In a retreat preached in the Vatican for the Holy Father some years ago, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made the point that the New Covenant did not begin in the Temple of Jerusalem but rather in a worker’s humble home, the family home at Nazareth. This is of course solid Biblical theology, developed for the modern era within the context of the Holy Family by Canadian Archbishop Francis Laval in the seventeenth century. By reflecting on Jesus’ life he was able to help the faithful understand the Holy Family as “being Church,” and appreciate the almost priestly responsibilities anchored in parenting.
These insights, Cardinal Ratzinger observed, have been rediscovered in our century, largely by contemporary Catholic leaders such as Charles de Foucauld, the famed military adventurer turned Trappist ascetic, who found the real “historical Jesus” by meeting Jesus the Worker at Notre Dame du Sacré Couer in 1892, within a “Nazareth Church,” as Cardinal Ratzinger explained. It is there, at Nazareth redux, “in a worker’s home, in an out of the way place in ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’’’ that “the Church has always to start again.” (See J. Ratzinger, Journey Towards Easter; Crossroad, 1987)
Cardinal Ratzinger’s analysis, Charles de Foucauld’s inspired pilgrimage of faith, Cardinal Laval’s Canadian program, were all collected and embraced by Pope Francis during his remarks about the Christian family in Philadelphia recently – the focal point of his magnificent pastoral visit this autumn. What he preached about so eloquently can be summarized in the ancient Latin noun, Ecclesiola. The word means that the church can be expressed simply by this one word, signifying “a little church.” Isn’t this precisely what Cardinal Ratzinger meant when he said that the New Testament began not in the Temple but rather in a home – the Nazareth worker’s home of the Holy Family?
Think about all this. Isn’t the Christian home the place wherein a child learns to read the Bible? Not necessarily in a catechism class, but in the home?
And isn’t teaching a child for the first time to read even a phrase or two from the Bible a priestly task – a privilege, to be precise? Moreover, is not teaching a child to read Sacred Scripture analogous to sacerdotal ordination?
Can’t similar questions be raised about matters of Christian ethics? About instructing a youngster in the value of honesty, for example? Can’t this be equated with introducing a child to the Ten Commandments? Of course it can. Isn’t it quasi-priestly guidance?
And what of private prayer and the liturgy? Or, for instance, giving a child a basic prayer book or missal? Aren’t these holy tasks? Or explaining the various parts of Mass to a child for the very first time? Again, isn’t this task analogous to ordination?
And think specifically about how real a father’s role can be, vis a vis religious practice. What if – and why not? – the very young person who gives his son a baseball glove is also the one who gives his son a rosary?
The family, for a Catholic Christian, is unquestionably an Ecclesiola, a “Little Church.” Again, the New Covenant began in a home, not in the The Temple. The family is where eternal life in Christ begins and grows. It is not simply the Number One prepolitical, civilizing unit of society.
Such is our faith. “God’s Holy People,” that concept so close to the heart of Pope Francis, occurs there, in the family home.