A national campaign of the Knights of Columbus.
Based on a talk I gave at the Gallia County, Ohio Family Fest October 22, 2020 the feast of St. Pope John Paul the Great. This article is in observance of the recent Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday after Christmas.
According to the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium) of the documents of the Vatican Council II (1962-65), “The family is, so to speak, the domestic Church.” The early Christians called the family the Ecclesia Domestica and originally had house churches. When the father would convert, the entire household including slaves would also convert. The home became an island of Christian life in an unbelieving world. Isn’t that often true today?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1655-1666) emphasizes the concept of Domestic Church and draws from Lumen Gentium of the Vatican II Council: “It is in the bosom of the family that parents, by word and example, are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children.” The most basic faith filled unit in society is the family. That makes your home a domestic church!
In a speech at a race track near New York City in 1995 St. Pope John Paul II advocated that “Catholic parents must learn to form their family as a ‘domestic church’” a church in the home as it were, where God is honored, his law is respected, prayer is a normal event, virtue is transmitted by word and example, and everyone shares the hopes, the problems, and sufferings of everyone else. All this is not to advocate a return to some outdated style of living: It is to return to the roots of human development and human happiness!” That’s a great definition! In other words Jesus Christ is the center of the home and together all grow in virtue. The home should be a school of virtue. The Holy Family must be held up as a model with bible stories about them.
A little back yard shrine of the Holy Family, the patron and model of the Domestic Church.
Usually what stands out in a true domestic church? When you visit somebody’s home, you can easily tell whether it is a domestic church or not.
· You can’t miss a holy picture here and there on the walls.
· You might spot a Bible if it’s well used.
· The children will have books with Bible stories or stories of the saints.
· You’d probably sense warmth and hospitality. Some of the members have the gift of being able to communicate love.
· There might be a mini-shrine in front of the house or in the back consisting of a statue of St. Francis or Mary surrounded by flowers. We have a statue of Mary in the back and a cross in front. The photo above gives an example.
It’s deeper than all that, but it’s a great start. I’ve gone into homes and saw no indication whatsoever that the family is Christian because the faith wasn’t there. The whole atmosphere was secular………what you would expect in a pagan or atheistic home. When I visited a home of a Hindu family, there were images or statues of some of their gods.
You can observe contrasts in a First Holy Communion class. With some of the kids, the teacher has to start out at zero. They know nothing about the faith. It’s the opposite with kids who are brought up in a domestic church.
Is your home a domestic church as advocated by St. Pope John Paul II or simply a boarding house where the family doesn’t even have meals together? They just come home to eat and sleep. One meal all together each day should be a must. A true domestic church has a certain atmosphere, a deeper presence of the Lord. A solid domestic church has a Catholic culture which most homes have lost or never had in the first place. This loss of Catholic culture is the main cause of our great shortage of religious vocations and an epidemic of fallen away Catholics within a crisis of faith. All of these problems are common all over the country.
A Catholic culture pervades the family of a strong domestic church. Sunday Mass is part of what the family does every week, including babies, who add to the Mass in a beautiful way. A little crying adds atmosphere, especially some cooing. My son John-Paul as a baby over 30 years ago cried and cried during the homily; after the Mass I apologized to the priest and he replied: “he could probably give a better homily than I can”.
Every family member assists at Mass every Sunday (no excuses, not negotiable) no matter where they are, thus creating a lifelong habit. If you’re in the boonies somewhere, www.masstimes.org will give a list of Catholic churches, their locations, and Mass times within a radius of 30 miles. The family often goes to Adoration and devotions such as the Stations of the Cross. If the family sometimes misses Sunday Mass or is laid back about the Church, you can bet your bottom dollar that the kids will drift away as adults.
Family life revolves around the parish from Baptism to Matrimony to the funeral Mass……the local priest hatches the kids in Baptism, matches the children in Matrimony, and dispatches them in the funeral Mass……hatch, match, and dispatch. Family members belong to the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s Club, and the parish youth group (YACHT Club). They participate in the Vacation Bible School, Sunday breakfasts, voluntary work, Mass, devotions, regular confession, etc. Christ is the center of the family and its members strive to become a holy family with the crucial help of the parish.
