Pope Francis has said, “Families are the domestic church, where Jesus grows.” The idea of the domestic church or ecclesiola — “little church” — the church of the home, dates back to the early Church, where Christians made their own homes sanctioned places to grow in holiness and discipleship. Still today, Catholic families make their homes “churches in miniature,” imitating the actions of the larger Church in family life.
“It is very important for me as the head of the family to make my home a domestic church, because parents and kids ought to be surrounded with a holy atmosphere, especially in today’s culture, with sinful activity so easily accessible,” explained Eric Mattson, a firefighter and practicing Catholic from Huntington Beach, Calif., who has one daughter.
Mattson initiates holy activities in his family to foster that holy atmosphere. “This includes daily Mass, the Rosary, prayer before meals, reading religious books and confession,” he noted.
Pope Paul VI noted in Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), “There should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church.” Domestic churches today mirror the actions and life of the entire Church in a variety of ways — through evangelization, prayer, participation in the sacraments, tithing, the use of sacramentals and the adornment of the home.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I observed a bit of the ‘big Church’ inside little domestic churches,” author, EWTN host and new grandmother Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle reminisced. “My Polish grandmother’s home was adorned with sacred Catholic items. From pictures of the saints and images of her favorite — Polish Pope John Paul II — to rosary beads and crucifixes, my grandmother’s faith was easily perceived in her home. My mother followed in her mother’s footsteps, and I grew up with [the Catholic faith] inconspicuously woven into my life.”
O’Boyle continued to build upon the foundation that her grandmother and mother gave her in her own family, adorning her home with Catholic art and sacramentals, which for her serve as “holy reminders that help uplift one’s spirit and heart to God” in the midst of busy family life. “Placing visible signs of our faith throughout our Catholic homes will transform walls, brick and mortar into a beautiful domestic church,” she explained.
Furthermore, O’Boyle has noticed that the church of the home is a powerful place to evangelize others. “The sacred items and sacramentals that we are accustomed to in our home can spark a conversation about the faith with a visitor or even a complete stranger. A deliveryman ended up staying a short while because we became engrossed in a conversation about God. It all unfolded after he observed religious art in the foyer of my home. After that, he left with a big smile on his face and said, ‘Wow! This was really meant to be … I have never had this route before!’”
Lisa Hendey, author and founder of CatholicMom.com, treasures her family’s participation in the evangelization mission of the Church and the practice of the sacraments. Having her family, as a unit, live out their call to be a domestic church is a particular gift to her, since it wasn’t always this way in their home.
“I often feel that it is easier to evangelize out in the world than it is to share our love of our faith and our God with those closest to us. For many years, I lived this challenge.” Hendey described how spiritual life and practices morphed over time in their domestic church. “We were married for 17 years before Greg came into full communion with the Church through RCIA. I prayed for many years for Greg to be joined with us at the Eucharistic table. It wasn’t until I began to more fully evangelize myself that I was able to let his journey toward Christ be his own process,” she shared. “When I was able to let my stress about Greg and his faith life be firmly in God’s hands, and became more focused on my own spiritual journey, there was not only great peace, but also a turning of hearts in our family situation.” The sacramental life, which at one time was only a partial family experience, by God’s grace, became something they could all share. Hendey recalled, “Greg was confirmed near the time of our son Adam’s first holy Communion. Now, more than 10 years after his conversion to Catholicism, I still feel tremendous joy every time I witness my husband and sons receiving the Eucharist.”
Hendey also reflected on how God calls men and women to love him through serving the domestic church. “The home and the family are indeed the ‘first school of Christian life.’ We instruct (and are often actually instructed by) our children and spouses in matters of faith and love,” she elaborated. “The work and service we give in our homes is a beautiful mission field.”
St. John Paul II said, “Future evangelization depends largely on the domestic church.” The small, intentional ways that men and women inculcate faith within the home have both immediate and long-term effects on their families and on the entire Church. Mattson recalled his young daughter’s first attempt to make the Sign of the Cross at their parish one Sunday after dipping her finger into the holy-water font. “Although her attempt wasn’t perfect, she learned what to do because of family prayer at home.” Moments like this help strengthen Mattson in his resolve to keep leading his domestic church.
“Children grow up so quickly,” O’Boyle reminded. “Since time will not stand still for us, I cannot recommend highly enough that all parents wholeheartedly endeavor to create a warm and holy domestic church, where your children and grandchildren will thrive and grow in the faith.”
writes from Florida.