home front – The civilian population and activities of a nation whose armed forces are engaged in war abroad.
In 1915, during the early years of the First World War, a song was written in Britain which captured the hearts and minds of so many affected by the scourge of this conflict. “Keep the Home Fires Burning” was penned by Ivor Novello and Lena Ford, as an encouragement to those left behind to stay strong in the face of the departure of their beloved.
“At the rallying call for men
Let no tears add to their hardships
As the soldiers pass along,
And although your heart is breaking,
Make it sing this cheery song:
Keep the Home Fires Burning,
While your hearts are yearning.”
Many of those glorious laddies, those gallant sons of Freedom, as the song goes on to call them, never got to see those home fires again.
When I was in college, I was blessed to encounter a group of joyful, faithful Christians, who became my life-long friends. They introduced me to the concept of being in battle—the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. St. John of the Cross uses these terms to describe the three greatest enemies which must be destroyed before we can enter into a union with God, a spiritual union between the bride and the bridegroom. But these terms seemed a bit old to me, dated, out of touch, maybe even scary, and definitely off-putting. I had spent far too long in the world of “John Denver” faith-formation (I still love John Denver, though!), felt banners, God-is-love, rainbows of happy covenant faith, to be comfortable with terms like war, battle, and the devil. I can recall only a very few times in my faith life prior to college when I felt truly challenged by my faith, confronted by her teachings, or called to be or do better than was expected by the culture in which I was then swimming. I’m sure there were very good people who were trying to impart much more than I was taking in—it might have been just me—but I wasn’t getting it. I was even a contestant on an early MTV game show! Hakuna matata! Life was fun! The spirit of the age was much more, “don’t worry, be happy” and just don’t hurt anyone along the way. These new college friends, though, challenged me in more ways than one, and yet to a person they were just about the nicest, most joyful people I had ever met. Whatever they had, I wanted! And so I began to read the Bible, to pray, to go to daily Mass whenever possible, and to attend regular teachings on matters of faith and morals. I began to visit their families and to learn about some of the traditions and habits in their own homes, and gradually my eyes were opened to the signs of the battle for souls raging all around me. The battles I saw then seem tame by comparison to today. Would that some concern over bad language in a movie, or even (I’m dating myself!) the first “live” model in an undergarment to appear on TV (bye-bye, cross-your-heart mannequin) be the worst battles we face. The term “slippery slope,” though coined a few decades earlier, was all the rage at the time. Everything seemed to be on a slippery slope at the time, and indeed it was! When Pope VI published his encyclical “Humane Vitae” in 1968, he predicted that the consequences of contraception—seen by many as key to the liberation of women—would in fact contribute greatly to their diminishment. His four primary predictions, made in paragraph 17, suggested that we would see an increase in marital infidelity, the general lowering of moral standards throughout society, a lessening of respect for women by men to the point of being mere instruments of pleasure, and the potential for coercive use of reproductive technology by governments. Um, right, about those predictions…
My college years began twenty years after the release of “Humanae Vitae” and already those predictions were all but institutionalized norms in our society. And yet I couldn’t really see it—but my new friends could. In time, and through prayer and struggles with my own acceptance and even embrace of the world, the flesh, and the devil, I began to gain a new perspective. I began to see the battlelines, and I became uncomfortable with where I stood on the field of battle. I wanted to go home, but the home, the faith that should have been my refuge, was not one I was familiar with. The faith as I had been casually and passively living it out was not going to be enough to sustain me in the new life I wanted to live. And so began my process of coming to know the refuge that is the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church.
I learned in those early years of conversion that I needed to keep stoking the fire of faith—that the bare minimum was not going to be sufficient to help me mend old ways, and to transform them into new ways, of living, loving, thinking, and acting. I needed to “keep the home fires burning”, as it were, and to keep seeking out new avenues of grace in order to stay on the path of conversion. And I found that beginning to bring the faith into my home life was a powerful way to do that. Whether it was as simple as establishing a place to pray, making use of an advent wreath, praying a novena, or trying a special recipe to mark a solemnity or feast day, each little effort of living intentionally with the mind of the Church began to transform my own mind.
