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The Pope’s “Together in Christ” two day visit of Croatia was significant for several reasons. For him, and I think for all of us who were either physically in Zagreb or tuned via the media, time spent with the Croatians was monumental because it clearly exhibited the “dynamism of communion.” (What visit of a pope is insignificant, the wag asks?) In his own words, the Benedict reviews the events he and the world lived with him in this way:
It was very important for me to confirm in the faith especially these families that the Second Vatican Council called “domestic churches” (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11).
In today’s Europe [and one can extend this to the globe], nations with a strong Christian tradition have a special responsibility to defend and promote the value of the family founded on marriage, which remains decisive both within the field of education as well as in the social sphere.”
The Siena Forum for Faith and Culture welcomed Mike Aquilina, an accomplished author, faithful Catholic, a solid husband for 25 years and father of 6. He’s the executive VP of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology and a TV host of several programs on EWTN with Scott Hahn.
Aquilina’s work this morning was to explore with us the theme of Family and Its Mission, looking at the early Christians because they are instructive because their stories are similar to ours, the story is about people and families; the human heart had been capture by faith in Christ.
The early period of Christianity was made up of a robust group of 33 million Christians in a 60 million person empire. Mike cited one scholar, Rodney Stark, says that the growth rate of Christianity at a 40% per decade due to Christ. Mutual affection and openness to fertility; respectful of marriage, popular to pagan women who needed and wanted dignity; the pagan men noticed. It was the single women who prime evangelizers (apostles for the Gospel and virtue). They truly lived grace does not destroy nature, grace perfects it.
Christianity was nurtured in the homes. A theme, Aquilina, reminded us that hagiography typically notes the great saints; they were mostly of men and women in the clergy and religious communities but few stories of families and “normal people.” Citing Saint Augustine, Mike related that he said the faith was passed on by “one heart setting another heart on fire.” The Christian experience is not a static experience. No massive conversions like you’d likely see with a Billy Graham Crusade. The acceptance of Christ was nurtured subtly in the family, “in the smallest of increments.”
The care of the person in a time a persecution and epidemic was a hallmark. The care given by early Christians was based on faith, hope and charity: it changed EVERYTHING.
Pagans noticed the Christians for the charity: as the Emperor Julian noted, the Christians supported their own Christian poor and the pagan poor. Philanthropy was for show; charity addressed the human body and the soul. It was a work of the family. Charity transformed an empire. It wasn’t until later in 4th century that it became institutionalized.
Early Christians were not nominal followers of Christ. AD 293-305 saw the church suffering from a ruthless persecution, a true holocaust. To accept Christ as your Savior meant that you always faced social stigma, subject to violence; one’s life was continuously in jeopardy. Christians lived asceticism: trained by rigorous fasting at least twice a week.
Mike Aquilina’s lessons — practices that move mind and heart.
1. Acknowledge the home as a domestic Church (in the Catechism 1655-1658): “the Church is nothing other than ‘the family of God.'” The Kingdom of God ought to be lived in homes as being truly schools of virtue, places of communio (companionship, fellowship). For example, the meal at home is a mirror of the Eucharist: Christ takes our family meals and transforms them through the Liturgy; meals are echoes of what happens at Mass.
“My dear fellow bishops” Saint Augustine called his people. Bishops, by words and deeds, by teaching, sanctifying (praying) and govern.
2. Make the domestic Church a school of charity. Tertullian in AD 190 said: it is our care of the helpless that is our hallmark; see how those Christians love one another. It is not the art on the wall that identifies us as disciples of Christ but the way we live. We Christians are to live differently.
Happiness in suffering. It is possible to face difficulties; include grandparents and singles in the work of passing the faith on to others. Don’t raise kids by your dysfunction and TV.
3. Make the domestic Church a place of prayer. Conversions happen through simple acts of prayer, of making the Sign of the Cross, grace before meals. The family rosary could be a burden at first but it can become “normal.”
4. Make the Sunday Mass the family’s center of life. Being over scheduled is a problem for many things on contemporary family life. The Mass makes Christians and Christians make the Mass. We can’t live without the Mass.
5. Know that as a domestic Church you are on mission. You are sent out (you are apostles) to speak of Christ and his grace of salvation. We don’t have to be Bible-thumpers; we have to be friends to others so that they will see how we live our lives and want what we have: joy. Others will encounter Christ through our love, not through a TV program or an I-Phone app.
The current day illnesses: rejection, abandonment, loneliness. We need to expand our ideas of epidemic and to see how we interact with others, especially with strangers.
From Saint Jerome, we learn, “the eyes of all are turned on you, your house is set on the watch tower; your life sets for others their self-control.” It is by our own good and virtuous lives others take good example and in turn will live differently. You let others see that happiness is possible. Open your lives to others.
7. Live by the teachings of the Church. The bar is set high but do-able. Early Christians didn’t compromise on their faith and the practice thereof. Hate the sin, love the sinner, help others to live rightly, to live according to wisdom of the Church.