April 26, 2019

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Fight the fires of family conflict with human means and grace

Sean Gallagher“O Lord, I love the house where you dwell, the place where your glory abides” (Ps 26:8).

I often pray this psalm verse within my heart as I stand in the back of my parish church on quiet weekday mornings after I’ve gone to Mass there.

As I’m often the last person to leave the church at that point, I’ll turn off the lights (as I’ve been instructed) and then gaze for a moment at the beauty of the church, a tabernacle at the heart of its sanctuary, illuminated only by the early morning daylight shining through stained-glass windows.

“O Lord, I love the house where you dwell, the place where your glory abides.”

That verse came sadly to my mind on April 15 when the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was engulfed in flames. I visited it briefly 25 years ago. But my sadness was not so much for me or for the millions of tourists who visit it annually simply as one of the attractions of Paris. No, I had in mind the people who worship there on a regular basis.

That was the purpose for which Notre Dame was built 850 years ago, to be a house where God dwells, a place where his glory abides, as it does in so much splendor in this gothic masterpiece.

I have friends who cried that day, seeing such a beautiful church ablaze. While the fire affected me, too, I was moved most by seeing a video of a group of French young adults kneeling in prayer and singing a hymn while watching their church burn.

Maybe at some point, they had stood in the back of Notre Dame and whispered to God the same psalm verse that I pray in my parish church.

I may be biased, but I believe my parish church has a special attractiveness about it. Notre Dame’s beauty is beyond question. But God dwells gloriously in any church in which he is present in a tabernacle and where his people gather for worship.

And as I’ve learned in my nearly 18 years as a husband and father, I know in my heart that God dwells and his glory abides in the homes of families, each in their own way a domestic church.

God reveals his presence when parents and children gather for meals, cooperate to do work together around the house, have fun together in so many ways and pray for their needs and those of other families.

His glory is manifested in family homes as children grow in his love and grace from year to year, understanding more how much God loves them and sharing that love with others, both in the family and beyond it.

There are times, too, when the life of a family home can be consumed by the fire of conflict. Children resist the directions of their parents who show frustration in return.

Such divisions and other struggles in family homes can smolder for a long time and then unexpectedly burst into flames.

God has blessed us with human means to fight such fires—faith-filled psychologists and family counsellors among them. But never forget the grace that flowed into our hearts through the waters of baptism.

The brave firefighters of Paris used all the appropriate means at their disposal to put out the fire at Notre Dame and preserve most of its stone structure, so the church can be rebuilt.

Let us do the same when the flames of conflict burn in our family homes so that they can once more be the house where God dwells, the place where his glory abides. †

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