(The Catholic Messenger is featuring columns by Greg Popcak, PhD, that provide families of any shape or size with insights on strengthening relationships and faith in the home. This is the fourth in the series.)
In these columns, I’ve been describing the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, a model of family spirituality that helps Catholic families “bring Jesus home” and makes the faith the source of the warmth in our homes.
Liturgy is an act of worship God uses to heal the damage sin does to our relationships with him and others. The Liturgy of the Eucharist facilitates our union with God and makes communion with others possible. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life enables us to take this eucharistic grace home and heal the damage sin tries to do to our households.
The Liturgy of Domestic Church life has three “rites,” each of which represents a different way God wants to heal our families and strengthen our relationships with him and each other.
The Rite of Christian Relationships helps families leave behind the selfish and sometimes sinful ways we treat each other and learn how to care for each other with the love of Christ. By living out Christ’s sacrificial love, this rite helps us practice the priestly mission of our baptism.
The Rite of Family Rituals encourages families to take a little time to work, play, talk and pray together every day. When a Christian family has strong family rituals, they practice the prophetic mission of baptism by modeling Christian attitudes toward work, leisure, relationships and faith.
Finally, the Rite of Reaching Out lets God use your family to bless others. This rite helps families practice the royal mission of baptism. Jesus, the King of Kings, humbled himself and served us. To reign with Christ is to serve with Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, No. 36). We share in Jesus’ royal dignity by using our gifts to make other’s lives easier and more pleasant.
When it comes to serving others, we automatically think of things we can do in our parish or community but, even without leaving your house, your family can do things that are a blessing to others.
We begin the practice of the Rite of Reaching Out by serving one another at home generously and cheerfully. Did you ever notice how much easier it can be to be kind to strangers than to the members of our own households? The Rite of Reaching Out helps families remember that authentic Christian service must begin with serving your closest neighbor — your family. Ask yourself:
• Do you respond promptly, generously and consistently to each other’s needs?
• Do you serve each other cheerfully (instead of grudgingly)?
• Do you see the chores and tasks you do around the house as ways to say, “I love you!” to your family, and “Thank you for this blessing!” to God? Or do you think of these things as “just stuff that has to get done so you can get to the other more fun/more important stuff.”
The more we practice loving, generous, cheerful service at home, the more the service we give to people outside our homes will be genuine (instead of self-aggrandizing) and properly ordered (instead of competing with our domestic-church life).
The second way to practice the Rite of Reaching Out is by thinking about others while being a family at home. This practice helps us remember that everything we have been given by God — our food, clothing, furniture, toys — doesn’t belong to us. They belong to God. The Church teaches that Christians are stewards — not absolute owners — of the things God has given us. We are to care for the things we have so that when we finish using them we can pass them along in good condition to others who may need them.
Thinking about others while being a family at home means regularly asking if you can prepare a little extra food for a sick or disabled neighbor or if, together as a family, you can go through the gently used toys, clothes and other things you no longer need and pass them along to your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Other simple, practical ways your family can practice the Rite of Reaching Out include inviting people to your home for fun and godly fellowship, encouraging each other to be intentionally thoughtful and kind to the people you encounter throughout your day and, of course, serving together as a family in your parish and community. All of these things are simple ways family life, itself, becomes a ministry.
God wants to bless others through you and through your family. By practicing the Rite of Reaching Out, your family life can become the powerful ministry of the Church that it is meant to be.
(Popcak is the executive director of the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life, PeytonFamilyInstitute.org)