Today marks the 20th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos: On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church. He has a lot to say about Joseph’s vocation as father and spouse to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Feast of the Assumption we celebrate today. John Paul fleshes out what it looks like to build a domestic church. He shows how the Holy Family modeled this.
The Virtue of St. Joseph
Because of his hiddenness and simplicity, Joseph is often overlooked. Matthew 1:19 shows this when Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant. We read that:
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly”. After the angel Gabriel appeared to him in the slumber of a dream, Joseph gave his own fiat to the Lord, just as Mary did and “when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel had commanded him and took his wife into his home. -Matthew 1:24
John Paul writes about how, after the angel appeared to St. Joseph, he took Mary in, embracing the mystery of her motherhood. In doing so, he exemplifies a purity and readiness of will, just like Mary’s. Joseph’s faith was united to that of Mary’s and he was obedient to God.
In his masculinity and great self control, Joseph respected Mary’s call to give herself wholeheartedly to God. He knew that his vocation and path to Heaven was to love and care for Mary. He did this with great virtue and selflessness in his vocation as husband.
St. Joseph’s Fatherhood
St. Joseph served Jesus in his fatherhood. In his vocation as father, he gave his whole life to his family. Joseph raised Jesus. His life’s work provided for Jesus’ food, clothing, and education. Joseph brought sanctification to the Holy Family’s life though his daily work because it is through the work that we do that we become more human, and more dignified.
Pope Pius IX declared Joseph the Patron of the Catholic Church. John Paul writes that:
Besides trusting in Joseph’s sure protection, the Church also trusts in his noble example, which transcends all individual states of life and serves as a model for the entire Christian community, whatever the condition and duties of each of its members may be.
He urges us to look to St. Joseph as a model for each and every one of us, no matter our state in life.
The Holy Family and the Domestic Church
John Paul II said in Redemptoris Custos that:
…it is in the Holy Family, the original ‘Church in miniature (Ecclesia domestica), that every Christian family must be reflected. Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families.
Mary and Joseph’s relationship was focused on Jesus. Their witness is one we can look to as we aim to better love those in our lives, be they our spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends or co-workers.
It is through Mary and Joseph’s marriage that the spousal gift of self is realized. John Paul describes them as being the summit from where holiness spreads over all the earth and where we can learn to be a sanctuary of love. He writes:
The essence and role of the family are in the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.
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Role of Singles, Married Couples, and Families
Whether or not we are single or married, we are all part of a family, be it dysfunctional or not. All families are called to be an image of Christ’s love for the Church.
If we are still living with our parents, we can strengthen this “Church in miniature” by practicing selflessness in a variety of ways. For example, by preparing a home-cooked meal for dinner and leading your family in grace, intentionally inviting a parent or sibling out for a coffee date, spending extra time tidying up the house, or simply being more present when someone in our family shares a story with us.
If you are married, building up the domestic church can include starting you and your spouses’ day with prayer, planting your roots firmly in Jesus’ love and truth. It can mean being more attentive to your spouse’s needs and desires. Aim to serve them in this way, despite the inconvenience and uncomfortability it may call for (full disclosure: this is one I am far from perfecting).
If you are blessed with children, building up the domestic church within your home could mean a daily family prayer time, keeping Christ at the center. There are so many small and simple ways in which you can live out the Church in your home. You can hang up religious art, place holy water fonts in your children’s rooms, volunteer as a family, and frequent the Sacraments.
Resources for the Family
If you are looking to cultivate the domestic church within your own home, here are a few resources to get you started.
The Little Oratory – Bring the Eucharistic worship of the Mass into your home with this book! Learn how your family life can transform the world.
Around the Year with the Von Trapp Family – Make your earthly home a reflection of our Eternal Home with the help of Maria von Trapp. She shares about her favorite Christian traditions, including songs, personal recipes, and games to celebrate both traditional and holy days.
The Catholic All Year Compedium: Liturgical Living for Real Life – This book is written by one of Blessed is She’s very own writers, Kendra Tierney. She offers her ideas on how to incorporate the liturgical year into your family’s life.
Pray With Me: Seven Simple Ways to Pray with Your Children – Former director of Children’s Ministry for the Apostleship of Prayer shares how to incorporate spontaneous prayer into your family’s everyday life through simple opportunities like hearing an ambulance siren or preparing for a test.
Teachingcatholickids.com – This online tool comes from Our Sunday Visitor. They provide free downloadable activities and weekly articles.
Catholicicing.com – Here is your site for creating fun Catholic projects and crafts!
The Holy Family as a Model for Our Families and Homes
Regardless of your current state in life, Pope Francis wrote a beautiful and simple prayer which everyone can use to pray for the grace to live out the domestic church in their own family.How (+ Why) to Build Your Domestic Church #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Susanna Parent is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She serves as Evangelization Manager for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Evangelization. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. When she’s not reading and writing you can find her enjoying life with her new husband, brewing French press coffee in her kitchen, reading wine labels with friends in an effort to discover the perfect Pinot Noir and blogging about her travel adventures. You can find out more about her here.