‘We are at a liminal place – a threshold of transition. If we believe that it is by faith that we can seek healing, find our purpose, and live out our destiny, then we need to find the context of a life of faith in the domestic and among the generations. But how?’ This was the challenge posed by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli at the 2022 Patrick Oration held at the Catholic Leadership Centre on Thursday 17 March, the feast day of St Patrick, patron saint of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
‘It has been hard to see a shining light through these past two years as our gazes turned inward,’ the Archbishop reflected, speaking to a gathering of civic, religious and community leaders.
Indeed, twelve months ago, Archbishop Comensoli stood at the same podium and began to describe the sense of “exile” that had been brought about by the COVID pandemic, especially for people of faith. At the time Victoria had only just emerged from what would become known as “lockdown #3”. Less than four months later, the state was once again plunged into lockdown as the coronavirus continued to wreak havoc across the country.
In 2021, Archbishop Comensoli drew parallels between the early church and the experience of the Victorian community, describing the ‘state of ebb and flow’ as the new normal and the place from which a renewed sense of gospel energy needed to emerge.
‘We should not miss that COVID has shifted and sifted us,’ he said at the time. ‘How might we become the leaven needed for a more human way of living in this new world still emerging? Perhaps we can learn from our faith ancestors, in finding our identity by way of our households.’
The Archbishop continued to build on this theme of exile and domesticity at this year's Patrick Oration, homing in on the place of the domestic church – the family – as a place where generations could learn a sense of communion, formation and mission. ‘We might describe these vocational tasks by way of three active verbs: to pray, to learn, to love.’
‘I am struck by the domesticity of God’s hopes and encouragement for his exiled people, who knew that their true darkness had come upon them before their captivity. Exile was not to be their end, but their beginning. It would involve a (re)turn to their households and to their families, where faith could be nurtured and passed on from old to young, generationally.’
Growth in exile was not to be measured by rebuilding monuments in public settings, but by attending to the personal in household settings. Here, the seeds of faith could be planted, and the leaven of discipleship might do its work. Among families and in households could the encouragement of a fresh heart be received (cf. Acts 14.22).
‘We stand now on the threshold of such an exilic beginning. Neither a sentimental restoration of what once was, nor a reckless pursuit of un-anchored progress, will cut it. These are not illuminating stances, even if they might sparkle for a short while.’
‘In the shadowlands of exile, points of light and grace become more discernible,’ the Archbishop offered. And during this time of exile, much like in the early Church, it has been within the home that an experience of the sacred has flourished. The home, Archbishop Comensoli proposed, remains the prime location within which faith can be formed and nurtured, especially in this time of increased isolation and fragmentation.
There are many stories of the apostles going to households and neighbourhood communities to invite families into a common life in Christ. There is virtually no evidence throughout the New Testament of the Church engaging in the politics of the day or seeking to plant the works of the Church in public structures. The focus was personal and familial and communal. ... The early Church was a Church that assembled and passed on the faith in family homes.’
‘For better or worse, in good times and bad, whether whole or broken, strong or vulnerable, we each come to be from a family, and we each live out the project of our lives within a family. No-one is an island; and any social theory that attempts to reconstruct human flourishing separated from its family roots is devoid of goodness.’
He described the ‘sacramentality’ of the domestic – a place where grace is made visible and tangible:
‘What is washed in the kitchen sink over a conversation about faith is baptismal. Words of mercy and tenderness spoken in the loungeroom is forgiving. Encouragement before stepping out the front door is confirmational. Family prayer and blessing is priestly. Tenderness and intimacy in the bedroom is matrimonial. Dare I say it, even a RAT test, done with attentiveness and care for those we love, reveals a sacramental anointing. And all of this is open to being eucharistic – acts and words and gestures of domestic communion that are holy.’
These humble gestures, the Archbishop shared, echo the words of Jesus himself: “Do this, in memory of me” (Luke 22:20). They are also the gestures upon which a renewed sense of shared purpose, faith and community might be built into the future.
Read the Archbishop's full text here or watch the video below.