“Your home is a sanctuary.” My grandfather repeated similar words over and over again during and after his first visit to my new home with my husband. Ninety-five years old, Jewish and suffering from poor vision, yet he knew my home was a Christian church. Thanks be to God! My grandfather had no clue what an incredible compliment he paid me by expressing that natural sentiment, the first thought that occurred to his mind when visiting our new home. I was overwhelmed by gratitude. I couldn’t ask for anything more from our home — that it would be a living expression of Christ, a true domestic church; that it would somehow speak without words the truth of God’s love and warmth; that it would give someone who has only stepped foot in a church building a few days in his long life the knowledge that he is in the house of God.
There is a popular saying about the importance of a Christian’s witness in the world that strikes me by its power and its relevance to our modern age every time I hear it: “You may be the only Gospel a person will ever read.” How true, convicting and inspiring all at once!
Following my grandfather’s first visit to my husband and me in our new home, I was touched one day in prayer by a novel but parallel sentiment from the Holy Spirit: “Your home may be the only Church a person will ever enter.”
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My home ought to be a domestic church. Frankly, I had heard the phrase “domestic church” many times before, but this simple encounter with my grandfather provided me with a profoundly enlightening experience of what that elusive term really meant. The term “domestic church” can sound intimidating, strangely stilted and artificially “holy” — like some unreal reconstruction of the Holy Family’s poor home in Nazareth or some supermom’s perfectly vacuumed floor, flavorful casserole and hand-painted artwork. Scratch all of that. Building a domestic church is one of the most down-to-earth, real and important things you will ever do. And thankfully, it doesn’t require an interior design degree or a cathedral ceiling. If I could boil it down to three simple ideas, it would be these.
Everyone will have their own unique flair and color choices and style, and that is beautiful. Don’t change your style to conform to some “perfect” vision. Instead, make sure that Christ’s presence is visible in your home. My favorite and simplest way to do that is to hang a crucifix in every room of the house to always draw our minds and hearts to Jesus. Then I decorate with at least one more piece of religious art in each room (a statue, painting, icon or plaque). Admittedly, we average more than a couple pieces of religious art in any one room of our house, but it’s all tailored to our own sense of style, simplicity and beauty. Our dining room displays an icon of the Wedding Feast at Cana, a Scripture quote, and images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our living room houses an artsy Noah’s Ark wooden model and a statue of the Holy Family. Our office, where we manage our finances, displays a little plaque that reminds us that God will provide. Our laundry room has an image of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet to remind us of the primacy of service. Over the kitchen sink is a simple reminder to choose joy, and over the entryway hangs a wooden sign with a quote from Mother Teresa: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
Many times in the past, my decorations have looked much simpler than that. A picture of Our Lady and a crucifix have sufficed. My favorite example of the simplicity of decorating a home to reflect its call to be a domestic church is the way four of my male friends, who shared a small apartment with each other in college, decorated their living room. They would often host friends in the evening to pray the Rosary in their apartment. To create a space for meditation and prayer, they devoted one living room wall as a sort of shrine. They had no fancy or expensive decorations. Instead, they taped a wide assortment of holy cards to the wall and put a few hooks from which to hang rosaries. The wall was vibrant and decorated — somewhat scattered and chaotic, but ever so homey.
Our churches should be a place of welcome, and so should our homes. Sadly, many times our churches fall short when it comes to hospitality. We have all had the experience of walking into a parish as a visitor and walking back out without anyone saying hello. Perhaps that is even our experience at the parish we attend regularly. All the more reason that our homes need to extend deliberate love and welcome to others!
Make your home a place of generous hospitality. Maybe you don’t have a gift for hospitality; if so, don’t host an event for 30 people. But do stretch yourself to invite or bring others into your home. Maybe it’s a couple from church, a single mom and her kids, a friend from work, or even a lonely family member. Maybe your hospitality is for something completely unrelated to your faith: a football game viewing party, a game night, or even a simple snack after an outing. The cause of the gathering is not as important as the atmosphere. Invite someone over for something, and let them experience the openness, love, warmth and welcome of Christ’s heart and Church through your home.
Churches are environments of such beauty and power that they draw us instinctually into prayerful wonder. Our homes have their own unique way of doing the same. If you have not had your home blessed by a priest, invite one over to do so. That deliberate choice to wrap your home up in prayer and protection will bless both those who live there and those who enter your doors. As Pope St. John Paul II declared, “The dignity and responsibility of the Christian family as the domestic Church can be achieved only with God’s unceasing aid, which will surely be granted if it is humbly and trustingly petitioned in prayer” (Familiaris Consortio, No. 59). As such, do not neglect prayer, either with your family or when you have visitors. If you pray before meals, do so even when you are hosting non-religious guests. If you pray a nightly Rosary or read the Bible as a family, invite overnight guests to join you. Cultivate habits of family prayer; then let your guests discover with you that prayer in your home is both natural and treasured.
All in all, there is not one perfect recipe to a thriving domestic church. Yet its impact is indubitable. Pope St. John Paul II spoke of “the certainty that future evangelization depends largely on the domestic Church” (Familiaris Consortio, No. 65). Yes, your home truly may be the first or only church that a person ever enters. It might be the doorway through which another person first encounters Christ. So adorn your home with simple Christian touches, a loving welcome and a mantle of prayer. Then let God use your little domestic church to reveal his heart to the world.