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This article was published in the January 1995 issue of The Journal.

Domestic Church: New Vector or Cul-de-Sac?

Tim, the eight-year-old son in a Canadian interchurch family, came home one May afternoon to report that his second-grade teacher had discussed Mary during religion class. Because a number of his classmates were Protestant (as is typical of Canadian p ochial schools), the teacher had asked each student whether or not he or she was a Catholic and familiar with M ian devotions. Tim had responded, "I know my father is Norwegian and my mother is Polish!" It had not occurred to him that his father's belonging to a Lutheran church and his mother's belonging to a Catholic church was a cause for division or separation. He did know that ethnic identity all too often creates boundaries and emphasises striking differences between people. One cannot imagine a morc hopeful sign that ecumenism at the grassroots has transformed a new generation of young people. Despite differences, they are no longer seen as absolutely divisive. The family itself is experienced as a source of unity, not of division.

When the Roman Catholic Church heralded the family as the "domestic church" in Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium, 11), a new emphasis was placed upon family life as genuinely sacramentaL We were asked to consider the family as representative of the ue nature of the church (a church in miniature, or an ecclesiola). Lumen gentium also gave us other refreshing metaphors for understanding the nature of the church: the church was "the people of God" rather than the bureaucratic institution. For interchurch families, a new horizon dawned when the Roman Catholic Church began to speak in the Decree on Ecumenism(Unitatis redintegratio, 22) of a deeper sacramental unity: "Baptism, therefore, constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn." But the Council went on to insist that baptism is "only a beginning, a point of departure ... [ordained toward] a complete integration into eucharistic communion." (See G. Kilcourse, Double Belonging: Interchurch families and Christian Unity, Paulist Press, 1992, pp. 124-28.) The questions we face in the wake of these developments are two-fold. (1) To what extent is the concept of the family as a "domestic church" a new vector opening up unimagined possiblities for both the churches d for interchurch families who struggle with the scandal of divided churches? (2) What temative visions of the family do we need to consider vis-a-vis the realities of interchurch families?

Theological research in the USA
In June 1994, the Catholic Theological Society of America's annual convention, meeting in Baltimore, included a session onThe Domestic Church. This seminar reported on the work of a team of theologians who were appointed by the CTSA president in response to a request from the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life.

The CTSA was asked to rese ch and evaluate the theological concept of "the domestic church". In this initial public session, the members commented on their various contributions to the research. They envision their research as an extended project, perhaps requiring ve years of work. In the wake of numerous methodological questions, they have struggled with definitions of both "family" and "church". The literature addressing the "crisis" of the family in this present era of transition provides an index to the complexity of the CTSA research team's task.

However, several valuable insights from the CTSA team's work have a bearing upon the lives of interchurch families. Michael Fahey, SJ, Dean of tlle Theology Faculty at the University of Toronto, cautioned theologians that the term "domestic church" was introduced into the third version of Vatican II's schema, De Ecclesia; and it was initially employed to promote the role of parents in cultivating among their children vocations to the priesthood and religious life. To what extent does this narrow original use of the term constrict the subsequent connotations of "the domestic church"? Fahey suggested that it would be more theologically fruitful to emphasise the koinonia, or communion, elements in the family as a foundation for our appreciation of the family as a resource for an understanding of the nature of the church as koinonia.

The evolution of the Roman Catholic Church's a irmation of the family has gained momentum in the past two decades. In 1981 Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio for the first time positively linked the sacramental life of the family to the ecumenical quest for the restoration of Christian unity (see Kilcourse, Double Belonging, pp. 66-70). "Marriages between Catholics and other baptised persons," said John Paul II, "have their particular nature, but they contain numerous elements that could well be made good use of and developed, both for their intrinsic value and for the contribution they can make to the ecumenical movement." (n.78) In 1993 the Vatican's new ecumenical Directoryre ected the church's progressive attitude towards "mixed marriages" by including an entire chapter on "Communion in Life and Spiritual Activity among the Baptised"; a six-page section of that chapter details the church's policy towards "mixed marriages", including a careful treatment of the possibility of "exceptional" but nonetheless real eucharistic sharing by interchurch family members. The major importance of this 1993 Directory is the fact that it did not retract the generous possibilities opened up by canon 844 of the1983 Revised Code ojCano/l Law while it reflects throughout its pages the theology of "stages of communion" and the rights of all baptised persons.

