Today the Church is placing an unprecedented amount of emphasis on the need to evangelize families. The Holy Father knows the important role that catechists play in ministering to families. One of the first things Pope Francis did as a new pontiff was to meet with catechists from around the world and explain that to be a good catechist “one cannot be afraid of going beyond one’s comfort zone.” At this moment in our history, we as catechists are being called to a change in our focus from catechizing the child to evangelizing the family. For many these changes may require giving up what has become comfortable for us.
Yet the Holy Father is not asking anything of us, which he himself is not already doing. Right from the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has pushed the boundaries of charity and mercy, thus modeling for us the demands of Christianity, the demands of Love. We have read the stories of his Holy Thursday foot washing of young prisoners, male, female, Christian and non-Christian; his alleged sneaking out of the Vatican at night to minister to the homeless; we have seen his embrace of the handicap, the sick and the elderly; we have heard him speak of Christ’s mercy for us all. The Holy Father understands that if he is to challenge us to go beyond our comfort zone, he must first show us how to do that by going beyond his. So he has brought to life St. Paul’s exhortation, Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. (1Cor. 11:1) Thus, as catechists we also must go beyond our own comfort zones to in turn make a way for Catholic families to go beyond theirs.
Jesus never worried about his own comfort, His sole concern was to do the will of his Father. For example, did Jesus just stay in Nazareth and expect the people to come to Him? That would have been a lot more comfortable than traveling by foot throughout Israel. No, He went to out to the people, to their towns and into their very homes. The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus spending time with families and the miracles that came from His presence among them. Zacheaus, Peter, Jairus, Matthew, Martha, Mary, Lazarus, the Pharisees, etc… all welcomed Jesus into their homes. What came from those visits were conversions, spiritual, emotional and physical healings. People were even raised from the dead. Miracles happened when Jesus was in their homes. In fact, for the first two hundred years of the Church, mass was said in the houses of the early Christians because they lived under the threat of persecution. It was from those masses that they drew the strength to live and sometimes die for their faith.
Into people’s homes and hearts is where Jesus went 2000+ years ago and that is where He still is today! Christ as the center of our family life is as natural and as essential as oxygen in our bodies. The world would make the notion of the domestic church or a Catholic home with living faith to be either an oddity or an extraordinary feat. Yet, the simple truth is that without God as its center, family life cannot thrive. And without families at the heart of the Church, she cannot thrive. Thriving and flourishing is exactly what Jesus wants for us. He told us this himself when he said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” There is an abundance of blessings that God longs to give to families. Since Jesus is there within the home, then that’s where we, as Christ’s missionary catechists need to go too!
So each of us needs to pause and consider what new approaches we can try to bring awareness to families in our communities that Christ is truly dwelling with them. There are multitudes of ways to do just that. For example, catechists are partnering with parents using a variety of simple methods, such as inviting students’ families to participate in service opportunities and seasonal liturgical events. Parish leaders are doing everything from incorporating an adult formation component within their vacation bible school formats to completely changing their programs over to monthly family faith formation models. Parent Advisory Boards are created to brainstorm ideas about how to initiate campaigns to effectively communicate concepts such as the four components of the Domestic church and parents as primary educators of the faith. The options are endless and there is no one right way to do it! But we must have the courage to do something and in love, take action to support and minister to our families. It is within their midst that we will find Jesus is waiting for us to evangelize.
- Patrice Spirou is the assistant director of religious education in the Office of Formation and Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.