As we rebuild churches, let us also rebuild the domestic church – the family

by Michaelyn Hein –

The first time I saw a building burning, I was a child. I sat in the back of our minivan as my family drove home from a rare dinner out. My father slowed the car as we approached a house that was on fire. The flames raged from the blue rancher and as we passed, I broke from my awestruck silence to ask, “Is the family okay?” My parents, of course, didn’t know.

Yesterday, I opened my Web browser and gaped for a moment in the same horrified silence as I stared at the burning Notre Dame Cathedral. Centuries of enduring strength and beauty burned as the world watched and wondered if the entire building would collapse, if the foundation was strong enough to keep any of it standing, or if the fire was too far gone to be controlled before that would happen.

Today, I stumbled upon a quote someone had shared on social media. The white text stood brightly against a gray background photograph of the now charred Parisian cathedral. “Francis,” the words read, “go and rebuild my church, which, as you can see, is falling down.” It was what Jesus Christ said to St. Francis of Assisi, who, lost and looking for direction with his life, had just asked Our Lord what He would have Francis do.

Rebuild my church, which, as you can see, is falling down.

Like most, I was grieved to see the treasure of Notre Dame swallowed in a hellish conflagration. I thought of the centuries of artistic and architectural genius that threatened to be lost. I lamented the fact that I’d never been to Paris and gotten to see its beauty for myself. And I prayed that someone would rescue the Blessed Sacrament from the heart of the burning building.

Though I couldn’t put my finger on it, something much deeper troubled me, too. I watched news reports and listened to the accounts of so many who, with shaky and rightly emotional voices, reported on exactly which part of the destruction they witnessed. I heard their sorrow as they detailed the collapse of the famed spire or the terrifying magnitude of the flames. Indeed, the monolithic church seemed, at times, dwarfed in comparison to the smoke that rose from its demise.

As I contemplated all this and listened to the people of France serenade the great cathedral devoted to Our Lady with the “Ave Maria” also dedicated to her, my finger landed on what exactly lurked beneath the surface, upsetting me to my core.

For though the ruin of a physical church – particularly one with such history and symbolism – is a painful one to watch, somewhere within me I was grieving the devastation of another church. I thought of all that the domestic church – the family – has endured in recent decades, and my unnamed sorrow, I realized, stemmed from that.

I thought of the breaking up of families from divorce, of the brokenness of so many marriages and the children brought forth from them, and of the perversion of the family’s holiness and purity through same-sex marriage, pornography, intentional single parenthood and cohabitation.

I thought of children who spend more quality time with computers and Xboxes than with their parents, and of husbands and wives who spend more time at work or with friends than with each other. I thought of families who spend hours looking at phones but mere seconds looking into one another’s eyes.

I thought of sons without a father and daughters without a mother to emulate, and of sons without a loving, holy mother, and daughters without a strong, protective father to offer them a model for the type of spouse they might one day seek.

I thought of the teenagers I used to teach who cut themselves because they were so desperate for someone’s attention, or who openly confided that they were purposely failing my class solely to spite their parents.

And I thought of homes – domestic churches – that, unlike the Cathedral of Notre Dame, have no Christ at their heart to keep them from collapsing, no Blessed Mother, as their patroness and protector.

Though I was saddened at the sight of a burning Note Dame Cathedral, I was grieved at the smoldering metaphoric cathedrals – the collapsing families – all around us. For, with enough money, time and manpower, a building can be rebuilt. But a broken family needs something much more powerful than all that.

We are called, as Francis of Assisi was, to see the ruin that exists in so much more than physical churches. Like the great saint, we are challenged with recognizing and naming what needs fixing in the deeper church – the domestic church – and then getting started with the repairs.

As a child, I learned that no one, thank God, was injured in the first fire I ever witnessed. The family that owned that burning ranch was, indeed, okay. Today, tragic as the blaze of Notre Dame Cathedral was, no one, thank God, was hurt.

But the family is still burning, and the injuries and losses are innumerable. Our Lady of Fatima lamented this over 100 years ago. The ruination of the domestic church would be Satan’s final battle, and the fire that he lit blazes more angrily every day.

Notre Dame’s foundation was strong. The building withstood the flames, and the fire was put out. But, what of the little cathedrals we’re supposed to be building in our own homes? Is the fire of our modernist world too big to control? Are the flames of our relativistic, secular society too threatening?

Perhaps. But as we saw this week through Notre Dame, we can withstand them – if only our foundation is built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ and His most Holy Mother Mary. And if our families are failing in this regard, then it’s time to rebuild our own domestic churches.

Michaelyn Hein is a wife, mother and freelance writer from Hopewell, NJ
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  1. Meaningful and true in every sense of family and our beliefs. Thank you Michaelyn!

  2. Truly the answer to what ails this world. Though Notre Dame will be restored much easier than the hearts of humans, we must never stop trying. Wise words for all to ponder on.

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