Our Sunday Visitor hates me. They must. Why else would they ask me to write a 3,000 word story about what, from a design standpoint, a Catholic home should look like.
(My devil may care answer? A Catholic home should be: 1) well-maintained; 2) personal; 3) full of sacramentals; 4) full of beauty; and 5) not full of clutter.)
“What’s so bad about that?” some of you are wondering.
To you, I say: You do not know the Internet very well.
A childless, single woman having the nerve to say that—all things being equal—maintaining your house is an act of good stewardship, is a hanging offense in some quarters of the Web.
Likewise, before someone suggests that I should have taken the easy way out and just told people to hang more crucifixes, let me suggest that you try filling up 3,000 words with advice about displaying sacramentals. It’s harder than it sounds!
Trust me, nobody wishes I had a house full of children more than I do. Alas, I am still living in the Great Not Yet. The upside of that, however, is that while I’m here, I actually have time to think deeply about how the material aspects of our homes can reflect the spiritual truths of our faith. I also have the energy to observe the homes of my friends who are full up with children and see how they do things…for good and for ill.
So, given that, how could I say “no” when someone wanted me to write about that thinking and those observations? Especially when you consider that mortgages don’t pay themselves.
Regardless, I apparently have a death wish, as I not only agreed to write the story for OSV, but also have decided to spend the next several weeks going over my five points more in depth, trying to give some practical examples (and lots of pictures) of how I do this in my home.
As I go, I would love for you to weigh in below and tell me how you do things in your domestic church, too. Just no death threats please.
15 thoughts on “The Catholic Home”
I will look forward to hearing more about this, as I am a recent convert. I may have a head start over many converts, however, since I was raised in a strong Christian home where our faith was very much a part of our home in many tangible ways.
However, I have to say that displaying precious antiques, as it appears from the above pictures you are doing, does not work in a home with small children. Not at all, unless you are also working on the virtue of detachment from material possessions. Sacramentals for a home with small children have to be either out of reach or sturdy enough to play with, because mamas have enough things to say “no” about already.
One thing that I love in my house right now is the Resurrection Set I printed off for my three-year-old from Catholic Icing. He has asked me to tell him the story of Easter over and over and over again, and loves to get all the pieces out of their box and play with them by himself, too. And I don’t worry about him wrecking them, because I can just print off another one. It’s not a sacramental exactly, because I didn’t have it blessed, but it does make our faith present and more real for him.
Heh. No precious antiques there. Just Craig’s List and junk shop finds. But almost all of my things are both beautiful and sturdy, as all the large families with lots of small children who stay here regularly can attest! If they’re not, they’re out of reach of little hands. Regardless, my motto is “Everything Breaks Sometime.” Wanting a beautiful home that is also full of friends and little ones is a fantastic way to cultivate detachment! Love the idea of the Resurrection set, though.
I suppose I assumed that old books = precious antiques! Shows my own personal…something, I suppose. 🙂 Maybe because the little book in the second picture looks very much like a little prayer book I have from my grandmother. I carried it when I was received into the Church, along with her rosary from her First Communion. Then I put it away in a box! 🙂
Oh, yes, that little book is precious. Like yours, it belonged to my grandmother, and if my house ever caught on fire, it would be one of the few things I would grab on my way out. So, it’s easily accessible for me, but not for little ones! It’s on a shelf out of toddlers’ reach! 🙂
ooooh, intriguing! I doubt my faith body (Mennonites) would try to define what our homes should look like. This is food for thought and discussion with my BFF!
Can’t wait! I think many people struggle with just making a house a home, and with bringing beauty into what must be a functional environment. Since home is the domestic church, it should be enhanced in attractive, not necessarily expensive ways. I see a lot of homes that seem to have just given up on everything but providing a place to keep stuff and watch tv.
At Year Eight Domestic Church, I would’ve read your list and blew a gasket because I imagined there was something virtuous and un-worldly about my cluttered, grimy house.
Year 17 Domestic Church, I would have beamed over “filled with sacramentals” because I went through a phase when my house looked like a tourist attraction mini Rococo cathedral.
Now, Ten kids and three decades deep into this Domestic Church thing, I like your list just fine.
Emily, I like your thoughts. We should maintain our homes (repair and clean/tidy) to be good stewards of our little pieces of creation. That is WAY easier said than done, especially with littles. But if it is too tidy, people will be afraid to visit lest they accidentally disturb the ambiance or just break something. Having a home that is lived in helps guests to feel “normal” and as though they are not intruding. The personal/full of beauty parts go hand in hand, as beauty to one is ugly to another, as a style thing. The not full of clutter – I wonder how that’s possible. The more people, the more things, and the more little people not capable of properly putting away things, the more things are left out because Mom literally does not have the time nor physical endurance to do it all. One thing I think should be given thought is to whether electronics should have a prominent place in the Catholic home. We should use tools to grow our faith, but not to zone out and disconnect from one another. We need to detach from our devices/screens in order to personally interact with one another, to share God’s love with each other, and to avoid the trash that can get forced upon us by simply being present when something contrary to God’s way is flashed onto a screen or audio. Pray your way through this writing project. Spend time in Adoration just listening for God’s nudges on this topic. You write beautifully and sensitively. You will turn out a stellar article for the glory of God!