At family meals nobody eats until grace is said. The faith and questions of virtue or morality may be discussed at the dinner table; families are more solid when they have at least one meal a day together. The family often watches EWTN, the Catholic television channel…….papal events, documentaries, talk shows, kids programs, movies, etc. Evening prayer together, perhaps family Rosary, is standard, at least while the kids are still small. “The family that prays together, stays together” as advocated by the Venerable Fr. Patrick Peyton.
A husband and a wife become one and a product of their holy union, self-giving, and deep love for each other is children (Theology of the Body) to form a family and a domestic church.
Building Your Domestic Church
No home is perfect. But we can continually strive to make our homes domestic churches. The question is how do we do it?
Bedtime stories that promote virtue and others based upon the Bible and the saints are a must and the kids read them for fun. Our own parish library has many such books for children which you can borrow by simply signing them out. Catholic books, magazines, and newspapers are easily obtained for the home; some are available free in the back of our church. Musts in the family library are a Bible and the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).
Even family vacations can bring in the faith. The family can visit a shrine on the way to the beach or have a week long pray and play family retreat at Catholic Familyland in Bloomingdale above Steubenville (see www.afc.org). A couple of families from our parish have gone and rave about how great it is for family fun and spiritual growth for all. The kids of our family practically grew up at Familyland. Read about our experience in the article, "Catholic Familyland: Play and Pray; Grow in Every Way as a Family" at http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com/2017/05/187-catholic-familyland-play-and-pray.html
Live the Liturgical Year as part of the family calendar……Advent (preparing for Christ’s coming), Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent (prayer, penance, & alms-giving), the Easter-tide, Pentecost. These are like seasons. In addition, observe each saint’s feast day by at least briefly discussing his or her life and more prominent virtues and accomplishments. Rounding up the kids to attend daily Mass on feast days of Mary and major saints would be most appropriate even though they usually are not holy days of obligation. Rounding up the kids to attend daily Mass on feast days of Mary and major saints would be very appropriate even though they are not holy days of obligation.
Halloween really means hallowed eve, the day before All Saints Day…….not goblins, ghosts, witches, etc. So instead of dressing up in a spooky costume, why not have the kids dress up as a saint of their choice and talk about him or her at a party? Many families and parishes do just that.
In Poland and other Catholic countries, they don’t celebrate the person’s birthday but rather the friend or family member’s “Name Day”. That is the feast day of the saint who that person was named after at Baptism. There could be a little family party or ice cream to celebrate and talk about the life of that saint. Daily Mass for that person’s intention would make the Name Day even more special.
When our four kids were small they came up with the idea of having a Christmas skit. Our oldest wrote the script and the youngest at age 2 played Baby Jesus. They improvised props and used bed sheets or blankets for robes. It was fun with a lot of giggles. They enjoy talking about it 25 years later.
The gifts we gave were often in tune with the liturgical year.......perhaps a bible story book, a book about a saint, a rosary, picture or other sacramental, something educational, or toy that enhances mental or physical development.
A little domestic chapel in a corner of the house for spiritual reading and prayer.
A Tiny Chapel. My daughter and son-in-law have a small room (it can be a corner) which they’ve turned into a prayer room or mini-chapel with icons for prayer, spiritual reading, etc. We have a little altar with a picture and a candle in our living room.
The most effective teaching is the example of parents conscientiously living the faith. On the other hand the example of parents neglecting their faith does immense harm to the children, perhaps for the rest of their lives and eternity too.
Most effective in the spiritual formation of young Karol Wojtyła (now St. Pope John Paul II) was observing his widower father fervently praying late at night. He didn’t have to preach.
Fr. Thomas Loya’s father was an Archie Bunker type. He once told his five children: “God put me on this earth for one reason and that’s to get you guys to Heaven!”
Dr. James Dobson, the retired founder of the Focus on the Family Ministry, told his children: “I’ll be waiting for you in heaven. YOU BE THERE!”
Grandparents also have an important role in handing down the faith with their example, stories, and advice, especially if the parents are failing in their duty.
