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Service – let the good works flow

Q: Archbishop J, what is the mission of the domestic Church? (Pt 3)

The mission of the Church, as we saw over the last two teachings, is always threefold: sanctification, teaching, and service.

Sanctification has to do with the life of prayer and liturgy. Teaching focuses on growing in the faith and service, with the care and love of the poor.

Continuing our reflection on the mission of the family as outlined by the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem (11), this week we look at how the document addresses service:

[The family] will fulfil its mission … if it provides active hospitality and promotes justice, other good works for the service of the brethren in need. Among the various activities of the family apostolate may be enumerated the following: the adoption of abandoned infants, hospitality to strangers, assistance in the operation of schools, helpful advice and material assistance to adolescence, help to engage couples in preparing themselves for better marriage, catechetical work, support of married couples and families involved in material and moral crises, help for the aged not only by providing them with the necessities of life but also by obtaining for them a fair share of the benefits of an expanding economy.

Faith and Good Works

If the second dimension of mission expresses the inner grace that is at the core of Christianity, this third dimension of mission expresses the outer works that flow from it.

The Catholic and Lutheran Churches have debated the relationship between faith and works for nearly 500 years. In 1999, they arrived at an official agreement which states: “By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

There is no authentic faith without a manifestation of good works flowing from it. Thus, this third dimension of mission—service. As St James says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17).

This is paradoxical thinking. To live by faith, is to manifest good works. The two together constitute justification. Here we see the family that lives by faith manifests that faith in tangible ways.

As the Decree says: “[The family] provides active hospitality and promotes justice other good works for the service of the brethren in need.” Hospitality, justice, good works for those in need—what a godly combination!


The witness of faith

Rose Williams took in, cared for, and brought up over 50 children in her life. When she died, her children came from many different parts of the world to the funeral. They all had the same story. Rose took them in because their families failed, and she raised them as her own. Many of them have done extremely well. That is a witness of faith.

Rose often had no money to care for the children. Many times, it was through a test of faith that food would come, and books and uniforms would arrive for school. This is the value of family, stretching to include others.

Both my grandmothers included people in their families along the way. Two of them I knew as my aunts. They were part of the family. Their children were part of the family. One of my grandmothers gave lodging to orphans. She often did not have sufficient money for her family and would wonder about the next meal. Neither of my grandmothers were short on hospitality. Their gaze was turned outwards to those in need around them.

With our focus on material progress, we have robbed our children of the best gift—a family turned outwards to service. This is what nurtures the faith of the young. This turn to service, planted seeds in our young imagination that flourished later in life.

When families turn outwards to service, they give the children the best gift ever—humanity and an orientation of service grounded in faith and ultimately a Catholic DNA.


Catholic DNA

In the Catholic DNA this is the second dimension—fellowship. In Acts 2:42, the Greek word translated as fellowship is Koinonia, which means fellowship, communion, participation. It is a very extreme form of hospitality. We are all interrelated as members of the body of Christ. Everyone is our brother or sister, those in need have a privileged place.

As a family looks out for the needs of others and routinely responds to those needs reignites the Catholic DNA. The children have a Catholic imagination when God is first and love of neighbour, especially those most in need, is integral to love of God.

In the Catholic tradition we speak about this as the corporal works of mercy—feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoner, bury the dead, give alms to the poor.

A Catholic family that consistently practises these seven spiritual habits in a way that includes the children will ignite a love for Christ in the heart of the family. This is witness to the faith. This is connecting love of God with love of neighbour. This is witnessing that God and God’s law of love is first. This is how the parents become the best of teachers of the faith.


Key Message:

Faith without good works is dead. Families that live by faith will find tangible ways to show hospitality, justice, and good works, and make a habit of the Corporal Works of Mercy.

Action Step:

Reflect on your family’s traditions of hospitality to those in need. Are you doing enough with the children and the grandchildren? What else can you do to help your family to grow in this dimension of faith.

Scripture Reading:

James 2:14–26, Catechism of the Catholic Church 2447.