By Fr Donald Chambers
In my last article (pg 17, CN June 14), I reflected on the home-like ambience and experience of the workplace, the home, and the virtual space for many. Characterised by hospitality, I referred to them as the domestic space that offers some hints for the renewal of the domestic Church. My focus in this article is on the domestic Church as the school of conscience formation for the wider domestic space.
The Second Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium (‘Light of the Nations’), describes the family as the ‘domestic Church’ because it is the first place where young, baptised Christians learn about their faith (Lumen Gentium 11).
From an anthropological perspective, the family is the first home of social and cultural encounter. It creates a sense of belonging to a community while also providing identity formation for children.
These three pillars prepare children spiritually, emotionally, and physically to immerse and participate in the broader societal, national, and global community, which they are expected to build up and advance.
From a theological perspective the unity of a man and woman in the context of the Sacrament of Marriage becomes the fertile soil for procreation and the formation of a hospitable family. As Lumen Gentium (#11) states, “From the wedlock of Christians there comes the family, in which new citizens of human society are born, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit received in baptism are made children of God . . . In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children. . .”
In sum, the domestic Church ought to be the proverbial ‘horse leading the cart’ of the domestic space.
In our postmodern cultural reality however, the domestic space seems to have become more influential and attractive as the conscience formation, partially due to its home-like environment.
Many persons, particularly the young, are quick to expose their inner thoughts and feelings on social media platforms. In addition, they use the virtual space to engage in research, access information and participate in some form of community life. This space is also used to initiate and form companionship, some of which evolve into intimate relationships.
While the virtual world has social, religious, and cultural benefits, the downside is that it is an unregulated and often a boundary-less space. Thus, young, and vulnerable minds are exposed to unverifiable information, some of which have an unhealthy effect on their maturing minds. Consequently, they may become prey to unscrupulous individuals who have the intention to manipulate and abuse.
Another cultural reality of the postmodern age is the breakdown of marriages and the increase of dysfunctionalised family life. This phenomenon is manifested in increased divorce rates, the ill-preparedness of adults for parenting, the toxic nature of pornography on young minds, the increased prevalence of drug and alcoholic abuse, the destruction of unbridled capitalism and consumerism, the separation of families as a result of forced or unforced migration, the unhealthy moral and social values perpetuated through mass media, among other things.
More and more, children have become dissatisfied with the family environment. The movie Moonlight evokes this message clearly. The protagonist, Chiron, lives in a crime-ridden neighbourhood in Miami with his single, crack-addicted abusive mother, Paula.
Chiron is a shy, withdrawn child largely due to his small size and being neglected by his mother. Consequently, Chiron is bullied and is given what little guidance he has in life from a neighbourhood drug dealer named Juan and Juan’s caring girlfriend Teresa.
Their home becomes a sanctuary away from the bullies and his mother. With this childhood foundation, Chiron’s life becomes centred on taking revenge on those who bullied him, and he eventually becomes a drug dealer.
This movie reflects our everyday reality and re-enforces the Church’s mission to invest in the intentional evangelisation and formation (faith and human) of the domestic Church—the family and marriage.
Ultimately, the quality of the domestic Church affects the quality of our politics, business ethics, social relations, cultural identity, and religious sensibilities.
I believe that the post-resurrection narrative of the Risen Christ’s encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus provides a suitable road map of the evangelisation and formation of the domestic Church.
In this encounter, the Risen Christ takes the initiative to enter the space of their lives, listens to the disciples’ concern, engage in an interpretation of the scriptures in light of their current experience (faith formation), and invites Himself into their intimate space for a meal. Consequent to this encounter, the disciples experienced conversion and returned to mission.
If we use the Emmaus Model as a tool for the evangelisation and formation of the domestic Church, then it will have a greater impact on the domestic space. Crystal Johnson of the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission reminds us, “Everything starts off in this institution that we call family. So family is an important aspect in regard to society.”
The moral and ethical construct of a society largely depends on the formation of conscience in the domestic Church. If we, therefore, desire a just, equitable and peaceful society, the domestic Church must be the conscience of formation.
Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.