The Family as Church

Betty blue bordered (2)Blessed Pope John Paul II declared, “The family in fact is the basic unit of society and of the church. It is the ‘domestic church.’”

Mitch and Kathy Finley, in Building Christian Families, write:

“Within the family, the foundational experiences of the Christian life happen best, for both children and adults. For most people, it is within the fabric of family life that faith becomes real. In family life, we experience the deepest joys and our deepest anguish, which means that in family life we most often discover the Cross and Resurrection of Christ in our own experience. […]”

“Within the family and around the family table, children experience the meaning of the Eucharist long before they receive their First Communion. Within the fabric of life in the domestic church, child and adult experience the meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation, apart from any official sacramental celebration of the experience. In the family, both adults and children experience the Christian life at its most immediate, where the seeds of faith are planted and cultivated daily.”


The family is the fundamental building block of the Church. Family spirituality is defined by the Finleys as, “A family’s ongoing attempts to live every dimension of its life in communion with the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.” We first learn our spirituality primarily from our family. As Christians, our purpose in life is to serve God and his people, to work for the good of others, that we may all grow closer to God as we build his kingdom here on earth and spread the Good News of his love through our actions.

Do your children know what it is to be Christian? And what it means to be Catholic (or your denomination)? Or, more broadly, what are your children (even grown children) learning about spirituality as they observe their parents’ everyday life?

If your children are little, think back to your own childhoods. What did you look forward to about how your family expressed its faith? What were your family spiritual traditions on Sunday mornings? On holidays? On vacations? I remember whirling around the living room with my grandpa on Sunday mornings after Mass, my feet placed carefully on top of his dress shoes. Does that memory make me more Christian? Actually, yes, I think so. I knew in those moments that Sundays were special days of joy. Days to spend with family. Not simply because they were days off, but because they were God’s day.

If your children are teenagers, do you speak openly with them about your faith? Do you ask them what they think about social justice, or priests they have known, or some of the ethical questions we struggle with today? Do you visit other parishes so they begin to understand the universality of our Church? Do you reach out to the less fortunate as a family?

Last weekend, my husband and I watched a documentary, Into the Arms of Strangers, about the 10,000 children who were sent away in the 1940s from German occupied lands to strangers in England, in their parents’ desperate hope of saving their lives. The separation traumatized both parents and children, but their children lived, when 1.5 million children who stayed behind did not survive. The story touched us deeply as we listened to these children, now grown into elderly men and women, talk about how their parents struggled, in the few days between learning their children were accepted to the freedom trains and sending them off, (in most cases, never to see them again) to impart to them all the wisdom and faith that they would have spoken and modeled over their lifetimes.

Whatever the age of your children, even if they are greying themselves, don’t leave for later what you want them to know about your very personal faith. If you are uncomfortable at the thought of talking about such a personal issue, (Why are the most important things to say the hardest?) consider writing it down today. Here’s a start:

I know there is a God because once…

I know He loves me because…

I believe He wants me to treat his children with love and respect. I learned this when….

I know God answers prayers. He answered mine once when… (Maybe he said no, and you only came to understand what a good thing that was later.)

I believe in heaven. I’m not looking forward to dying, but I’m looking forward to asking God a few questions when I get there. And I’m looking forward to seeing my loved ones: _____.

I know God forgives. I learned this when I was forgiven once by ____. If they could forgive me and I know God loves me even more than they, He must forgive us even better.

I chose the church I attend because______ (our family always has been, or I converted because, or whatever your story is)


Our faith should be so important to us that we take care to pass it on to our children as a family treasure. May we recognize our treasure this week!





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