When the Domestic Church practices Church at home…

 

The first weekend when the churches were closed because of the pandemic, my family decided to sing a few hymns prior to watching Mass online. My daughter later put up a short video on Twitter with the hashtag #ChurchAtHome.

That was the beginning of my domestic church practicing Church at home.

We often hear about the domestic church, that family whose members live their faith at home, makes the community of faith, the parishes, and the Church. Indeed, everything that happens at Church is strengthened by the support of the faithful families. Church events are often the result of the assistance offered by volunteers and their families. Preparation of sacraments, especially those involving children, rely on the support of the families. Really, the families are the future of the Church. The Church grows as the families grow. The families are where the history and traditions of the Church are passed on to the younger members of the church. So, if the domestic church makes the Church, what happens when the Church gets domestic? That is, when the family tries to practice Church at home?

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These past weeks, as the churches are closed, we encounter this new scenario where we first attempted to keep the idea of the church within our own homes. We are fortunate to have so many Masses online, pre-recorded or live-streamed, with the readings and homilies, trying to fill our spiritual needs. Seeing our familiar church settings on our TV or computer screens at home help remind us of our last church experience. Those warm, spiritual moments are kept alive until we can meet again at church and participate in the sacraments. How far would those memories serve us? To truly live the life of church, should we not create new church experiences at home? If the early Christians could worship God and built communities within their own homes, so can we. Right? The Pandemic should not interfere with our relationship with God and the growth of our faith at home.

When the social distancing protocol commenced, #ChurchAtHome officially began for my family. Since all of us in the family were serving in some church Music Ministry, the singing of hymns has always been a favourite activity in this household. Now, it is so much more important to establish that sacred space within our domestic space by filling it with the sounds that echo well with the saints and angels, prior to our viewing of the online Mass. Next, comes the tradition of communion… What can be better than sharing a treat? Baking mini bite-size muffins or cookies for the sake of joining in the “communion” on screen seems to be a natural development. Sure, we are not having the Sacrament, but Christ is in each of us and we are having a family moment!

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On Palm Sunday, in anticipation of the long Gospel reading that we would be passively watching on screen, my family took the script and split the roles among ourselves earlier in the day, and made up a short Liturgy of the Word with it. That was fun! We were quite surprised when the quiet one in the family performed her role with great animation. Having participated at the Easter Vigils for over a decade, I thought we should probably have one that evening on Holy Saturday. There were no reasons why we could not bring the Light of Christ into the darkness at home. After all, we were all feeling the darkness of the pandemic and we needed that Light! So, we searched for those baptismal candles that were tucked neatly in boxes somewhere in a closet. I found the biggest candle in the house and used that as the “Paschal candle.”

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That evening, we sat in darkness and lit our candles. My husband and I sang the Exsultet. We said a prayer, blew out the candles, and switched on the lights. Next, we sang the Litany of Saints. We used a setting that we had not sung for years. The organist in the house volunteered to accompany us on the piano. As we sang, the names of the saints got caught in our mouths, rhythms were off at times, but we treaded on. It was the most chaotic Litany ever sung, but we had the feeling that we generated a lot of laughter among the angels and saints. Following that hilarious episode, we read the Gospel reading together, said prayer of Intentions, and ended the service with the recitation of the Our Father and an exchange of the Sign of Peace. Sure, this Easter Vigil did not have the same kind of sacred reverence as the Easter Vigil at church, but it brought the Light of Christ into our home and we experienced Easter joy! Now, came the interesting part after the Vigil when my family really needed a snack, just like the reception that we always had at church after the Holy Saturday Vigil. That part alone…was pure Church doing!

