Q: Archbishop J, why missioning the Domestic Church?
In the New Testament on Pentecost Day, many amazing things happen. A mighty rushing wind fills the Upper Room where Mary, the apostles and disciples are gathered. Tongues of fire come to rest on their heads, then all begin to speak in foreign tongues as the Spirit gives them utterance (Acts 2:2–4).
The wind is the same one that swept over the waters at the beginning of creation (Gen 1:2); and that blew the breath of life into the nostrils of the man formed out of clay (Gen 2:7).
This is the same wind that was summoned from the four corners of the world to breathe on the dry bones, so the bones could come together, take on flesh, stand upright and become a mighty army (Ezek 37:1–14).
At Pentecost, the people from all over the known world realised they could hear the apostles speaking in their own native language (Acts 2:5–12). This is significant. It is the overcoming of Babel, where the language of humans was confused and people could no longer understand one other (Gen 11:1–9), for at Pentecost the apostles spoke in their dialect and all the peoples of the world understood.
Pentecost is the unification of the human family into one. It brings together that which was scattered.
The first part of the story is what happened to the apostles and disciples, what God did; the mighty marvels that God worked in their lives by sending the Holy Spirit.
The rest of the Pentecost text is what the apostles then did as a response to God, and the further outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The apostles and disciples were transformed from spectators and passive recipients to active participants in the mission of God. Peter stands up and delivers a sermon, his first, in which he calls the hearers to repentance (Acts 2:14–36). They respond, and some 3,000 were baptised that day (Acts 2:37–41).
Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. It is the time of the transformation of the apostles and disciples into the body of Christ. It is the calling into conversion of the first Christians. It is the realisation of the gifts given to the Church so she could be understood and proclaim the mighty Word of God to all peoples.
The Holy Spirit missioned the apostles and disciples who were gathered in the Upper Room. It is not just that the Holy Spirit ministered to them, as evidenced by their transformation. The Holy Spirit transformed them into missionaries. They immediately left the Upper Room and went out and began to proclaim the mighty works of God.
If the Holy Spirit came only to minister to the disciples and apostles, the Spirit would have to repeat this to every group of human beings, as with a relationship of parent to child.
But after this first encounter, the Holy Spirit now has co-missioners who work alongside God in the mission that the Father entrusted to Jesus. The apostles now participate in this mission and become fellow workers with Christ and the Holy Spirit (1 Cor:3–9). This is made clear by the immediacy of their call to action and the first sermon preached immediately after they received the Holy Spirit.
As people encounter the Holy Spirit, they are pressed into action. They become fellow workers with God. The recipient becomes the giver. This dynamic transformation is vital if we are to understand this new phase of being Church. We are not launching a mission to the Domestic Church. We are missioning the Domestic Church. There is a world of difference.
The former would have us consistently doing things for the Domestic Church. It creates an us-and-them relationship. It creates ministers and recipients of ministry. Missioning the Domestic Church recognises what St John Paul II understood: The Domestic Church is integrally part of the mission, and as such needs to be on mission. We are calling the family to participate in the mission, which Christ entrusted to the apostles.
“Family, become what you are!” is a phrase used by St John Paul II in his encyclical letter Familiaris Consortio (1982). By understanding what the family is, the family is pressed into mission. This is what the Holy Father is saying:
The family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do. The role that God calls the family to perform in history derives from what the family is; its role represents the dynamic and existential development of what it is. Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are (Familiaris Consortio) 17.
Missioning the family first requires that we help the family understand and live its identity. It is in this discovery that the family also discovers its mission and finds the path to live the mission. This is the process of missioning.
We are not sending the family to some far-off place. We are asking the family to discover again its core and principle for existence. By this discovery of what the family is, the family will also discover its mission.
This is subtle but very important. If we had a mission to Catholic families, we may help them discover their identity. But we will still need to mission them to live it and become fellow workers in the mission that is Christ.
What is the family? First of all, it is a domestic church. Everything we do in the Church, parish or universal, we also do in the family. There is mission, sacrifice, blessing, calling forth the gifts of others; there is prayer and daily offering and encouraging each other to sacrifice.
By finding its identity, the family lives its mission. This is the process of missioning.
Reflect on the experience of the family you grew up in, was it a domestic church? How could you help your family to become what it should be?