reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

Today I had to read the first chapter of a book called De-Romanticizing the Domestic Church by Timothy O’Malley. I say “had to” because there is no way I would have picked up a book with this title. Today I read that first chapter and disliked it just as much, if not more, than I thought I would.

O’Malley begins by creating a false dichotomy between romance and mundane. He pits the idyllic family times spent in the embrace of hearth and home against the hard work of hard-loving. He pits obligation against affinity, as if the two cannot co-exist. 

What he describes as “affinity” could rightly be called storge, which CS Lewis so highly praises. “In my experience it is Affection that creates this taste, teaching us first to notice, then to endure, then to smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate, the people who ‘happen to be there.’” In fact CS Lewis says affection is “responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.”

O’Malley is also intellectually dishonest as he criticizes romance, while exalting grittiness. In his view of the world life is rough, an uphill battle, mundane, sometimes downright shitty, and absolutely gritty. In his view, this is the only context in which one can live out the vision of the Domestic Church. He writes that the romanticized family “tends to bypass the experience of actual families. It is an almost idolatrous vision of family life that passes over the difficulties that a family will experience in becoming a civilization of love. There are families suffering from the plague of domestic violence. Some couples are unable to have children, experiencing the agony of infertility rather than the communion that leads to a large brood of Catholic children singing along to the Salve Regina. In the United States, migrant families are separated, attempting to make a life apart from each other—sometimes by choice and sometimes because of political policy. Families in the United States suffer from poverty, unable to keep a roof over their heads let alone enjoy a meal together. Parents agonize as their children are arrested, struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, experience divorce, and even die prematurely. If the term “domestic church” is to function prophetically within society, it must take into the fullness of the human condition—not only an idealized, upper middle-class account of Christian life.”

Why is romance is opposition to the tougher aspects of life and holiness? Why can they not co-exist and help one another thrive? Has he never read a fairy tale????? 

He glorifies this grit and dismisses the romance of living and then calls that the vision of the Domestic Church. He is like the iconoclast of old who has no need of the golden icon because he personally covets the gold to pay his rent. As someone who has had her share of sorrow, I don’t need someone to tell me life is hard. I need someone with the prophetic vision to see beauty amongst the weeds. I don’t need a Judas who says that my perfume should have been sold and a profit made. No, I would rather waste it on the Master’s feet.

I can only imagine the throws of distress he would be in if he were here tonight as we light our candles, prep the incense before the altar, read stories aloud to one another, and sip our tea with joy. “but, but, but, life is hard! The Domestic Church is pure grit and obligation!” (It sounds so whiny and privileged.)

Is the romance of my life produced in a vacuum apart of difficulty? Is the only reason I can have these little moments of transcendence because my life is easy?

Hardly.

I have experienced the same tragedy and hurt and loneliness and brokenness that is common to the human experience. The romance is found within the mundane, right among the rubbish—not in spite of it, but because of it! 

Romance is not fake. It is real. Did not Dostoevsky say that beauty would save the world? Maybe we don’t believe it. But if we don’t, what about the Blessed Sacrament? Tolkien famously wrote, “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.”

This impoverished view of the world and Faith put forth in this book is what my professional organization is using as a book read this month. I fail to see how this makes us better able to serve our people in ministry. No one needs to be told there are dragons. What we need is to believe that dragons can be slain (to paraphrase Chesterton).

Living in the romance of the Faith allows us to imbue every moment with a special grace. No one has ever regretted lighting the candle before prayer and pausing for gratitude rather than white-knuckling it through the obligation. No one has ever regretted taking time to breath deeply the steam from the tea rather than taking it as harsh medicine, as if it were Ebenezer’s gruel upon the fire.

If I could tell O’Malley one thing (OK, two) I would quote Rilke and say “If your daily life seems poor, don’t blame it, blame yourself for not being poet enough to call forth it’s riches. To the creator there is no poverty.”

And Victor Hugo, “There is in this world no function more important than that of being charming. The forest glade would be incomplete without the humming-bird. To shed joy around, to radiate happiness, to cast light upon dark days, to be the golden thread of our destiny, and the very spirit of grace and harmony, is not this to render a service?”

Families in the trenches of family life need no reminders that life is hard, our crosses heavy, or of our duties and obligations. What families need is to be inspired by beauty and the romance of the Faith. Our little expressions in our Domestic Churches are but shadows (or reflections if you will) of the ultimate beauty which is found hidden in a tiny white Host, tucked away in a golden tabernacle, marked by a red flame calling you to deeper devotion.

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