In a good marriage husband and wife work together as a team. Both are unique and indispensable in the family. The God-given masculine and feminine gifts that make men and women so different, beautifully complement each other for the common good of the family, the domestic church.
Spend time with the kids. My cousin has a family of eight kids. His wife related: “People tell me that my kids are so good. How do you do it?” She simply answered, “I spend time with my kids and only work as a nurse on weekends when my husband can watch the kids. Stay at home Moms, “you and your family are richly blessed”. If someone asks: “What do you do?” Stand up with pride and tell them: “I’m a full time mother!”
The home must be a school of virtue where members of the family love each other and care about each other and help each other. There are many teaching moments as for example, when a parent has to intervene in bickering or quarrels, or even physical fights. Consistent loving discipline without blowing up is a big help. Cheating, telling fibs, meanness, etc. are constant issues that offer teaching moments. It’s a lot of teaching backed up by a lot of love and the example of the parents. Sharing in chores with cooperation and responsibility for the common good of the family is most important.
Every home should have a little library, at least a bookcase or two, containing as a bare minimum the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. One bookcase could be for adults with books by such noted writers as Bishop Fulton Sheen, Scott Hahn, etc. There should be another bookcase for the children that would include books on the saints, bible stories, etc. Books and DVDs for all ages can be obtained at www.ignatiuspress.com. For youth catechisms go to www.youcat.org.
The family should subscribe to at least one or two Catholic newspapers or magazines, such as the diocesan paper, the Sunday Visitor, the National Catholic Register, etc.
As for television, radio, and internet, don't forget DVDs and EWTN cable, satellite or internet at www.ewtn.com/tv, the worldwide television cable channel. It has Mass four times a day, rosary four times a day, news, documentaries, Papal events and visits, interviews, homilies, talk shows, kids programming and more. Many dioceses have Catholic radio that feeds off of www.ewtn.com/radio. In addition you can go to https://ondemand.ewtn.com/ and www.youtube.com/ewtn to obtain past programs.
Another excellent resource for your family in English and Spanish is the non-profit www.formed.org…….the Catholic Faith on demand wherever you are at any time……a choice of thousands of movies, adult and children’s programs, audio, documentaries, and books for each member of the family to watch, listen, or read in support of a Catholic lifestyle. Learn from top Catholic speakers, authors and experts.
Formed is an opportunity to explore and understand the Faith, a library at your fingertips, ideal for home schooling, First Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage preparation, adult education, Bible Studies, spiritual growth, plus a lot of fun. Many parishes subscribe for all of its members with a common code. If unavailable through your parish, your family can subscribe for $10 per month.
Make sure that your children receive a good Christ Centered Catholic education....... primary, secondary, and College. The parents are always the primary educators in the Faith and any outside education should reinforce, supplement, and build upon the Domestic Church. If the Faith is not lived at home, a Catholic school may not help much and as adults the children will probably not be faithful Catholics.
The average person in the pew does not know his/her faith. The parish school of religion is insufficient. The ideal is a Christ centered school where the Catholic world view is integrated with all subjects and the formation of virtue and character are paramount. Where a good Catholic school is not accessible, parents should consider home schooling with the curriculum and accompanying materials provided by a Christ centered program such as the Seton Home Study School. It works well with a full time parent that closely supervises and helps the children.
So many students lose the faith in secular colleges. Much of what is taught at the Newman Club or Catholic Student Center is cancelled out by what they are forced to learn in the classroom by liberal professors who not only teach concepts contrary to our faith, but often are even hostile to it. Thus it is most important for parents to live modestly and make the sacrifices necessary to send their kids to a bona fide Christ centered Catholic College such as Franciscan University of Steubenville, Christendom, Thomas Aquinas College, and Ave Maria University.
Be careful because many traditionally Catholic colleges have lost their original Catholic mission and are very secular. Obtain the “Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College” and/or go to www.NewmanGuide.com. If there’s a will; there’s a way to send children to a truly Catholic college. Garret Frazee is a student at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and his sister Cara will follow.
