Thursday August 4th: Instruments of God’s grace
August 4, 2022
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August 4, 2022

The family in Bethany – a pathway to the domestic Church

The domestic Church is first and foremost a theological concept. It is primarily seen by the Church as rooted in the marriage bond of a man and a woman which St Paul sees as a great mystery (Eph 5:32). This theology is unquestionable.

But the question I want to raise in this article is whether it is complete or not. Does the domestic Church exist only in a sacramental marriage?

In 2021, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments issued a decree combining the veneration of Mary and Lazarus with Martha. This was the family that Jesus visited when He was in the Jerusalem area.

Bethany is a short walk, less than two miles from the Holy City (Jn 11:18). We also know from John’s Gospel that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (Jn 11:5).

This is the key to asking a new question. Here are three siblings living in one house. Is this household a domestic Church?

The decree from the Congregation says: “In the household of Bethany, the Lord Jesus experienced the family, spirit, and friendship of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and for this reason the Gospel of John states that he loved them. Martha generously offered him hospitality, Mary listened attentively to his words and Lazarus promptly emerged from the tomb at the command of the one who humiliated death.”

I would propose that everything we would want to see in a domestic Church, we find in super abundance in the household at Bethany. The domestic Church is a family. We see that in Bethany.

In the domestic Church, each member of the household should have a special relationship with Jesus. We see this in Bethany. The household should be a family of persons who love and relate and correct each other. We see this in Bethany.

At Bethany, we find members of a household that display great love and respect for one other. The members have a special relationship with Jesus; they reach out to others and offer hospitality. They are disciples. The family relationship leads them all to sanctity. The family at Bethany expects and receives miracles. These are all characteristics of the domestic Church.

The domestic Church should be rooted in marriage: we do not see this in Bethany.

The decree also stresses the virtues of the family in Bethany: “…the important evangelical witness they offered in welcoming the Lord Jesus into their home, in listening to him attentively, in believing that he is the resurrection and the life.”

It would seem to me that Bethany is a prototype for all Catholic families that welcome Jesus and become His friends. In Bethany, we find a pathway for the family to become a domestic Church.

The hospitality of Martha, the discipleship of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, and the faith and obedience of Lazarus who obeys the Lord when he is called from the tomb. Each in their own way embodies friendship with Jesus, discipleship, and sanctity.


Extravagant generosity

There is one other story from the family that is vital. Just before the Crucifixion, Jesus returns to Bethany. Here, He is at a meal with Lazarus present. Martha is attending to the guests.

The Scripture says: “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (Jn 12:3).

There was great objection to this act of Mary by Judas, who saw it as a waste of money that should have been spent on the poor. Jesus defends her action in the light of His coming Crucifixion. She was preparing Him for burial.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the comment of Jesus on the action of this woman’s anointing emphasises her extravagant generosity: “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (cf Mt 26:13; Mk 14:9).

This makes Mary the missionary disciple par excellence. Her prophetic action and extravagant generosity are the stuff of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Where did she learn this generosity? In the family at Bethany.


The Pantin family

Julian Pantin died when his wife Agnes was 32. They had 12 children. Stephen was the first, but he was stillborn. Then came Gerard (Gerry), Tony (Anthony), Rosa, Geoffrey, Clive. Next were twins Monica and Martha. Martha was stillborn, but Monica survived and lives in England. Finally came Helen, Ronald, Patricia and then Michael.

At the death of their father, Gerry, the eldest was 11 and, next in line, Tony was ten. Rosa was nine. Her sister Vie moved into the household and they raised those children in the face of great obstacles.

Agnes believed that your first marriage was your only marriage and so she saw the death of her husband as God’s Will. She took Venezuelan boarders into the home as a form of income.

After the death of Julian, was the Pantin family still a domestic Church? During their teens, they were all incredibly involved in the Church and their community. Raising ten children as a young widow would have been a heroic task. For support, Agnes had her sister Vie. Together, they kept the children in check and ensured they all excelled. Like the family in Bethany, this was a family now founded on siblings.

Consider the outstanding contribution of this family to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the Church. Consider the odds that Agnes was up against. Consider the great grace this family received during what must have been challenging childhood years.

Even in this household—founded on marriage—when the marriage ends through death, the family still experience a special grace that calls forth generosity from its members.

The first three children became religious. This is extreme generosity. If these families are not a domestic Church, then we need to have a new category for holy families not founded on marriage.


Key Message:

The family in Bethany had most of the characteristics of a domestic Church, in super abundance. It is a model for the Catholic family and a pathway to holiness in the family.

Action Step:

Reflect on the family in Bethany and ask: What elements of the family in Bethany could your family imitate in a better way?

Scripture Reading:

John 12:1–8