Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Will the Domestic Church Grow as the Institutional Church Shrinks?

I recently had a conversation with a priest friend who opined that when enforced shelter-at-home is over, many churches will not re-open. Those who went to church out of habit will very likely not come back once the habit is broken. If he is right (and I hope he isn’t, but I think he may be) where does it leave us?
Are our parishes set for closure?
It is a truism that it will be the most pious and most faithful who will work hardest to retain, or if necessary, regain the habit of church attendance. I imagine the scenario, therefore, in which fewer people are concentrated in stronger parishes. We might already be seeing the signs of this; I heard of one Latin Mass church recently that has increased the number of Masses each Sunday since shelter-in-place started, to serve a community that consists in some cases of people who drive for hours to get there each week. However, with the best will in the world, not everyone can do this, and the situation may be so dire that some may not be able to get to church even when everything is restored.
I have thought about how to respond to this general picture, and the best answer I can come up with is to focus on leading a good and holy life with home-based liturgical piety at its heart.

When our local church was forced to close down in March, our pastor inspired us to continue a life of holiness and penitence, even if we were unable to get to church and participate in the sacraments, with the story of St Mary of Egypt, who went 47 years without receiving communion. The reasons for this were particular to her, but the lesson I learn from this is not that I don’t need the Sacraments, but rather that when they are not available to me, I can still lead a good and holy life and grow in the love of God.

A contemporary neo-Coptic rendition of St Mary of Egypt. I like this one because you get a hint of her beauty as a young women, which played such a part in the dissolute life that she led before repentance.
Perhaps this might be a time in which we see a growth of the Domestic Church not as an alternative to the parish church (although it may have to be that for some), but rather as a support to it by which we might actually see an enrichment of parish life when we get back to church.

A more conventional icon of St Mary of Egypt
I wrote some time ago about a talk on the model for parish life based upon that of the early Church, called The Apostolic Blueprint for a Parish - A Model Christian Community in the Modern Age. This template isolated four necessary parts of parish life: liturgical, social, educational, and charitable. Once all of those are in place and working together, it is asserted, evangelization will occur. All of us can participate in any of these aspects of parish life, but each of us has a special gift to participate in one of them preferentially, so as to contribute to the build-up of the Christian community most efficiently.

It seems to me that we can focus on each of these aspects of Christian living as laypeople and, if the situation demands, without the parish as the focus. Through this, we can build up the Domestic Church and a vigorous regrowth of Christian community, based in our homes, might occur.

Benedict XVI was prescient in predicting that the Church will very likely have to shrink before it will grow, and in suggesting that the Domestic Church will be the driving force for the New Evangelization. It seems that it we are being pushed into the realization of both of these predictions sooner than expected.

The internet can actually contribute to this bringing together of people, by connecting us when we cannot be together in person. Again, this does not replace a personal connection, but can add to what is possible.

Here are the ways that I have responded in addition to getting to church on Sundays as best I can, still restricted at the moment in California: I have doubled down on praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Also, we have started regular workshops via video conferencing on the spiritual exercises contained in the book The Vision for You. These are directed towards deepening our faith and discerning personal vocation. In addition, I have tried to stay in touch with others as best I can and to be hospitable to those in my social bubble. I am sure each of you can do all of these things at least as badly as I can!

The educational and social elements can be opened up with video technology. This doesn’t need to mean formal registration in courses offered by universities, but informal groups forming to pass on personal experience and knowledge are to be encouraged.
A home altar
Finally, I received this email from our pastor. He was offering free Greek classes to children of the parish, and in addition, he does regular Bible studies online. But he also asked that this information be circulated amongst homeschooling groups. I am happy to do so in order to encourage the principle of homeschooling as part of the growth of the Domestic Church, in the hope that each of us will do what we can in these difficult times.
This is an announcement that the Academy of Classical Greek is now taking registrations for the 2020 Fall Semester. Class size is limited so please be sure to register early! With the new wave of homeschooling, we expect to be inundated this fall and have already begun receiving many inquiries!
All the important information about this coming semester and registration can be found here http://academyofclassicalgreek.com/courses/ Click here http://academyofclassicalgreek.com and watch one of the sample course recordings.
Please also take a moment to send out this email to whomever you think might be interested. Evcharisto!

Sincerely, Sebastian Carnazzo, PhD
Home altar

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