6.3.6 Family as “domestic church”: source for a radical vision

Back to 6.3.5

Unit 6 Contents

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We have already covered a lot of ground in this unit.  There are five further readings, but with all that in the background we can move through them fairly quickly – I mean with relatively little comment on screen.

The next two readings are also from FC.  The first of these continues immediately after the previous one, and begins with a substantial passage about women in relation to family.  This is followed by shorter passages on men, children and elderly people.

Again, these are topics of controversy, not least that of the roles of women in family and society.  Shortly you will do a reading from Lisa Cahill’s book, Family, which presents a perspective that may be called feminist Catholic.  She reviews what both John Paul II and earlier CST documents say about women.

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Reading (4pp)

Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, ##22-27 (remainder of Part 3.I)

Note

In #23, Pope John Paul refers to a call for “a renewed ‘theology of work’”.  He was working on Laborem Exercens when FC was issued.

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Reflection

Do you find this reading surprising in any way?

What in it do you strongly agree with?

Are there things you clearly disagree with?

Do you think anyone could disagree with the following statement?

Above all it is important to underline the equal dignity and responsibility of women with men. This equality is realized in a unique manner in that reciprocal self-giving by each one to the other and by both to the children which is proper to marriage and family (#22).

What about those whose worldview is basically hedonist or voluntarist?  Could they coherently believe that “reciprocal self-giving” is “proper to”, i.e. an intrinsic part of, the goods of marriage and family life?

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Reflection

The last section of that reading, about elderly people, includes the statement that some cultures, especially in the aftermath of “disordered industrial development”, have

set the elderly aside in unacceptable ways.  This causes acute suffering to them and spiritually impoverishes many families. (#27)

Do you recognize this description of inadequate care for elderly people from your own experience?

In the UK we quite frequently hear on the media about appallingly poor care of elderly people, whether in hospitals or nursing homes.  It strikes me that the John Paul’s words are apt.

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The next reading comprises two excerpts from later in FC.  The heading of the first is ‘Participating in the Development of Society’ and, as this implies, the emphasis is on the role of families in looking beyond themselves and engaging with the wider society in ways that contribute to the common good.  Pope John Paul then goes on to locate families within the life and mission of the Church (#49).  Here he develops the idea he has introduced earlier of the “domestic church” (#21).  A number of commentators, including Lisa Cahill and also Julie Hanlon Rubio, whom you’ll encounter at the end of the unit, have seen this idea as having huge potential for developing our understanding of the role of families in wider society.

We can see the second excerpt in the next reading, ##63-64, as spelling out something of what it means for family to be “domestic church”.  Here John Paul quotes a Synod of Bishops statement on family life issued in the year before FC:

[T]he family is to form persons in love and also to practise love in all its relationships, so that it does not live closed in on itself, but remains open to the community, moved by a sense of justice and concern… [and] by a consciousness of its responsibility towards the whole of society. (#64)

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Reading  (7pp)

Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, ##42-50 and ##63-64 (Part 3.III and some of Part 3.IV)

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Reflection

What is your reaction to John Paul’s proposal that we may see the family as a “Church in miniature” or “domestic church” (#49)?

Can this uplift and inspire family life, so that this is oriented beyond itself and becomes committed in practical ways to the common good?  What do you think this might mean in practice?

Or is that idea unrealistic, granted the demands and pressures which family life itself produces?

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There is one really important thing about John Paul’s characterization of family as “domestic church” that we need to notice.  He is, in effect, relocating how we should see family life, presenting it not in the context of ‘nature’ but instead in the context of ‘church’.  In other words, his emphasis is not, in this document, that the family is a ‘natural society’, as in the Compendium, but that the family fits within the work of the gospel, the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

These two ways of seeing family life are not at all contradictory.  The gospel is first and foremost about renewal of what was given in nature but has become distorted by sin.  It is as a ‘natural society’ that, by the grace of God, the family comes within the mission of the Church – just as it is as a ‘natural human being’ that any of us comes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and so to take part in the Church’s life and mission.

Rather than a contradiction, that difference is one of emphasis.  It means that John Paul can bring out powerfully how the life of the family itself should manifest the love of Christ, both in the practice of each member towards one another, and in the family’s life as a whole in extending beyond itself to serve the wider community.  This is how family life properly serves its inherent natural end.

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End of 6.3.6

Go to 6.3.7 Cahill’s assessment of CST on family life

 

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