If a truly Catholic college is not possible and one must choose a secular college, the Catholic Newman Club or Catholic Student Center may be a viable option on most secular campuses. However, some are very liberal and deviate from Church teaching.
Excellent is the St. Paul Outreach, which nurtures the Faith in small household communities of students that reach out to other college students. They supplement and help the campus Catholic chaplaincy program. Chapters are present at Arizona State University, University of Central Florida, Florida State, University of South Florida, The Ohio State University, Benedictine College, UMKC & JCCC in Kansas City, University of Minnesota, University of St. Thomas, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Northeastern University, The Ohio State University, and Texas State.
What problems have you encountered in building your domestic church? How did you solve these problems? How about kids getting mischievous and sabotaging the rosary? Some families have done very well with the family rosary and others not so well. Should the kids be forced? Taking turns to lead a decade or making up meditations such as Bible quotes might help. One large family forced their children to participate in the rosary and some of the kids hated it. Half of them are solid Catholics today and the other half have drifted away. So I would say don’t push too hard. Of course, the children have a free will and may lose the faith even if the parents did everything right.
The big question is how do you get all the kids on board? It’s not easy……a lot of love; a lot of patience. Look at the olive tree. Olives straight off the tree are poison. They have to be treated…….too much or too little is poison. Too little discipline or too much discipline hurts the kids.
We invite the reader to share their personal experiences in making their homes domestic churches. See Appendix II. Appendix I describes the project of the Knights of Columbus to build the domestic church while strengthening the parish through kiosks in back of your local church.
Our children depend so much upon their parents to pass down the faith especially in secular America. When our homes with the help of our pastor become domestic churches within the larger Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, parish renewal will be complete. No family has achieved the ideal domestic church, but we can aspire to it. Only a step or two in that direction is progress.
Passing Down the Faith in Baptism
During periods of intense persecution throughout history and the secularization that the world, particularly the United States and Europe are going through today, the mission of passing down the faith becomes more critical. A beautiful movie "To Believe", produced in Ukraine in 2021 dramatically demonstrates this in Ukrainian with English subtitles. The Ukrainians in the 1930s passed down the faith despite intense persecution, oppression, and genocide when forced to be under the yoke of Josef Stalin's Soviet Russia. The Soviets confiscated almost all of the grain from Ukraine, the bread basket of Europe and at least 3.9 million people starved to death (the Holodomor 1932-33). The purpose was to impose government farm collectivization and suppress any Ukrainian independence movement. Go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAaYr4ux63I.
Through much of history the Church has survived intense persecutions by the forces of evil intent on destroying the Church.........the Romans of the first three centuries, Japan during the late 16th and 17th centuries plus isolation from the outside world for 250 years, France in the aftermath of the 1789 revolution, Mexico of the 1920s, Communist Russia and China, etc. A major reason for the survival of Christianity was the family. Tyrannical governments could not destroy the Faith because Catholic families continued to pass down the Faith. In secular countries today there is often a subtle persecution regarding jobs, promotions, social acceptance including ridicule, or indifference that pervades the cultural.
So don’t forget……..EACH ONE OF YOU HAS A MISSION……..you may have already helped to build your parish church or a chapel, a little church……now build the domestic church in your homes……parents and kids together.
The mission of every parent is not only to build your domestic church, but also to pass down the faith. It is Church teaching that THE PRIMARY EDUCATORS IN THE FAITH ARE PARENTS not the parish schools of religion which only act as very important supplements to help parents (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2223 at https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/538/.
Go for it! Heaven and everlasting happiness is the prize!..........for your children, grandchildren, and your great grandchildren too. We can see the legacy in many of the great grandchildren of Harriet Davison who lived to be 99. She passed down the faith with a passion.
Building the Domestic Church Kiosk sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. It’s in the back of our St. Louis Church. Help yourself. Take as many as you want, but you have to read what you take. They are all free, although you can give a donation for the replenishment of the books through www.kofc.org. Many local Knights of Columbus councils have placed these kiosks in the back of their parish churches (vestibules). Really any parish or local Knights of Columbus can order a kiosk equipped with books from www.kofc.org.
