Here's how parents can be “the first heralds of the faith” to their children and the ministers of the domestic church.
Parents care for their families in countless ways. If you tried to describe parenting as a job, you would have to include the titles of diplomat, referee, coach, nurse, chauffeur, chef, teacher, cheerleader, and so many more! For Christian parents, one of the most important of these roles is being spiritual leaders for their families.
The family has an extraordinary role in the life of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the family as “the domestic church” or the Ecclesia domestica (1656).
Believing families are “of primary importance,” it says. They illuminate the world through their witness as “centers of living, radiant faith” in a world that is “often alien and even hostile” to belief in God.
In the family, the parents shape the environment. They are called to be “the first heralds of the faith” to their children. They lead their children in exercising “the priesthood of the baptized” (1657), such as in the following ways:
- Reception of the sacraments
- Prayer and thanksgiving
- The witness of a holy life
- Active charity
Thus parents serve as ministers of God’s grace to their spouses and children. A wonderful illumination of this concept can be found in The Prodigal Church, Brandon McGinley’s excellent recent book.
The Prodigal Church reveals what the history of Catholicism can teach present-day Catholics as we seek strategies for renewing today’s Church. McGinley’s deep love for tradition and beauty is accompanied by a practical and astute analysis, making this book a requisite read.
“While ordained ministers obviously have an irreplaceable role in the spiritual life of the family, the domestic church also needs its own kind of priests: the parents,” McGinley writes. His words mirror the Catechism, which calls parents to exercise their baptismal priesthood within their family homes.
Here are three key ways that parents can serve as ministers of grace for their families. This ministry helps the whole family to share in Christ’s “prophetic and royal mission.”
1Make the Sacraments and communal prayer everyday parts of life
McGinley writes that Christians have “‘vertical’ religious duties to God” as well as “‘horizontal’ duties to our fellow men.” Together, these become the Cross of Christ, lived out in our daily actions. “When you add the vertical to the horizontal, you get the cruciform reality of the family, of society, of life.”
The first step, then, is to fulfill the duty of worship that is owed to God. The words of the Liturgy remind us that it is both “right” and “just” to “give thanks to the Lord our God.”
2Serve each other and your community with charity
Once the “vertical” part is in place, the “horizontal” is next. The grace of God that transforms our souls flows out onto our fellow man. “We are called not just to absorb His grace but to communicate it to others,” McGinley writes.
3Take up the duty of ministry and share it with your children
The most effective way to teach children is to model the desired behavior with your own actions. So praying regularly, taking part in the Sacraments, and serving others with love are the most important things parents can do to be ministers of grace for their families.
On top of that, it helps to talk to your children about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Parents can understand their role as witnesses to the goodness of the Gospel in the midst of the world, and can explain this joyful mission to their children.
Through these three actions, as well as through other ways of participating in the life of a believing Christian, “the grace-filled ministry of parenting is fruitful, because grace is always fruitful,” McGinley writes.
[The family] forms a genuine society in miniature and nurtures in the next generation a love of priestly ministry, whether the priesthood of the baptized or the priesthood of the altar. And it strengthens our resolve to go out boldly and fulfill Christ’s “prophetic and royal mission.”