Follow the Way of Love
In November 1993 the US Catholic bishops issued a pastoral message, "Follow the Way of Love", which speaks not exclusively of Catholic-Catholic ma iages but of "the Christian family". The title of the text comes from Paul's letter to the Ephesians (5: 2): It is "the vocation of every Christian to follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you." The bishops affirm for families that "You are the church in your home" and illustrate how faith and love, fostering intimacy, evangelising and educating, praying and serving, welcoming strangers, acting justly and affi ing life, all give evidence of a domestic church.

When the US bishops state that "No domestic church does all this perfectly," they re ect the teaching of Vatican II's universal call to holiness (Lumen gentium, 11, 40 and 41). They also echo a key teaching of John Paul II when they say, "A family is not holy because it is perfect but because God's grace is at work in it, helping it to set out anew every day on the way of Jove." (In Familiaris Consortio, n.78, Pope John Paul II affirms the daily struggle of "mixed marriage" couples and their children against obstacles that impede what he calls "the dynamism of grace" operative in their marriages.) It remains disappointing that the US bishops chose the imprecise, generic teml "interreligious marriages" (and, alternately, "interfaith marriages") to describe all marital unions that include a non-Catholic. However, they are quick to o er an optimistic note along with their commitment to more deliberate pastoral care to such families: "Families arising from an interreligious marriage give witness to the universality of God's love which overcomes all division. When family members respect one another's different religious beliefs and practices, they testify to our deeper unity as a human family called to live in peace with one another."

These developments, while less than adequate for the genuine needs of interchurch families, prove a barometer to measure the changed climate in which the church is awakening to the centrality of the family. Whether the neologism, "the domestic church", will survive as the new vector for further progressive steps towards full communion of the churches seems problematic. For too many interchurch families, this terminology of the "domestic church" can carry connotations of domesticating their family according to some pre-conceived, canonical paradigm that accepts the scandal of our division and only grudgingly a ords possibilities for fuller communion, e.g. in "exceptional" eucharistic sharing that is hardly a celebration, but all too often carried out as an institutional church's averted glance. "Domestic church" can unfortunately communicate "status quo" in such circumstances. There are ambivalent signals coming from the Roman Catholic Church when the realities of interchurch families are introduced into the discussion of the "domestic church". Because the original use of the term nowhere acknowledged the fact of growing numbers of mixed maniages or the lived experience of interchurch families who personify the vision of the Decree on Ecumenism and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, a huge gap yawns before us.

In an effort to suggest how we might avoid a cuI-de-sac u derstanding of the "domestic church", I will raise four issues that interchurch families can contribute to our appreciation of the nature of the church: (1) the family as koinonia; (2) the family vis-a-vis the early house churches; (3) the interchurch family as a model of "unity in diversity"; and (4) the base community as a mediating Sh'ucture between family and institutional church.

1 Family as koinonia

The development of the koinonia, or communion, model in ecumenical dialogue has provided an extraordinary gift to the churches. Not only in ARCIC and other bilateral dialogues, but even in the documents of the World Council of Churches' Faith and Order Commission, the churches have come to envision their relationship in terms of "degrees or stages" of communion en route to the restoration of full communion. What the family experience con ibutes to this understanding of communion should not be underestimated. The relational quality of our lives has begun to be emphasised in te s of the foundational doctrine of God as Trinity. Catherine LaCugna (in God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, Harper, 1992) insists that o misunderstanding of this doctrine, and the eonsequent metaphysical rarifying of its meaning, misses the point that because we experience God as Trinity this is a highly practical doctrine. In what ways does our experience of the life cycle in family reflect a relational reality, mirroring an equality of persons? One of the foremost ways in which the family is renegotiating this mystery comes in terms of family roles which are no longer seen as hierarchical. In the Christian family, with Christ as the "head", what experiences of the "domestic church" are carried over into the life of the institutional church?

