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Making the Domestic Church Beautiful

August 30th, 2012by Emily Macke

As we unpacked piles of boxes in our first place together, my husband and I began with the practical items we knew were necessary for daily life – towels, dishes, lamps.  But amidst the rush to find the practical, I found myself more eager to uncover a tablecloth, placemats, cloth napkins, the salt and pepper shaker and other kitchen table items to set a beautiful table for breakfast. 

Why would a nice table matter when the rest of the apartment looked like an obstacle course of cardboard, bubble wrap and wedding cards?  Because beauty is proper to a home.

In the months during engagement, I was surprised to find myself questioning why people have “nice things” or decorate a home.  What about a spirit of poverty, I thought.  What about detachment to earthly things and a longing for heaven?  Why have cloth napkins when death is inevitable, and in heaven we might realize that paper towels could have worked just fine?

I mentioned the matter to a priest who gave some thought-provoking advice.  “Why was St. Joseph a carpenter?” he asked.  “Why not a stone mason?  Why did he not work with metal or some other material?  Why wood?”  Father went on to remind me that we have no earthly work of St. Joseph’s remaining.  Perhaps if he worked with a different material we would have a stone monument or another structure to remember him.

But Father continued that St. Joseph’s work with wood is significant.  What is lasting of St. Joseph’s work is not the items he built, but the charity with which he worked.  What we remember is the love, patience, care and protection of this carpenter.

Similarly, Father counseled, the little things we do within the home – setting the table, making the bed, cutting fresh flowers – are not simply about the works done, but about the opportunity to love and serve while doing them. 

Father’s answer was a good one for me to reflect on at the time, but a further answer was given to me a few months later. 

During our honeymoon, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit a couple of particularly beautiful churches.  There were impressive statues, magnificent paintings, marble columns, gold tabernacles and stunning designs.  Beautifully architected churches always cause me to reflect on the Beauty of God and the fittingness of both honoring him by a beautiful space and pointing others to Him through the reflecting beauty. 

But in this particular church, I was struck by something new.  Our families are called to be a domestic church – a church in microcosm, a little cell of holiness and sacrifice.  If it is proper for a church building to be beautiful to glorify God and point back to Him, then shouldn’t it be similar with our domestic churches?

Is it possible that our framed pictures, napkin-laden tables, colorful tea kettles, matching hand towels and white bookshelves could cause someone – a visitor or a member of our own family – to pause and reflect on the beauty of our Creator?   

This reflection on beauty in the church, beauty in the home, found me spending a subsequent Saturday morning, setting the table and folding cloth napkins, this time confident that there is a reason for the little details of homemaking.  Even in the smallest details of the day, the Lord allows us reminders and glimpses of His love, His beauty, His goodness, both on earth and in heaven. 

Photo credit: Used under Creative Commons License, flickr/How I See Life

Emily Macke

Emily Macke serves as Theology of the Body Education Coordinator at Ruah Woods (www.RuahWoods.org). She received her Master's in Theology from the John Paul II Institute and enjoys speaking and writing about the gift of the faith. She blogs at Unshakeable Hope www.UnshakeableHope.blogspot.com