You don’t have to be familiar with Lumen Gentium 11 to know that the family is called to be a “domestic church.” The notion of that call, and the term itself, have become common lingo in a lot of Catholic circles.
And familiarity with the concept is a good first step. But translating it to reality in family life is much more critical. And therein lies the problem for many families, my own included.
But that’s been changing.
My wife always seems to be taking the lead when it comes to molding our family in the model of a domestic Church, even if I’m the one studying for theology degrees. Thanks to her, we have great Advent traditions of prayer and song; our children know a lot of cool Gregorian chants; and we go absolutely all out for Holy Week. But what about the rest of the year? What about the day in, day out, “ordinary time” of family life?
Sometimes we’ve hit on good streaks, maintaining a sense of Christian discipleship in the home — consistent with our own prayer, with prayer as a family, etc. But those streaks always sputter and fade.
Recently, though, my wife stumbled on an excellent book, Holly Pierlot’s A Mother’s Rule of Life, and its simple suggestions have begun to transform our family life.
The basic idea of the book is that family life, like monastic or religious life, is a calling. And, the author proposes, a family can benefit — just as religious do — from a rule.
The point of the rule for a monastery or convent is to ensure a proper balance in life that allows the monks or sisters to pursue radical holiness without abandoning the earthly concerns that must be attended.
The same can apply to families.
When my wife started telling me about the book and the idea, my first thought was, “Why didn’t I think of that before?” It then struck me that Pope Francis said something along these lines in Amoris Laetitia (cf. paragraphs #224-226). He notes, for instance, that sometimes married couples get too busy to spend time with one another, or that they forget how to just be with one another in tender moments of affection. There needs to be a liturgy to the life of a family, an ordered way of going through life.
Since my wife read the book, she’s formulated our own Arredondo family rule, and we’ve been doing our best to stick to it. I’m almost afraid to say this, but … we’ve been caught up on laundry for two weeks. In a row. Dishes aren’t piling up. The kids are learning to do chores. Our children’s rooms are no longer a death trap of toys waiting to be stepped on unwittingly in the middle of the night. We’re getting more time in for prayer than we have in a long time, and my wife and I are able to spend evenings together without having to worry about catching up on housework, dishes, and other chores.
Let me stress that the spiritual aspects of the rule are more important than any of the practical housework stuff. But how many families are stressed out because of things like clothes and dishes? How many times do we face things we have to do and then look at the spiritual life as something we’d like to do?
More to read: Mary Poppins Won’t Be Landing Here in 2016
Living with a rule — which, I should add, is always flexible and subject to adaptation — is simplifying our life. We’re focusing more on the things that really matter and getting more in tune with our spiritual vocation as parents — all that and being able to locate our favorite outfits because, hey, they’re hanging up nicely in our closets, instead of buried in a pile on the laundry room floor.