The routine and ritual of the Sunday mornings of my childhood are forever etched into my memory. My siblings and I looked forward to Saturday night sleepovers at my Italian-immigrant Grandmother’s house and on Sunday morning we awoken to the smell of frying meatballs and simmering sauce. Hand in hand, we walked with my Grandmother to 10:30 Mass and the remainder of Sunday was spent with my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins lazily feasting on my Grandmother’s food. Mass was the focal point of our Sundays and the shared family meal was a way to extend the celebration. Little did I know it at the time, but the catechesis of those Sunday mornings was slowly forming me into a disciple and a missionary.
What does this personal walk down memory lane have to do with “Front Row With Francis?” As Pope Francis enjoys a few weeks’ hiatus from his regular schedule, we are taking this opportunity to walk through some of his audiences from earlier this year.
In his January 15 audience, the Pope continued his reflections on Baptism, stressing “an important fruit of this Sacrament: it makes us members of the Body of Christ and of the People of God.” He went on to elaborate that “the People of God is a disciple People — because it receives the faith — and a missionary People — because it transmits the faith.” For the vast majority of lay Catholics, our formation as Disciples of Christ happens at our local parish and our participation in the missionary activity of the church happens not in distant, foreign lands, but in the day to day experiences of ordinary family life.
The Holy Father confirmed this saying “Such is the grace of God and such is our faith, which we must transmit to our sons and daughters, transmit to children, so that once adults, they can do the same for their children. This is what Baptism is.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in article 1657, explains the connection between Baptism and the Domestic Church in these words: “it is here that the father of the family, the mother, children and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity.”
It is within the walls of the Domestic Church that we first experience the community that we are baptized into. In this community, the Pope says, we “share the beauty of the experience of a love that precedes us all, but that at the same time calls us to be “channels” of grace for one another, despite our limitations and our sins.” We first discover the riches of our Baptism and the call to discipleship in the context of Catholic family life. Here every generation can participate, according to their age and abilities, in the missionary life of the church.
As a child, I had little interest and even less maturity to reflect on my Grandmother’s role as disciple and missionary. It is only as an adult that I can appreciate her lived-out witness of a simple, humble, yet steadfast faith – a faith which has shaped my own and continues to do so. Ten years ago, my then 90 year old Grandmother beamed with pride at my infant daughter on the day of her Baptism. My daughter, wearing the dress which my Grandmother had hand-sewn for this special occasion, had no idea that she was about to be Baptized into the People of God. She is only now learning what it means to be a disciple and missionary in her small world of play dates, home school groups and family dinners. I pray that I may be able to transmit the faith to her the way my Grandmother did to me. For that I will rely on the Holy Spirit and the intercession of my Grandmother, whose role in the People of God continues now from the other side of eternity.