List of Booklets in Our Knights of Columbus
“Building the Domestic Church” Kiosk
Proclaiming the Faith in the Third Millennium
1) The Family Fully Alive………………………………….................10162 5/17
2) 2) Into the Breach By Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix
An Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men………………………… 340 8/18
3) The Gift of Fatherhood……………………………………. ……….10168 1/19
4) Lord, Teach Us to Pray...…………………………………................ 304 8/18
5) Prayer Time: A Collection of Catholic Prayers.………..................... 309 8/18
6) Letter to Families By St. Pope John Paul II......…………………..… 310 8/18
7) The Good Life, God’s Way……………………………..................... 315 8/18
8) The Family in the Modern World By St. Pope John Paul II....……… 318 4/18
9) A Scriptural Rosary For the Family…………………………………. 319 9/18
10) Becoming a Real Man of God…………………………...................... 322 4/18
11) Mary, the Mother of God…...…………………………….………….. 324 9/18
12) St. Benedict For Busy Parents…………………………….………….. 327 8/18
13) St. Joseph: Our Father in Faith…………………………...................... 328 8/18
14) God’s Plan For Love and Marriage By Dr. Edward Sri…………….... 333 8/18
15 15) Complete My Joy By Bishop Thomas Olmsted of PhoenixAn Apostolic Exhortation to Husbands & Wives, Mothers & Fathers 388 5/19
For more information go to https://www.kofc.org/en/news-room/knightline/special-edition/week-of-april-13/ideas-building-domestic-church.html?utm_source=knightline-aristotle&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=knightline-aristotle-2020-04-14
APPENDIX II: Personal Experiences
The Lewis Family as Described by Their First Born, Faith Lewis
The domestic church is an idea that goes back to the first century A.D, though only recently was it brought back into common use by the Second Vatican Council: “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church.” (Lumen Gentium #11)
In short, each family represents the body of Christ in the home, and should seek to carry out that high calling. The concept is simple to grasp but difficult to emulate. It demands a dedicated approach to family life that would be shunned by many in our broken world. Yet we are called, nevertheless, to embrace it. So what is the domestic church, and how can we live it?
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve lived in a Catholic household my whole life. As long as I can remember, my family has said a daily rosary and attended Mass weekly. And when my father converted, our lifestyle became hyper-centered on God. Now we go on some sort of Catholic-based trip about once a month. Family retreats, Mass at other parishes, Ora Et Labora (Latin for Pray and Work) at the convent of the Children of Mary in Newark— the list goes on.
We all have different gifts and abilities, and have our own situations which God has placed us in. And to be honest, my family is far from perfect. We still fight. We say and do things we shouldn’t. We get on each others’ nerves, and we all have our own bad habits and pet sins. And there are times that our “daily” Rosary, or personal Scripture time, or all the other beautiful devotions that we strive to carry out, get lost in the chaos of everyday real life.
But at the end of the day, we’re always there for each other. No matter how often we fall, we get up — and more importantly, we pick each other up. We forgive each other. The domestic church isn't just for the family — it is the family. And no family is perfect. In consequence, no domestic church will be perfect either.
So how can we live the domestic church?
The domestic church should start where everything should start: with prayer. A daily rosary takes only fifteen to twenty minutes, and can be a wonderful way to bring everyone together in prayer. Family members can list their petitions and take turns leading mysteries. Evening prayers and praying before meals take only a short amount of time and can be great God-touched moments as well. And of course, attending weekly Mass as a family is vital.
Daily scripture reading, praise and worship, and the divine mercy chaplet are worthwhile pursuits. In addition, a crucifix should be hung in every bedroom, and a family altar could be placed in a central living area where favorite devotional items can be featured in a prominent place.
These are some simple suggestions for a family wishing to live the domestic church. If you seek more unity and holiness in your family – if you want to bring yourself and your children closer to God – this is a good place to start. Come together in prayer, and in humility and eagerness to learn more about the Faith. When you look for the domestic church, what you find will be a peace-filled (though perhaps simultaneously noisy and messy), God-centered home and a family that will cling together when the world tries to tear them apart.