Today I cannot afford the naïve perspective that we are not in battle. One glance at the major headlines should be sufficient proof of that. And while I can and do pray for the whole world, the greatest contribution I can make in the world is the effort I make within my own home. As Catholics, we have been told again and again–from John Chrysostom in the 4th Century, to Pope St. Paul VI in Lumen Gentium (1964, para. 11) to Pope St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio (1981, para. 21)–that we, the laity, in our lives lived primarily in the world, are called to be the the “Domestic Church.” (See also the Catechism of the Catholic Church [1655-1658]).
But how do we “do” that, what does “being” the Domestic Church look like? Ah, here we can get all Martha vs. Mary, but as with all beautiful teachings in our faith, this too is a both/and. We need to strive towards both Mary’s faithfulness, docility, and humility but also bring Martha’s gifts and talents, her servant’s heart, and her self-donating love to the table. This is not to say that we need to do it all, and attempt to be some modern version of the the super-mom, super-spouse, or super-anything. If you could should stop by my house unannounced any day, you would have abundant evidence of my lack of super powers (excuse the dishes, oh you can just step over the laundry, pick-up on aisle 3)! But yet we are called to strive, to give our best both to God and to the family He has given to us. I would suggest that each one of us ask Our Lord and our Lady to show us what they want from us in this area of love and service. Do you have talent for sewing, for cooking or baking, for painting, goodness–for long hours behind the wheel (pick me!)? Do you have a heart for learning about the lives of the saints and reading endless stories? Do you love to garden and tend a flock of some kind and enjoy the fruit of your labors? Were you given a gift of song, of a keen ear, of a lovely voice? Do you lean toward quiet time and spaces of retreat? Are you excited by the prospect of service to those in need beyond your four walls? Every one of those gifts, and every one of those longings were placed there by God; wired into your nature, and just waiting to be nurtured by His grace into a manifestation of His presence here on earth. And what’s more, in every one of these examples, we have saint’s whose examples we can follow! Saints who are waiting to cheer us on at a moment’s notice, waiting to light the way, to intercede for us, and to point the way to our ultimate home.
Of course one of the great saints of our modern times is Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote in Familiaris Consortio, that “there exists a deep and vital bond between the prayer of the Church and the prayer of the individual faithful, as has been clearly reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council. An important purpose of the prayer of the domestic Church is to serve as the natural introduction for the children to the liturgical prayer of the whole Church, both in the sense of preparing for it and of extending it into personal, family and social life. Hence the need for gradual participation by all the members of the Christian family in the celebration of the Eucharist, especially on Sundays and feast days, and of the other sacraments, particularly the sacraments of Christian initiation of the children. The directives of the Council opened up a new possibility for the Christian family when it listed the family among those groups to whom it recommends the recitation of the Divine Office in common. Likewise, the Christian family will strive to celebrate at home, and in a way suited to the members, the times and feasts of the liturgical year.”
The Domestic Church is the Catholic Homefront of our time here on earth. It is the place where we learn, grow, and nurture one another; where we prepare for battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil; where we raise up those who like the gallant sons (and daughters!) of freedom of previous generations, will in our own time go off to fulfill vocations a moms and dads, to serve as priests, religious, and consecrated lay people, missionaries, and more! And yet we do not do all this work and make all this effort to “keep the home-fires burning” until the boys come home–but rather until we are all gathered unto our Eternal Home. We live in interesting, challenging, and perhaps even ultimate times, and we are called to live with our eyes open, to gird our lions, to put on the full armor of God. The Domestic Arts, as they have been called, may seem an odd way to “put on the full armor of God,” but the Church literally tells us that in celebrating the faith in our home–through prayers, traditions, celebrations, and more, we are preparing our children to enter into the full life of the Church, into the worship cycle of the Liturgical Year–and ideally we’re equipping them to be light in this world of darkness, and to hold onto that light unto eternity! So put on the armor of God–whether yours looks like an apron, a business suit, a nursing cover-up, a habit, a pair of slippers, or a whole 15-passenger van, and let’s get going. We’ve got some home-fires to get burning!