The world is in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis. Around the world, people are staying at home, avoiding public gatherings and practicing “social distancing” to mitigate the effects of the novel coronavirus. Most schools are closed and many employees now work from their homes. This imposed quarantine presents many challenges: psychological, financial and spiritual. With every challenge, there are new opportunities. These stay-in-place measures give us Catholics the opportunity to renew our families and homes as domestic churches.
The Second Vatican Council emphasized that dignity of the Christian family. In Lumen Gentium (11), the Council taught that holiness is found in both the family home as well as in the monastery. The family, according to the council, is a “domestic church... [where] parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith.” The home is where children first learn about God by the love and example of their parents. Parents have the God-given obligation and right to educate and form their children in the ways of God. The mother and father are fundamental and irreplaceable in the education of children. Parishes, schools and clergy assist the parents in their vocation of raising and educating children.
This quarantine provides many opportunities for families. The cancellation of extracurricular activities and sports gives families the opportunity to be physically present together as a family free from ordinary distractions.
The cancellation of public liturgies, painful as it is, is a time for families to live out more deeply their vocations as a domestic church. The Christian home should be a microcosm of the entire Church. The liturgical and sacramental life of the parish community is reflected in the family.
Just as every parish has a pastor to shepherd the flock, every home has a priest. Fundamentally, a priest is a man who represents God, leads public worship and offers sacrifices to God. The Christian husband is a priest within his own home. The husband reflects God the Father’s love for humanity by his life of service to his family. Just as God forgives, heals and sustains us, a Christian father is called to be the protector and moral leader within his own household. Fathers can exercise their priestly role within the household in the following ways:
- By praying with and for his wife and children.
- By ensuring that the family attends Mass and that Sunday is a day of rest and worship.
- By lovingly and patiently guiding children toward a life of virtue.
Prayer is the glue that holds the family together. Pray is as essential to family life as food is to the body. If you have neglected communal family prayer, begin by being faithful in small acts of devotion such as saying grace before meals, praying before bedtime, or beginning the day with a Morning Offering. This small seeds will produce great spiritual fruit.
Every parish has an altar. The altar is a place of sacrifice. By re-presenting Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross, God brings reconciliation to those who are estranged from God. Just as the Church achieves communion by gathering around the table of the Lord every Sunday, the family dinner table can be a place of dialogue, sharing and forgiveness. Eating together as a family has many benefits. According to the American College of Pediatricians, children who regularly dinners with their families enjoy the following benefits:
- Better nutrition
- Higher academic performance
- Less screen time
- Decrease use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs
- Less likely to engage in sexual behavior
- Less likely to experience mental health challenges (such as depression and anxiety)
Eating together is beneficial because it brings families together. The data show that eating together as family results in healthier children and more connected parents. This time of quarantine is a chance for families to once again share a family meal together.
The coronavirus pandemic is life-altering. Families can use this time of quarantine to cultivate habits of prayer and togetherness so that the “domestic church” can once again flourish. God gives us so many opportunities in the midst of this crisis. While families may be away from their priests and altars in church, they can take this seize this opportunity to make their homes and families a domestic church.
Father Justin A. Freeman, a Mercedarian priest, writes from Saint Petersburg, Florida.