Feast of the Holy Family
In his encyclical on the family, Familiaris Consortio, Saint Pope John Paul II described the family as the domestic church. It is an apt comparison and reflects the sacred character of marriage and the family. As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, we look to Joseph and Mary as a model for all marriages and families. Tradition tells us that Joseph and Mary played a little game, where each tried to outdo the other in acts of love and service.
The domestic church is a miniature of the universal church. Just as the Pope is head of the universal church, and the bishop is head of the diocese, so husbands are pastors of the domestic church. However, pastoring the domestic church is not the responsibility of the husband alone. Since husband and wife are one flesh, both share in this privilege and responsibility, each according to their own roles and abilities.
What does it mean to pastor the domestic church?
We can gain some appreciation of the character of domestic pastors by examining four specific pastoral responsibilities. Reflecting on these principles provides an opportunity to evaluate your own role, responsibility, and ministry as domestic pastors.
First, pastors are charged with the care of souls in their parish. The care of souls is a priestly responsibility to teach, sanctify, and govern the people of God. The pastor is not only charged with the care of parishioners, he is held accountable for their salvation. Parents share this responsibility in the domestic church.
In the family they fulfill their roles as priest, prophet, and king. Priests who serve as models of holiness, prophets who teach the Word of God, and kings who guide the family; not in power, but in holiness, compassion. and righteousness. We need look no further than St Joseph to find all these qualities. He was given the responsibility to care for souls: to care for Mary, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, the Son of God. And Joseph, overwhelmed and humbled by this responsibility, continually relied on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As domestic pastors, a deep and abiding relationship with the Holy Spirit is essential for a healthy and holy family.
Second, pastors are obliged to ensure that the Word of God is proclaimed to the parish. In Biblical times a child was under his mother's care until the age of two. From that point forward it was the father's responsibility to educate his child. The child learned the Torah on the lap of his father. He learned to pray in his father's arms.
Educating their children is a parental responsibility that cannot be delegated. Husband's and wives are called to be visible examples of prayer and love, and models of forgiveness and humility. Children learn how to be family, how to choose a mate, and what it means to be a husband or wife from the example of their parents. Domestic pastors need to bring, and to be, the word of God for their families.
Third, pastors are obliged to make the sacraments available to those who are properly disposed to receive them. Dispensing the sacraments may seem like a privilege of the clergy alone. However, parents, as pastors of the domestic church, share in this sacramental role.
Parents bring their children to be baptized. They prepare their children for Confirmation. They teach their children to confess their sins. They bring their children to Mass to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
Parents that fail to seek the sacraments deny those sacraments to their children. A failure to confess our own sins denies absolution to our children. A failure to participate in religious education denies our children knowledge of the faith. A failure to join into the church community, denies our children the opportunity to fully participate in the Body of Christ.
Our children keenly observe our behavior, and model their lives on what they see. In family life, our children develop a model of marriage. They develop their own model of forgiveness, based on how we treat others and on how willing we are to forgive. In ways we may not even realize, we constantly teach our children. As domestic pastors we must always be keenly aware of the example we set.
Finally, pastors must ensure the Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly. The Eucharist is the source and summit of all spiritual good. In the Eucharist we are nourished, healed, and forgiven. Similarly, the Eucharist must be the center of our homes, and the central focus of our family life. Domestic pastors are called to establish a family life centered in love, sacrifice, forgiveness, service, and thanksgiving.
While nailed to the cross, Our Lord said, “I thirst.” 1 Parents must convey that thirst to their children, that holy thirst to be in their father's house, that thirst to be about their father's business, that thirst to live in the temple of His love. Everyone; single, married, religious, and clerics, participates in this sacramental role to pastor the domestic church. We are pastors not through authority, but through love; not in power, but in humility; not in a battle of the sexes, but in a divine and complementary union. And in this divine and complementary union we are grafted to the fruitful vine that is Christ, and through Him we nourish our true vocations, sanctify our marriages, and bless our homes.
Jesus said, “Let love be sincere ... hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.”2 And, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you...”3 This is the true meaning of being Christians, of being faithful disciples, and of being pastors of the domestic church. Hopefully, we will meditate on these principles, sincerely examine our roles, and seek to become better husbands, better wives, better families, and fulfill our responsibilities as pastors of the domestic church.
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