I do not think there is one set formula on how #ChurchAtHome can be done. By definition, practising #ChurchAtHome needs some understanding of what we normally do at church and ideas on how the elements might work within the individual family. After our Easter Vigil experience, one of us asked about why we would only light our candles once, instead of two times at church. It took a little bit of thinking to remember that we lit the candles the second time with the newly baptized members and renewed our baptismal promises at church. We had neither newly baptized among us, nor did we have Holy Water in the house! That was a good occasion to reflect on why we do what we do at church. A lot of goodness would probably happen from #ChurchAtHome by trial and error, with the best roaring laughter. That is, perhaps, the domestic way of promoting growth of faith within the family? I believe that my family’s #ChurchAtHome experience during this time of pandemic would make our domestic church grow. It will be interesting to see if this contributes to new church experience when we are able to meet others again at the physical church building.

 

Defining ourselves in self isolation

The Pandemic Social Isolation is an opportunity for us to define ourselves in the most authentic way.

Years ago, at my very first meeting with a spiritual advisor, I was asked to introduce myself. I was quick to tell him my current endeavours and my previous projects. My spiritual advisor was patient. After listening to me rambling on, he reminded me that projects and work do not define us, but relationships do. He was talking about my relationships with others and my relationship with God.

Due to the pandemic in recent weeks, many people in the world are either laid off or lost their job. In-person meetings, conferences, arts performances and projects are cancelled, rescheduled, or on hold. Suddenly, people’s occupation and project titles became meaningless. It is obvious that we can no longer define ourselves according to our projects and work. To practice social distancing, many grandparents cannot meet with their grandchildren. Good friends who used to hang out every day cannot meet for a drink to vent after cooping up in the house all day. For those who are inept in using technology to communicate with others, social distancing puts a damper on personal relationships. It seems that what is left to define oneself is simply our own relationship with God.

I wonder if this is the time that we are supposed to focus on our personal relationship with God. Perhaps, we can now spend the time to reflect on who God is for each of us personally, and get to know who we are to God. Surely, it’s Holy Week right now and that’s what we are supposed to do. With the fear and anxiety that accompanies the pandemic, I am sure many of us are also praying, communicating to God more often than usual. However, maybe we have forgotten our own identity and really need to introduce ourselves once more in the most authentic way, and not base our identities on something that will not last, like our work or projects, or relationship with mortals. We need to see ourselves through our own personal relationship with God. If you were asked of who God is for you, can you describe that at this very moment? If not, let just say that self-isolating and social distancing is perfect for a retreat and a reflection.

THANK YOU to priests and religious

Who would have thought this pandemic would affect our lives in so many ways, including the way we worship? There is this enormous sense of loss, when we first learned about church buildings locking up for the well-being of parishioners.  However, I also feel very fortunate these days as I get different notifications on social media about the live-streaming of mass from different parishes.  Thanks to the wonderful initiative of many priests, we have the opportunity to “visit” our friends’ churches and have a taste of their community worship. I am sure live-streaming on the internet was not part of their training in seminaries.

On this 5th Sunday of Lent, how fortunate we are to be able to take in all the beautiful homilies we want on the death and resurrection of Lazarus with the click of a few buttons.   When I was listening to the Gospel reading for the 3rd or the 4th time  this morning (and I lost count), the line that stuck with me most was the one when the disciples asked why Jesus would go back to Judea again when the Jews were trying to kill him earlier.  As I think about the present moment when most of us are simply asked to stay home, I know many priests and religious are out of their churches, consoling others, giving the sacraments to those who need them, especially the ones who are very sick.  Unlike medical workers who may have their full protective gear when they tend to the patients, the priests and the religious would not have that luxury. I can’t help it but to think like the disciples in the Gospel.  Why would they go to where there is such a high risk of getting infected with the virus? There was a report a few days earlier on the number of priests in Italy who died from COVID 19 exceeding sixty. Currently, there are also many religious who have died or are infected with the virus.   It is so touching to see pictures of some priests hosting drive-thru confessions or listening to confessions on front porches. Scenes of chapels filled with religious sisters praying on their knees for the end of the pandemic warmed my heart. I feel very thankful to God sending these hard-working and loyal priests and religious to us. I want to say THANK YOU to all the amazing priests and religious out there, working as faithful servants of God. May God bless them, guide them and protect them. Amen.