Couple’s model for living faith at home could change Catholicism one family at a time
VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Family dinners, changing diapers and helping your teen through a tough time are all part of parenthood.
Gregory and Lisa Popcak see it as a Catholic cult.
Husband and wife counselors, who provide family and marriage counseling on their popular radio show, call their family-centered model the “Domestic Church Life Liturgy.” They hope it will make waves throughout the Catholic Church.
“The liturgy means a type of worship that God has given us,” Gregory said, sitting in the hallway of a busy hotel a stone’s throw from the Vatican, where the two came for the World Meeting of Families from their home in Ohio. While the liturgy is usually associated with what happens at Sunday Mass, he explained, small family moments of play, discussion, work and prayer can actually be an opportunity to live the faith. Catholic at home.
“A lot of families are already doing this implicitly,” Gregory said, but “what they’re doing can be done with a greater purpose.”
Instead of the church’s traditional ‘bodily works of mercy’, a series of practices ranging from sheltering the homeless to feeding the hungry, the Popcaks praise ‘mummy’s bodily works’, filled with sleepless nights and daily difficulties. Instead of imagining holiness as a scantily clad man eating locusts in the desert, they suggest a parent take time off from their job to put their family first.
“What we need as Catholics is a new vision of what holiness looks like,” Gregory said.
But the Popcaks model isn’t just for parents, married couples or, even less, perfect families. “It’s for every family and every culture in every part of the world, in every socio-economic group,” Lisa said. “In every constellation of families.”
Lisa and Gregory began counseling Catholic families remotely in 1999, “long before it was cool,” he said. They have since published dozens of books and together this year began hosting a telephone counseling program called “More2Life” on the Catholic news channel EWTN on SiriusXM.
In 2019, the Popcaks hosted a symposium titled “Catholic Life and Spirituality” at the University of Notre Dame, bringing together 50 theologians, social scientists, church leaders and family experts to reflect on how to revive faith within Catholic families. They found that despite the wealth of Catholic theology on marriage and family life, “it doesn’t really trickle down to the bench,” Gregory said.
As the Popcaks pondered how to translate their ideas for a family liturgy into daily routines, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, limiting the social, professional and spiritual lives of billions of individuals inside the four walls of their house.
“Suddenly there was this crying out for help for families and individuals,” Lisa said. Many have asked what it meant to be a Catholic family when you “couldn’t just tick the boxes” by going to mass or sending your children to youth groups. “People started losing it in terms of faith.”
In February 2020, the Popcaks, in partnership with Holy Cross Family Ministries, became founding directors of the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life, “a think tank for developing new models of family prayer and spirituality,” according to the website. of the institute. “I see the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit everywhere, in terms of timing,” Gregory said.
A companion app, CatholicHOM, aims to boil down heavy liturgical and theological jargon into something more family-friendly. Without dictating set rules or procedures, it’s meant to provide activities and resources — podcasts, videos, and live events — that work for individual families, age groups, and schedules. “We wanted to put this in the hands of families and make it as easy and doable as possible because we know how uptight everyone is,” Lisa said.
The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life was meant to start small, but it soon caught the attention of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who gave its approval, and even the Vatican. At the end of June, the Popcaks were invited to deliver the keynote speech at the World Meeting of Families in Rome.
On the CatholicHOM website, the Popcaks explain that most Catholic spirituality “tends to be drawn from the monastic and clerical traditions of the church,” noting that these practices do not align with family life. Statements like these resonate with Pope Francis’ desire to rid the Church of clericalism – the practice of elevating the clergy above the faithful – and Francis’ overall plan to reform the power structures of the Church. Church to empower the laity.
Francis has launched an extensive two-year consultation of Catholic clergy and laity around the world that will culminate in a summit of bishops at the Vatican in 2023 on the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.”
“Our practical experience of the church is at odds with Catholic ecclesiology,” Gregory said. “The current model is that the parish is a vending machine filled with all kinds of ministry products, individuals will pull the lever, donate and get what they want and they go home.”
It’s also “incredibly exhausting for the church itself,” Lisa said, adding that priests are exhausted and family ministers are struggling to support everyone.
The Popcaks suggest that instead of making the parish the sole center of Catholic life, they should be tasked with “planting house churches” where families can breathe new energy into the community. “Doing this will be a blessing for families, but it will also lighten the burden on the church,” Lisa said.
Gregory compared the church to a car with two flat tires – the laity – which forced the other two tires – the clergy – to be overinflated. Chastising the clergy for the situation or, as some suggest, clericalizing the laity is not the answer, the Popcaks believe. Only if every baptized Christian recognizes their role as part of the common lay priesthood “can we drive down the road in a balanced way,” Gregory said.
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For now, the Popcaks are working with families one at a time, but they aren’t ruling out the possibility of a structure that allows families to participate more actively in church. A vector of their vision could be the World Meeting of Families. Launched in 1994 and held every three years, the global event serves to bring Catholic families together to dialogue and exchange experiences under the patronage of the Pope.
Although it “gets the attention of the church”, Lisa thinks that “now more than ever” the expansion of the World Meeting of Families “could really make waves around the world”.
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