March 28, 2008

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Family homes: Outposts of God’s kingdom

Sean GallagherLast Saturday, parish communities across central and southern Indiana welcomed more than 1,000 people into the Church at their Easter Vigils.

As a former parish director of religious education, I suspect a lot of these folks were at least partly attracted to the Church through the ordinary way that their spouses, other relatives, friends or co-workers lived out their faith from day to day.

This fact should give us pause and remind us that the primary place for the laity, and especially families, to live out their faith and play their indispensable role in carrying out the Church’s mission of evangelization is in the middle of the world—in homes, across the backyard fence, at work, in the marketplace.

These spheres represent a vast mission field. They are places where countless people are yearning for an encounter with Christ—even if they can’t yet describe it in so many words.

Yet this great harvest that awaits Christ and the Church is in a field where priests, bishops, and men and women religious do not directly minister.

By and large, it is up to the laity to lead these people closer to Christ. And this happens primarily through the ordinary way we live out our faith on a daily basis.

The more we laity deliberately seek to live out our faith in both the large and small things of life, the more this faith will be attractive to others.

And yet, I have to sadly agree with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, who in his book, Living the Catholic Faith, expressed his opinion that too many of the laity “clericalize” themselves.

By that, Archbishop Chaput meant that many lay Catholics think that a diocesan chancery and parish staffs are “where the action really is” in the Church.

I think this can be extended to include volunteer ministries. A lot of well-meaning folks may think that being a lector, cantor or catechist is the main way they live out their faith.

Now as a former DRE, I am not one to diminish such invaluable service.

But if we think that this is the primary way to live out our faith, and don’t put a high priority on turning our faith out in an intentional manner toward the world in order to bring others to Christ in natural, ordinary ways, then we’re missing a large part of our mission.

In Archbishop Chaput’s mind, the “action” of the Church is really out in the marketplace and the factory. It’s in family homes and at backyard cookouts. It’s in the gym or on the golf course. It’s wherever people in society gather together.

It’s perhaps, most importantly, in the family home, around the dinner table or in the car during a family trip.

It is in these privileged places that parents can help unfold and bring to maturity their children’s encounter with Christ that began at their baptism.

This happens through simple conversations where we can help our children come to see and know Jesus better in their daily lives.

But it happens in key ways through the way we parents live our lives. Through what we do and refrain from doing, through what we say and how we hold our tongues, we show our children how we love Christ and allow him to imbue his life deeply within our own.

With this example before us on a daily basis, our family homes will gradually become outposts along the borders of the Kingdom of God.

It’s up to us to draw in with love more and more of those people wandering along these borderlands into the reign of Christ. †

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