FEELING AT HOME IN CHURCH
by Dermott J Mullan (email@example.com)
Summary: what happens in a Catholic home should be connected in some way with what happens in Church.
In the years since Vatican II, the term “domestic Church” has become a popular phrase to use to describe life in a Catholic family. The term implies that there is (or should be) some sort of connection between what happens at home and what happens in Church.
How might such a connection
operate? I remember well how it operated when I was growing up in
In my home town, the Catholic Church sits on a prominent spot in town. The Church was constructed around the year 1900, when my grandfather and other men of the parish formed a committee to replace an older structure. The Church is an imposing building, with two tall steeples which are visible from the countryside for miles around.
The Church is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Upon entering the Church, the feature that immediately catches one’s eye is a huge stained glass window which occupies most of the west wall behind the high altar. The centerpiece of this window shows the event that gives the Church its name: Jesus revealing His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary.
that I do not fully understand, devotion to the Sacred Heart is not mentioned
today as much as it was a few decades ago.
The devotion can be traced to a convent in
Into this climate, Christ Himself stepped personally in order to impart a dramatic message. The person He chose to receive His message was a nun, Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque, who lived in an enclosed convent in a remote village called Paray-le-Monial. Christ had been preparing Margaret Mary ever since she was young for her mission. She had fallen in love with Christ from her earliest years, as much a child prodigy as regards the things of God as Mozart would later be in the area of music.
And it was during what started as a day like any other in her convent that Our Lord chose to appear to Margaret Mary, and reveal to her His Sacred Heart. The words He used to her on this occasion were striking for their passionate tone: “Behold this Heart that has loved men so much… and yet I receive from the greater number nothing but ingratitude… and coldness in the Sacrament of my love”. It was a vivid description of the coldness which was seeping into the hearts of French Catholics in that day and age.
Our Lord asked Margaret Mary if she would be willing to make up to Him for this coldness of her compatriots. As a specific way of achieving this, He asked for a new feast-day in the Church, and He asked her personally to spend more time visiting Him in the Blessed Sacrament. So from that time on, Margaret Mary spent an hour in the chapel every Thursday evening. Why Thursday? Because it was on a Thursday, after working the great miracle of the Eucharist, that Jesus had chided his apostles with the words: “Could you not stay awake with me for even one hour?” (Matt. 26, 40).
The revelation of the Sacred Heart was too important to remain locked up inside a cloistered convent. Margaret Mary was instructed to spread the message of the devotion to the Church. To those who practiced the devotion, Christ promised great spiritual riches.
And here is where some direct and specific effects on family life enter the picture. Among the promises were the following amazing items: (i) I will establish peace in their homes; (ii) I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart shall be exposed and honored; (iii) I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life; (iv) I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
It is hard to imagine anything more specifically tailored to the needs of family life. Peace, blessing, the grace of state, and comfort are among the most important things that parents would wish for themselves and their children. Although I was at first amazed by these promises, I suppose I should have known better. It should not have surprised me that Jesus would take such a personal interest in family life: after all, He himself personally spent 90 percent of His earthly life in the quietness of a family. And He considered family life such a primary location for the operation of His saving power that, when the time came for Him to start public ministry, He chose a wedding ceremony as the place for His first miracle.
story of how devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus spread in the course of the
1700’s and 1800’s is a wonderful page in the history of the western
Church. Over the course of two or three
centuries, this devotion expanded to become one of the most distinctive
features of Latin-rite Catholicism. It helped to revitalize Catholics whose
faith had grown cold, and not only in
Two of my daughters visited that Church last month. Regrettably, I could not go with them, but they brought me back some beautiful photographs. The exterior of the Church looks much better than it used to thanks to some much-needed sand-blasting. But in the interior, the focus of attention remains just as it was when I was growing up in the 1950’s: the sunlight streaming through the stained glass window with the brilliant image of the Sacred Heart.
Because of the promises that Our Lord had made about family life, my parents decided at a certain point in time to have our family dedicated to the Sacred Heart. In order to do this, they obtained a large picture of the Sacred Heart, and had it framed and mounted in a place of honor in our living room. On the picture, there was space for writing in the names of the family members (my parents plus their four children), the date on which the family was dedicated (January 9, 1952), and the name of the priest who performed the ceremony (Father O’Doherty).
As I grew up, that picture of the Sacred Heart occupied such a prominent position that there was no way to overlook it while sitting in, or walking through, the living room. My parents would gather us around the picture in the evening and kneel down for family prayers.
As a result of my parents’ actions, I witnessed a direct and obvious connection between prayer life in our home and prayer life in the Church: both occurred in the presence of a prominent image of the Sacred Heart. In the best sense of the word, the family where I grew up was a domestic Church, even though that phrase was not in widespread use in those days.
of the continual visibility of the Sacred Heart in our living room and in the
When teenage years arrived, and I began to think about the big questions of life (e.g. what does it mean to love and to be loved by another person?), the image of Christ was already close at hand with a powerful and utterly convincing message: “I already love you personally”. Many years later, I learned to appreciate the fact that Christ’s love has a communal aspect as well: in the powerful phrase of Cardinal de Lubac, “Christ loves me individually but not separately”.
And when I finally learned that message, the Catholic Church was at hand to provide me with the community where I could become an active member of God’s family.
teaching has also reminded me of another way in which the family in which I
grew up in
I always suspected that it was a good thing to pray the Rosary as a family (“the family that prays together stays together”), but I never realized how much the Church values the practice until I read about the indulgences attached to the Rosary. In the revised teaching on indulgences issued by Pope Paul VI in 1969, there is a statement to the effect that a plenary indulgence is granted if the Rosary is recited in a Church. Not too surprising, perhaps, in view of the specialness of God’s house. But the next phrase fairly caught my attention: “A plenary indulgence is also granted if the Rosary is recited IN A FAMILY GROUP”!
This is a truly stunning teaching. It provides what I regard as the strongest indication that the title “domestic Church” is not mere window dressing: when family members honor the Blessed Mother by saying the Rosary together, the family reaps the same benefit as if they were all in Church praying together.
that I have a family of my own, I find that I am still reaping the benefits of
those Sacred Heart blessings which were earned by my parents. For a time, we
lived close to a hospital called
It’s good to feel at home in Church.