I would like Amy to write an article as well :0)
It’s funny to come across this when my friend, mother of 4 and 1/3 (talking to this mother of five) about “yes let’s have a playdate tomorrow but don’t expect a spotless home”. Funny, that. We both homeschool and spend lots of time in and out of each others’ homes as a result. I don’t think I could ever tell you whether it was “cluttered” or not. I can tell you how very visible, in each room, her Catholicism is, which is what we strive to do in our own domestic church. Bible quotes on the walls, giant rosaries hanging from the mantle, Mass kits, Saints portraits, Bibles and religious reading in every room…this is a place where you can be sure to be loved, to be listened to and to be given the freedom to openly express and discuss your faith so that you might grow with one another and provide examples to those around you.
I think your advice is perfect. I have two kids, so not as hectic as many Catholic homes, but it is hard to deny that when our home is neat and clean we function better as a family. That being said, things are not neat and clean right now.
I’m in year 10 of caring for our domestic church, year 7 of caring for our domestic church with kids, and year 3 of caring for our domestic church as a Catholic.
I find that bringing the liturgical and natural seasons into the home is important. We live in SoCal where seasonal changes are not as obvious, so I try to incorporate those into our home. Our liturgical year is linked to the seasons intentionally and that natural world is a beautiful reminder of God’s majesty and extravagant love, so I try to bring nature inside when ever we can – leaves, pine cones, potted plants, pumpkins, flowers, etc.
We have a combination of sacramentals / religious tchotchkes (is a crocheted set of advent candles that fit over toilet paper tubes a sacramental? We need a word for the non-sacramental religious paraphernalia) for each season. For example, during lent we have resurrection eggs & lots of books and a magnetic resurrection set for the kids to mess with, but I also have a picture of Christ praying in the Garden, a crown of thorns made of dried bouganvillia (ouch!) and a purple candle that is arranged out of reach for the children to look at and contemplate but not touch. At Advent & Christmas we have similar items – some for touching and playing with and some for setting the tone and reminding us of the season. For Christmas and Easter we make an effort to focus our decorations on Christ, but bunnies and St. Nick still make an appearance.
I want our family to have a strong sense of our Catholic identity so I try to incorporate pictures or printed prayers into every room. We also have a crucifix in all the bedrooms and our main living areas. My daughter (6) & I both have prayer tables with a collection of things on them. (When writing this it sounds like we are busting at the seems with Catholic things, but it’s not much really.) We listen to all kinds of music, but that includes Catholic music – both modern and traditional.
I love what you said about the home being well maintained and not full of clutter. Once during confession I was given the advice to care for the possessions that I have rather than focusing on what else I wanted to have in my home. It was such simple advice, but it really struck a chord. As stewards we are responsible for caring for what God has entrusted to us. That includes caring for and maintaining our home and possessions, conserving environmental resources and monetary resources that can be used for good works.
I also agree with the previous poster about making the home welcoming. I struggle with pride and tend to vacillate between a perfectly clean home that I welcome guests to with false modesty or a messy home with no guests. It is a goal to find a middle ground that is somewhat sustainable.
One more thought…a friend recently told me that while she cleans her home and goes about doing chores for her family she prays for the people who will wear the clothes she’s folding, or eat from the dishes she is washing, or cross the threshold she is sweeping. This practice helps to fit the home and its possessions into the sacramental world view (look, I read your book!), reminding us that they are to serve a purpose, rather than become our focus, or altar.
(Hopefully some of this makes sense. I have a cold and it is past my bedtime and I just realized how long this comment has gotten! I look forward to reading your article!)
so glad you are writing about this! It reminds me of what happened, and continues to happen, after we broke down and bought a new sofa and recliner for our family room. We asked our 17 and 25 year old sons to go with us to ‘try out’ the 3 sets we had narrowed down to. At first they deferred to us as the ‘decision-makers’ but then got into the process of what would work for all of us right now and down the road for us as empty nesters (awesome conversations and foresights!). We had to rearrange the room a bit when the furniture came, and who knew that that one simple act would become an invitation for our sons’ guests to just come sit in our family room either alone while waiting for one of them to be ready, or else to sit with my husband and I to catch a few minutes of what we were watching on TV or listening to on the stereo. At least three of the young men now affectionately refer to themselves as our ‘third sons’!
Thank you for having the courage to encourage decluttering. 🙂 Reading your article renews my motivation to get rid of a lot of the useless junk thats robbing me of my peace of mind. Less clutter makes for a more peaceful, beautiful, and attractive home – and helps with detachment, is easier to keep clean and organized making life easier for mom. You never said that one had to be perfect in this area, just something we should strive for as Catholics. I totally agree. Your article reminds of something St. Josemaria Escriva said about the Catholic home, “one of the signs that we’re lords of the earth and God’s faithful administrators is the care we take of the things we use: keeping them in good condition, making them last and getting the best use out of them so that they can serve their purpose for as long a time as possible and don’t go to waste…[Keeping] the decoration simple, attractive, and above all clean, because poverty in a home is not to be confused with bad taste or with dirt. Nevertheless it seems quite natural to me that in keeping with your means, social and family commitments, you should possess some objects of value which you take care of with a spirit of mortification and detachment.” Things to strive for…
Emily. We love you. Hugs, OSV.
I hate it when people use their children as the excuse for slovenliness and chaos. A friend of mine complained and complained until her oldest daughter went to college and now she’s chagrined because having listened to that all for her whole life the kid now does not want to marry or have children. Little ears hear everything.
Thank you for your beautiful website-this topic is much needed!