Our homes as domestic churches - Catholic Schools Parents Australia

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For the past three weeks we have been reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans in our weekday readings. Today is the final reading and concludes this rather long but very significant letter.

Our reading today gives us a little insight into the world of the first Christians. What stands out is the deeply personal aspect of the relationships Paul has with a number of Christians living in Rome, even though he has not visited Rome at this point. He adds little personal references to many of the names he mentions.

You can notice that his scribe, Tertius, adds in his own comments. And he adds greetings from others.

It witnesses to the strong bonds of fellowship that clearly existed among the first Christians. One can understand this as they were still a rather insignificant movement in the vast Roman Empire. However, it also gives testimony to the fact that as Christians we have special bonds that bind us to one another.

You are meeting this weekend with a special bond that unites you – you represent parents of children attending our Catholic schools. You are committed to support the Church’s mission in Catholic schools and be a voice for parents to the school system which currently educates a massive 740,000 children.

You are aware that the Church, which has made such an enormous effort to provide Catholic education, has taught consistently that parents are the first educators of their children. At every baptism this is said to the parents. Our schools simply seek to augment and not replace this primary responsibility.

As parents you are deeply conscious of this responsibility. It is the greatest challenge for your life – the raising of your children. Daunting as it is, you also have a keen sense of this mission and see it as a privilege. It is a task embraced with love and carried out often at great personal sacrifice. Your children are the joy of your life.

The other week we had our own State Conference of Catholic parents. I was invited to address the conference and spoke about the family as the domestic Church. At this moment in history I believe this notion of the family is worth considering afresh.

We all know that at this time Catholic marriage and family life is not easy. Many pressures and challenges confront married couples and families. 

As you are no doubt aware the recent Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome was on the theme of the family. In particular the Synod is looking at ways in which the Church can better assist the married couples and families to more fully live their vocation in the modern world.

One way in which the Church has described the family is “domestic church”. It is a descriptor worthy of reflection.

The presentation of the family as the “domestic church” opens up the question of the quality of Catholic life in the home. Catholic faith should become the defining quality of the life of the family. Catholic life is not just a private, personal matter. It is not limited to attendance at Mass and participation in Catholic activities. The notion of domestic church reminds us that the first place in which the faith is lived is the home.

In the Catholic Catechism we are reminded that in the "domestic church" of the family, parents are “the first heralds of faith” (LG #11, see CCC #2223). The Catechism comments that the home is the first school of the Christian life where all learn love, repeated forgiveness, and prayerful worship. (see CCC 1655-57)

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Famillaris Consortio, Pope St John Paul II emphasised the importance of the family both to the vitality of the Church and the good of society. He stated: “The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children, of relatives… [The family’s] inner principle is love. Without love the family cannot live, grow and perfect itself… without love man remains incomprehensible to himself, his life is senseless if love is not revealed in him”. (FC #18)

It is through the family that each of us learns of love. To the extent that the family - the “school of love” as John Paul II also called it - is dysfunctional, so too will be the natural means by which we come experience and understand love. Without that environment in which we experience and practice love, we can never truly understand or be ourselves. Whatever undermines the family therefore, hurts its members and indeed, undermines our whole society.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this when it says, “From the beginning, the Church was formed from believers "and their whole household." New believers wanted their family to be saved (Acts 18:8). In our modern world (often hostile to religion), Christian families are extremely important centers of living faith.

As you reflect on your roles as parents and consider how you can more effectively engage with our Catholic schools, it is worthy of reflection to consider how we can encourage Catholic parents to help form their homes as domestic churches.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, November 6, 2015