I woke up in Church this morning. Not on a cold dark floor or surrounded by votive candles and stained glass, but next to my partner in faith, my best friend, my beloved wife of 35 years, Laurine. Down the hall sleeps our grandson. His Mom is in the room next door. Around the corner is our youngest son who has left home and moved back home now several times now as he seeks to find his own way. Our other children and grandchildren may be spread around the Nation but are always in our heart.Through our Baptism our natural bond has been supernaturally raised. Jesus said “Wherever two or three are gathered in my Name, there I am in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20) The place where that happens the most, is in the Christian family.
From antiquity the Christian Family has been called “the domestic church.” This is more than piety, it is to become reality, by grace. Perhaps the most often quoted use of the term is from the “Golden Mouth”, the Bishop John Chrysostom, writing in Antioch (the city where they were first called Christians) in the fourth century. After all, the church is fundamentally a relational reality. Also, at least within the Catholic and Orthodox Church, Christian Marriage is a Sacrament. In other words, it is a participation in- and sign of- the Life of the Trinity! As the Apostle Peter wrote to the early Christians, we are “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1)
Yet, do we view Christian marriage and family life in this way? Even the most sincere Christians can still live out their Christian life with a certain dualism. They see themselves as living “in the world” and “going to Church.” Family life sometimes gets included in “the world” or perhaps it is seen as a part of a “duty in the Lord” which often “competes” with the Christian mission.
Please understand, as a Catholic Christian, I love to frequent beautiful Church buildings and to participate in the beauty of liturgical worship. However, the point I am trying to make is a vital one. We actually live in Church. We were baptized into the Lord and we now live in His Body. The Christian family IS a church, the smallest and most vital cell of that Body. The extended church community is a family of families. This understanding is more than piety–it is sound ecclesiology, solid anthropology, in fact it is reality for those who are baptized into Christ Jesus.
The day will soon burst into a flurry of activity with a unique ritual pattern. To the untrained eye, it would look rather “hectic”. But with the eyes of domestic faith, my wife Laurine and I will try to see the deeper purpose. All those years of raising children, and now trying to raise grandchildren, we have come to comprehend the mystery hidden in the routine.
There is almost a liturgical sameness to the pattern that emerges after so many years- by practice, developed spiritual purpose, and just plain ordinary human repetition. But it can all become transforming when lived out “in Christ”. It is here, where the “rubber hits the road” for most Christians. It is here that the universal call to holiness, in all its real, earthy, incarnation is lived out-in all of its humanness and ordinariness.
Here is also where true progress in the spiritual life can find its raw material. The question becomes whether we who are called to live Christian marriage and family as a vocation do so by seeking to respond to grace and by developing the eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to accept the hidden invitations to love found beneath the surface of the daily “stuff” of Christian Marriage and Family life.
The Greek word translated “emptied” in an extraordinary passage in the letter to the Philippian Christians is “kenosis.” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning our call to enter into the self emptying of Jesus, “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself.”(Phil. 2:5)
This Greek word refers to the voluntary pouring out-like water-of oneself in an act of sacrificial love. This “emptying” is the proper response of the love of a Christian for the One who first loved us. It is also the very heart of the vocation of Christian marriage and family life. There is a “domestic kenosis”, a domestic emptying out which comes in the ordinary “stuff” of daily life in a Christian family. There is a “domestic ascesis”, a way of living an ascetical life, when we embrace the very real struggles involved in living this out as a vocation in Christ.
However, we need to move from the realm of fuzzy feelings or theological theory to reality – the emptying is lived out in a unique and grace filled way in Christian marriage and family life. As Christian spouses, mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, we need to have our eyes opened like the disciples on the Road, the way, to Emmaus. (Luke 24: 13ff) This call of married love and family life is more than a covenant (though it is that), more than an ordinance (though it is that) – it is an invitation to sacrificial love–to holiness. Christian Marriage is a Sacrament, a participation in the very life of God through which and for which we are given grace, the very Life of God.
When the right choices are made in this life of “domestic kenosis”, we cooperate with the Lord’s invitation to follow Him by exercising our human freedom; we choose to give ourselves away in love to the “other.” In so doing, we are gradually transformed into an image, a living icon, of Jesus Christ and we actually participate in His Kenosis. This way of holiness is not easy, as anyone who has lived the vocation for more than three months can attest, but make no mistake; it is a very real path to holiness. It is also a wonderful one. The true challenge lies in the choices we make, daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment.
The same two trees still grow in the garden of domestic life that appeared in the first garden called Eden. They both invite the exercise of our human freedom. There is one like the one in Eden where the first Eve said, “no I will not serve.” We are always tempted to choose the “fruit” of this tree of self centeredness whenever we seek to hide from the call and refuse to love, by emptying ourselves “kenotically”
Then, there is the one that resembles the tree on Calvary where the “second Eve,”(as the fathers of the Church called Mary, the Mother of Jesus) stood with the beloved disciple John, beheld her crucified Son and her Lord who was “Love Incarnate”, and again proclaimed her “Fiat”, her “yes.” In doing so she models the response of all Christians for all time.
However, as it was with the Mother of the Lord, (both when the angel Gabriel came and made that extraordinary announcement, and again on that mountain when she beheld her Son and Savior), the choice is our own— to be made daily, even hourly. With these choices, presented to us from the moment we open our eyes every morning to the time we close them at night, we proceed on the way of the Cross through death and into the eternal now of Resurrected life in Jesus Christ.
I woke up “in Church” this morning. Echoing in my heart were these words of the Apostle Paul: “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1Cor. 12:31) For the Christian, family life is a calling and a vocation; an invitation to this more excellent way, the way of love. It also becomes the path to holiness for all who walk by living faith.