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Object lessons.

Let's keep the objects and practices of our Catholic faith in full view of ourselves and others.

ON ONE OF THE COLDEST DAYS OF THE YEAR, two nuns, plowing through a record snowfall to knock on doors and invite people to Mass, gave me one of the best compliments I've ever received. Spotting our statue of the Virgin Mary, their car came to a screeching halt in front of our home. Once invited inside, they looked at each other and breathed: "Oh, we can tell that this is a Catholic home."

It's true, of course, that mine is a Catholic home. Mary greets those passing our yard, and a framed Prayer of Saint Francis hangs on our wall. My bookshelves and nightstand are lined with much-studied Catholic titles. Some were gifts, some I had purchased, but all are important to my everyday Catholic reality.

The most precious of these items are those passed down to me from my parents and grandparents. My early memories of my grandparents are rich with Catholic images. The statues, the rosaries, the holy water, and the holy cards throughout their home were powerful and visible signs of their tremendous devotion. Now that my grandparents are gone, these objects form the cornerstone of our own domestic church; are the threads that create our generational Catholic tapestry. My grandparents' special Catholic faith essence, lived out over six decades of marriage, survives them and lives on in our home and heart.

The domestic church--that alchemy of Catholic objects and practices that tells the world (and reminds us) who we are--has long been a mainstay of our Catholic faith experience. Without the domestic church, our faith experience can seem segmented week-by-week, as a Sunday-only proposition.

At the core of the domestic church, of course, is the family, which Pope John Paul II has referred to as the "cradle and setting" of the church. It makes perfect sense that the cradle should be placed in a home filled with articles and activities that nurture the faithful. But elements of the domestic church have other tremendous benefits, one of the greatest being their power to unite family members.

Far from an Old World throwback, the presence and use of these objects, traditions, and practices could be even more important in today's overly secular world--creating a sort of fire wall for our faith, a visible and spiritual tap on the shoulder to wake us up to who we are in a world where it can be very, very easy to forget our identity as Catholics.

It's more than just stuff, though, that makes up the domestic church; faith habits--such as invoking the help of a saint or saying spontaneous prayers for someone we see being whisked to the hospital in a screaming ambulance--are also the fruits of the domestic church. The outgrowth of our domestic church experience is what keeps us strong when the winds of doubt blow through our lives.

Incorporating Catholic objects into one's home and life can also provide an easy segue for evangelization--if you take advantage of these opportunities to talk about what God has done for you through the beauty and fullness of the Catholic faith. For example, when someone comments on the rosary in your purse, explain the prayers and talk a bit about Marian devotion, a frequently misunderstood part of our Catholic faith. When someone sees you make the sign of the cross before grace and has the courage to ask what you're doing, describe the reason why we cross ourselves before and after prayer. Don't let those grace-filled moments pass without talking about your Catholic faith--you just might be the conduit through which someone comes (or returns home) to the church.

Can Catholic items sometimes get a little too commercial, a bit too kitschy? Maybe. But these articles are so much more than meaningless knickknacks on a shelf--they are the visible evidence of our Catholicity. Cultivate the domestic church as a sort of faith workshop, where you use the tools of Catholic objects and practices to help you craft your Catholic identity for a lifetime.

CHRISTINE BALLEW-GONZALES, the editor of The Mirror Web Edition for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:religious objects
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
Previous Article:Lone Star.
Next Article:Waiting for God.

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