentional. In fact, by doing so, we not only bring our children to Jesus, but we also bring ourselves closer to Him. We can’t just leave Jesus at church as we go about the week in the world.  We must bring Him into all we do for the sake of the entire family.

Finally, we cannot talk about the proper education of children in the Faith without highlighting the importance of men, in particular, in the teaching process. As a society, we have separated men from their role in faith formation, mistakenly believing it should be left to the mothers and grandmothers. The reality is, that children who have strong men of faith in their lives are much more likely to have a strong faith-life themselves. In 2015, our very own Bishop Olmsted released an apostolic exhortation called Into the Breach. In this document, he calls Christian men to arms in the spiritual battle for souls and he asks them to lead their families in this battle. When the men are the spiritual leaders of their families, the impact it has on the children is astounding. I invite all men to read this short document. Grandfathers and uncles, this means you as well!

If your children have left the Faith, do not despair. Remember that St. Monica prayed for 30 years for the conversion of her son, Augustine, ultimately to have him become a great saint and doctor of the Church. I also recently read a tweet from a priest who had the privilege of baptizing a 109 year old woman. No matter what the situation, you can never underestimate your influence, both in action and in prayer. God will work through you if you continue to do your part.