We’ve all been spending more time at home than usual, and, even as we’re all anxious to return to normal life, there have been blessings in our confinement. One of them is discovering the power of the domestic church. The word “church” means assembly or gathering, and the Catholic Church is the gathering that God intends for all people. Families are small groups of the faithful gathered in the home, expressing love in prayer, learning, food, and fun, in the middle of plenty of challenges.
One recent book captures the essence of the home as a sanctuary, Theology of the Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday (TAN, 2019), co-authored by Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber. It’s not a practical “how to” book, but a contemplative reflection on the beauty of home life. “Catholic daily living — with all its imperfections and struggles, its mercy and its joys, not to mention aesthetic and hospitable beauty, and nourishing food (and hopefully some good red wine) — can be an intoxicating inducement to the reality that is fuller, more secure, more exciting, and more fulfilling when lived in the context of the divine. To step inside this context is a foretaste of heaven, and sometimes, mysteriously, this experience can be even more profound for a stranger than being inside a church. For in the liturgy he may not know the ‘language,’ but the language of the home is universal” (4).
Theology of the Home explores themes such as the experience of entering within, the role of remembering, the importance of light, the nobility of building, the centrality of nourishment, engaging nature, the need for order, the place of comfort, the offer of hospitality, how to balance it all, and even the importance of leaving. It certainly requires hard work, but also creativity, shaped by prayer to make the home a place of Christian encounter: “Marsilio Ficino, a 15th century Florentine thinker, once said, ‘Poets and makers of beautiful things share in the same desire to achieve virtue through their creative powers. And through their love of beauty, they draw themselves closer to God.’ Ultimately, our creativity doesn’t depend solely upon everything around us going exactly as we would like — with floor swept, breakfast dishes done, and dinner in the slow cooker. Order is certainly important. But it depends much more upon our openness to God — the Creator, and beauty’s source” (118).
We know, however, that family life is not always peaceful and easy. It is an adventure! A local author and former youth minister, Allison Auth, describes her own adventure of discovering motherhood in Baby and Beyond: Overcoming Those Post-Childbearing Woes (Sophia, 2019). The heart of the home stems from relationship, and Auth plumbs the beauty and struggles that shape the contours of parenting. As a father of six, I resonated with many of her stories, as the experiences of childbirth (much different for a father, of course!) and the bumps of the postpartum life are full of surprises and unexpected challenges. Auth’s goal is to shed light on the postpartum experience, as she noticed that so many books skip over it, leaving many moms, struggling after birth, feeling “alone, overwhelmed, tired, and guilty.” In response, her book wants to tell those with these feelings that they are not alone: “Whether you have full-blown postpartum depression, or simply a roller coaster of other emotions, there is a place for those feelings here. The experiences in this book are mine, but my hope is that in sharing my story, I can offer you some hope and peace for your journey” (6).
Baby and Beyond addresses helpful details about postpartum depression, physical recovery, natural family planning, the spiritual life, and community. Having a lot of children in quick succession, I can attest, is challenging. Expressing this natural frustration at the challenges that come with it, Auth also points to God’s work in perfecting us through the self-sacrifice that it requires. “When God allows us to go through trials in our marriage, it is because, in His wisdom, He knows it can ultimately bring about good in us, provided we accept His grace” (69). The difficult moments subside, and, after being stretched to the limit, we begin to see interior growth and also fruits in the family. Auth offers much good advice, but, most of all, important encouragement in staying devoted to what is most important. “Postpartum motherhood requires getting back to basics and ordering priorities. I may not be as adventurous as I was before having children, but I am more courageous in other ways and a lot less selfish than I used to be. I am the most influential person in my children’s lives, not only by meeting their basic needs but also forming their characters and introducing them to God. I also know God’s love in a deeper way that I used to. I value community and strive to build authentic relationships. I’m more grateful to the little blessings in life that I was before” (123).
In the midst of our current difficulties, let’s be grateful for our blessings, invest in our family and friends, and trust in God even more.