The Domestic Church:
A Basic Monastery, a School of Love, and the Wellspring of Vocations
By Joel de Loera
“Within the family ‘which could be called a domestic church, individuals enter upon an ecclesial experience of communion among persons…The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all domestic churches. In virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, every family becomes, in effect, a good for the Church. From this standpoint, reflecting on the interplay between the family and the Church will prove a precious gift for the Church in our time. The Church is good for the family and the family is good for the Church. The experience of love in families is a perennial source of strength of the life of the Church…”
(Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 86-88).
Togetherness is the key that unleashes the wealth of family life
What does family life look like from a Catholic perspective? I like using the image of a monastery or a convent to help me understand the vocation of the domestic church. There are many similarities. Convents and monasteries are communities of faith where monks and nuns, brothers and sisters, live under the guidance and servant leadership of a superior, abbot or abbess. They pray, eat, work, and have leisure time together. They learn to be patient with one another, practice forgiveness and grow in their love for God and each other. In the domestic church, parents are the “superiors” providing leadership and guidance to their children. And just like those monks and nuns, families are encouraged to eat, pray, do chores, have fun, and grow in their knowledge and love for God together. Families in quarantine have an opportunity to relate in some ways to cloistered monks and nuns, since we can’t leave our homes unless it is for essentials. This is a time to rediscover how “togetherness” unleashes the inexhaustible wealth of family life.
Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder for the modern family to enjoy their time together and grow spiritually. There are many obstacles preventing the modern family from realizing its full potential and fulfilling its mission. Some of these obstacles – such as work and caring for a sick family member – are difficult to overcome, while others relate to behaviors and attitudes that need to change. For many families, this time of quarantine can be a time of reflection, conversion, and hope. After all, quarantine and “cuaresma” (lent) come from the same word, “forty,” and forty is a biblical number that invites us to a deeper relationship with God during a period of temptation and trial. Just as Jesus went into the desert for forty days to prepare for his mission through prayer and fasting, families can use this time to pray and fast from behaviors and attitudes that prevent them from growing in love. The key is to begin spending more time together: praying, playing, sharing a meal, talking about vocations, and just holding each other in God’s loving embrace.
The School of Love and the Wellspring of Vocations
The Christian home is a school of love: it is where its students should first experience the palpable love of God the Father, foster an intimate relationship with Jesus, and learn to call upon the Holy Spirit throughout their lives. There are many ways children may experience God’s unconditional love for them, but the main one should be the love their parents embody and radiate through their example. The domestic church is also a school of discernment. Parents have a duty to help their children discern their vocation, not decide for them. Through their example and living witness of their faith, they become their children’s spiritual guides.
Why are we suffering from a lack of priestly vocations? Because families don’t realize that they are the wellspring of vocations. Home is where it all starts. I dare to say that if we all had a stronger family life, we would see a surge in fruitful vocations. When the spiritual and catechetical formation is weak or non-existent at home, children tend to lose their interest in religion as they become older. Rigidness also leads to children abandoning their faith as adults. There must be a balance in how parents present the love and truth of God to our children. This takes time, practice, and a lot of patience.
Intentionality and Self-discipline
Since we got married, we have been intentional about spending quality time together. For us, this has always been crucial to having a thriving marriage. Today, as parents to six beautiful and extremely hyperactive children, it’s much harder to find the time and energy to continue nurturing our marriage and family life. Like all families, we have our ups and downs. One thing that has helped us be more self-disciplined is a family prayer schedule and sacred rituals. We try to stick to a weekly routine that helps us to stay focused on the things that matter the most to us: God and family. We hold each other accountable. Our weekly schedule helps us to stay in rhythm as the days and hours are sanctified through our family’s prayer life, work, and shared faith experiences. We encourage each family to identify certain times and days when everyone comes together to pray and share other experiences.
Since this time of quarantine provides an opportunity for families to live a monastic lifestyle and a family retreat like no other, let us make the most of it! May each member of the domestic church grow in faith, hope, and love for God and one another.
Here is a tentative weekday schedule our family came up with. This schedule is not set in stone, instead, it will serve as a guide for our daily schedule. Please feel free to use it as a guide for your family as well. God bless!
Joel de Loera is the Director of Family Life & Spirituality for the Diocese of San Jose. He is also an Associate Director for the Office of Faith Formation. He is happily married to Nora. They have been blessed with six children (so far). Joel has a Bachelor of Arts in Theological Studies and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology, both from St. Joseph’s College in Maine. Joel has more than ten years of experience working for the Church and has served in different capacities: as Catholic Charities Family Hope Case Manager and Youth Minister for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and as Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Fort Worth. He has traveled across the U.S. and to other countries sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and leading spiritual retreats. He enjoys writing about his faith and family experiences. He is fluent in both English and Spanish. Joel is here to support and serve as a resource for pastors and parishes. He also hopes to encourage and strengthen marriage and family life within the domestic church through his diocesan ministry.