2 Family vis-a-vis the early house churches

It is frighteningly easy to forget that the Jewish roots of Christianity draw us back to the family as central to a home life of prayer. The Friday celebration of sabbath and e meal, with its ritual prayers and roles, all afforded pattems for early Chris an worship. The Pauline letters give ample evidence of the e ly Christian house churches. The egalitarian nature of these gatherings where slave and free associated and accepted one another in a demonstratively countercultural assembly tells us something profound about the earliest Christians. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza (in In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, Crossroad,1983) has surveyed the scholarly literature on house churches and contributes her own research to open the question of a feminist interpretation of the ekklesia of women in the early church. What dramatic appropriation of the church might interchurch families and the institutional church itself glean from such a reconsideration of the nature of the "domestic church"? Could there be a way out of the labyrinth for our churches, which are also divided over the question of e ordination of women and their o er roles in the life of the church, if we begin with the family of baptised persons as equal disciples? Are we necessarily limited to the historical choices about the church and its s ucture which were made in particular social contexts? What choices are we making for the structures of today's church and how does the life of the believing family affect our future choices?

3 The interchurch family as a model of "unity in diversity"

One of the most neglected resources in the lives of interchurch families is the New Testament. The canon of epistles and gospels re ects an extraordinary diversity. Different understandings of the church sit side by side in these various writings. It can prove an eye-opening experience for interchurch spouses and their children to retrieve the extraordinary range of understandings which co-exist in the New Testament. The continuum, ranging om absolute ecclesial authority to charismatic expressions by prophetic figures, a ords a dramatic insight into the church of the first two centuries as well as the later church which selected a canon of books that maintain a "unity in diversity" that gives us the paradigm for our ecumenical vision of "communion" between our distinct church traditions. Raymond Brown sketches a very readable and provocative study of The Churches the Apostles Left Behind(Paulist Press, 1984), in ways at an interchurch family would find strengthening their own sense of a family living the "unity in diversity" of the early church. How might a family appropriate this and o er their own new gi s for the Great Church of the future?

4 The base community as a mediating structure between family and the institutional church

In the CTSA research team's report on the "domestic church", an impo ant note was made of the experience of US Hispanic Catholics. The familiar "base communities" (which trace their origins to Latin America) exhibit a healthy distrust of the institutional church. Hispanics are not oriented to the institution church. And they prefer the "extended family" to the US model of the "nuclear family". What becomes apparent in this analysis is the need for mediating structures between the "domestic church" of the family and the larger institutional (and bureaucratic) church.

One finds in Hispanic culture the propensity to welcome o ers into the home. Several "godmothers" can be welcomed into the house of a family for prayer and biblical reflections. One is reminded of the delegates of the Word in Third World countries. Because many of these communities are virtually without priests, new ministries emerge. Popular religiosity keeps the faith alive. Such roles of leadership and ministry exercised by baptised persons in these larger-than-family (but smaller-than-institutional church) structures suggest that the "domestic church" needs a mediating structure. In the case of interchurch families, associations of interchurch families offer that very element. How do we bring "mixed marriage" couples from their domestic church experience as the true locus of the "dynamism of grace" to these mediating structures of interchurch family groups? Without such b dges to the institutional church, they risk being marginalised or even su ering e malpractice of unenlightened officials in the institution church. If there is any new vector, I suggest that it can be found in the tentative and fragile structure of our AIF networks.

A conclusion.

Of all the parables of Jesus, the one that intersects subtly but e ectively with this topic of the "domestic church" is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9-14). All the parables are important to us because they surprisingly reverse our expectations. They were canonised in order to keep the institutional church from absolutising itself. In this particular parable, Luke describes both the Ph isee and the tax collector going up to the temple to pray. What a contrast! The self-righteous Pharisee justifies himself by a catalogue of his virtues which make him more acceptable than the despised tax collector. The very placement of the two characters tells us something: the Pharisee took up his position (a position of honour in the Temple), but the tax collector "stood off at a distance", reluctant even to raise his eyes. His prayer was a sinner's simple but poignant plea for God's mercy. Luke concludes the parable by telling us, "I tell you the latter went home jus fied, not the former." The geography tells us everything:home is the place of holiness for this reconciled tax collector. Humility is the way of love, a virtue acquired and negotiated
in every home and family's life. Here all family hierarchies unravel in the wake of a love that recognises the inherent dignity of every person. Its origin is in the only "head" of the Christian home, Christ who humbled himself as an example for us.

From such a "domestic church" of our homes, we seek mediating structures to lead us with our gifts and needs to the church, the gathering of believers in the assembly of faith. We come, not domesticated, but enlivened with faith and an impulse for mission. In such a way, interchurch families contribute to the church both light and new vectors for an exodus out of a dark cul-de-sac of the status quo.

George Kilcourse