I was scheduled to be on “More2Life” with Dr. Greg & Lisa Popcak this morning, but Dr. Greg is sick and has lost his voice! Prayers for you, Dr. Greg. We all hope you recover quickly. I thought I would briefly explore the topic we were going to discuss on the show: “The Domestic Church Images the Last Supper.”
Today is Holy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum, and the day we recall the Last Supper. At the Last Supper, Christ instituted the Eucharist as a supernatural banquet that nourishes believers spiritually. He also washed the feet of the 12 Apostles in an act of profound humility. How do we, as Catholic parents, live in concrete ways the significance of the Last Supper in our own homes?
The Domestic Church Images the Eucharist
The Second Vatican Council called our families “the domestic church” because we image and participate in the work of the Universal Church. In fact, families are critical to the mission of the church. Just as the Universal Church repeats Christ’s sacrifice on the altar at every Mass for the benefit and unity of all believers, so we parents as heads of our domestic church feed our families spiritually through the sacrifices we make as parents.
Parents have the grave duty to form their children’s spiritual lives. It takes time and planning, but as heads of our domestic church, we have to recognize our supreme role in leading our children to Heaven. Our families need to pray together and live a Christ-centered life within our homes. In addition, we feed our children spiritually when we treat them with dignity and respect. Children are made in the image and likeness of God: they have the capacity for self-giving, selfless love. But when their parents scare them, hit them, ignore them, or focus only on their external achievements, children are distanced from that capacity within themselves. John Paul II exhorted the domestic church to become “communities of love” as witnesses to the world. When we take that extra moment and go that extra mile to understand things from our child’s perspective, to discern their true needs not just what we assume they need, to guard their hearts, we are building up our communities of love.
Gathering our little flock at family dinners is one of the most beautiful ways we image The Last Supper in our homes. As we sacrifice our time and energy to present a beautiful meal to our children, and often extended family and friends, we are providing an opportunity for communion. Communion is an exchange of gifts, not just mom or dad doing all the sharing and giving. We can provide opportunities for our children to share their ideas and talents at the table, and to work with us to present the family meal.
The Washing of Feet: We Kneel Down to Exalt Our Children
At the Last Supper, Christ kneeled down and washed the feet of the disciples in an act of humility that has reverberated through history. If you attend Mass tonight you will see your priest imitating this same action on the altar: He will wash the feet of 12 men (sometimes men and women). Well we parents imitate this action daily in our parenting vocation. Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that in this moment of the feet washing, Christ was taking on the task of a slave. It shows that “God doesn’t want to trample on us, but kneels down before us to exalt us. The mystery of the greatness of God is seen precisely in the fact that he can be so small.” He kneels down before to exalt us. Wow.
We parents image this action every day. We literally wash our children’s feet. We wipe their dirty bottoms, clean their boogery noses, and clip their toenails. Parents are willing to make themselves small in order to keep their children clean and healthy. But this extends to our child’s emotional health as well. Creating an atmosphere in our homes that fosters strong bonding and connection usually means parents have to make themselves small in some way: Dad has to do the dishes so Mom can nurse the baby, both parents have to sacrifice achievement outside the home in order to do what’s right for their family, we let our kids put capes and wigs on us so they can be in charge of play sometimes. Making ourselves small in these ways raises up our children in dignity.
When we’re having a tough day, I hope we can remember Benedict’s wisdom. When we kneel down in order to exalt our children, we are imaging Christ at the Last Supper. We all hope our homes will become holy and peaceful; we all hope we will have the wisdom and charity to create an atmosphere that reflects what the Holy Family’s home might have looked like. But we’re dealing daily with the effects of sin and the hand of the Devil trying to muck up everything we do. We move toward conversion through grace, with our families resting in the hand of God. Conversion in our homes doesn’t happen all at once. God offers us small opportunities for conversion as we walk our path together as a family. When we make sacrifices and surrender our own needs in order to help our children become stronger emotionally, physically, and spiritually, I think we are participating in a very real way Christ’s work of conversion.
Have a blessed Holy Thursday with your families, the domestic church.