Domestic Church in Quarantine
Businesses shut down and our homes became our offices. Schools closed and our homes became our classrooms. Playhouses and cinemas cancelled shows and our homes became our theaters. Restaurants closed their dining rooms and our homes became our restaurants. Fitness centers locked their doors and our homes became our gyms. Parishes closed and our homes remain our churches.
I've seen many social media posts from people who miss their parish communities and long for the sacraments. While they may not have the theological language to describe what they are feeling, they intuitively recognize that something is not right about this life in quarantine. Our faith reveals to us the dignity of every human life and compels us to protect human life in all its stages, so we are absolutely right to take action to protect human lives from this dangerous virus. At the same time, we recognize that Church is not a reality we are meant to read about in the newspaper, it is a mystery we are meant to experience. We experience this mystery in our parishes and our experience of Church will not be complete until our parishes reopen, but we also experience this same mystery in our families, in our domestic churches. During this time of physical separation from our parishes, we have an opportunity to reflect more deeply on how we experience Church in our homes, both how we do during the stay at home orders and how we will continue to after the stay at home orders are lifted.
While the demands of parenting, work, and home ownership prevent me from posting on this site as often as I would like, I have made an effort over the last few years to share reflections on the reality we experience in our domestic churches. I never would have guessed that millions of people around the world would be told not to leave their homes except for essential activity. We are experiencing domestic church like never before! When the stay at home order began, I thought our domestic church might begin a more monastic life, perhaps our domestic church could be like a domestic cloister. It was during Lent, and I imagined having more time for quiet prayer and reflection during this time. Everyone's experience of this quarantine is different. Some people have had the opportunity to engage in this kind of reflection or to begin a new hobby. Others have really struggled with boredom. Given that we're a few weeks into the Easter season and I'm just now finally writing this reflection, this clearly has not been our family's experience of quarantine. My family is blessed that so far no one in our family has experienced serious illness due to this virus. My heart breaks for the families who have watched loved ones suffering, and my family prays for those who are infected and those who are treating them every day. Still, life in our home been chaotic and busy as we've navigated working from home and remote learning, while cleaning up after kids who continuously make bigger messes in the house because they never leave to make messes anywhere else. Yet even in this frenetic busyness we experience Church every day, though we may not always take the time to recognize it.
My interest in domestic churches began when I was working on my masters in theology. While I had heard the term 'domestic church' before, I didn't really understand what it meant. The US Catholic Bishops wrote, "the family is not merely like the Church, but is truly Church" (A Family Perspective in Church and Society 20). My interest in domestic churches was really sparked when I read statements like that one that convinced me the family is not just an analogy for the Church, it actually is Church. I've been researching, reflecting on, and writing about domestic churches ever since. When we pray and worship together as a family, when we read Scripture and integrate Christ's teachings into our daily lives, when we serve each other at home and care for our neighbors in our community, and when we deepen the loving communion in our family, we are being Church. During this time of staying at home, we may be physically separated from our parishes, but we are not separated from the Church. We continue to experience the mystery of Christ's Church every day, though we may not always take the time to recognize this.
I've read so many articles, essays, and books about domestic churches as I've studied them for school and for this website, and I have so many favorite quotes I've discovered over the years. One that sticks out in my mind is from a book by Florence Caffrey Bourg in which she said, "What makes a family a domestic church is a habit of interpreting its ordinary life – for better or worse – as the means through which family members are to seek, know, and love the God made known in Jesus Christ" (Where Two Or Three are Gathered: Christian Families as Domestic Churches page 132). Whether your domestic church is experiencing a quiet, monastic lifestyle during this stay at home order or your domestic church is, like mine, experiencing some level of chaos as you attempt to juggle work and homeschooling with your regular family life in your home, every Christian family is a domestic church and you can interpret your ordinary life as an expression of your faith and as an opportunity for deepening your faith. Being a domestic church is not about isolating moments of pious holiness from the rest of life in your home. Rather, it is about recognizing how grace permeates life in your home, both the extraordinary moments and the mundane, and even the moments of quarantining in your home. This quote has sparked most of the reflections that I've shared here on this website, where I have attempted to share how I have interpreted the ordinary experiences of life in my family to seek, know, and love our God.
One of the first documents I read about domestic church was a pastoral message written by the US Catholic Bishops called Follow the Way of Love. It is a great overview of what it means to be a domestic church and it is one of the most accessible, easy to understand church documents that I have read. If you are have found yourself with abundant free time during this stay at home order, I would encourage you to read it. In this message, the bishops offer encouragement to families who find it difficult to see their family as a domestic church. They reminded us, "No domestic church does all this perfectly. But neither does any parish or diocesan church. All members of the Church struggle daily to become more faithful disciples of Christ." Nevertheless, they exhort us to recognize our families as a domestic churches and to endeavor to more fully manifest this reality in our daily lives.
In their message, the bishops also said, "Your domestic church is not complete by itself, of course. It should be united with and supported by parishes and other communities within the larger Church." It is important for our families to remain active in our parishes. During this time of physical separation, we should continue to stay as connected to our parishes as possible as we watch videos of Mass, engage with one another on social media, follow the news and updates on parish websites, and find so many other creative ways to stay connected during this time. Even so, we recognize that our experience of Church will not be complete until we gather together in our parish and diocesan communities once again. Nevertheless, we are not separated from the Church during this time. We are being Church in our homes, in our domestic churches every day. Eventually businesses and schools will reopen and our homes will not need to also be our offices, classrooms, restaurants, theaters, and gyms. Even when that day comes, our homes will remain churches, as they always were. Until that day comes, let us always remember that even in this time of social distancing, our God and our Church are never distant from us. They are right here with us in our homes.