Thursday, March 16
First Plenary: The Centrality of the Family in the New Evangelization
Bishop Ronald Gainer and The Rev. Tory Baucum
Evangelism and the growth of Christian disciples is the purpose of the Church. The family—no matter how small—is a center for evangelism and discipleship. Too often, evangelism and discipleship training is relegated to ‘professional Christians’ and separated from family life. But this denies the greatest potential of the family because the family and their guests and extended household comprise what is essentially a ‘domestic church’. The ‘domestic church’ is not insular—solely for the spiritual growth of the nuclear family or even solely for the growth of the parish or local congregation. As an agent for evangelism and discipleship, the domestic church extends the reach of the parish or local church by sharing the love of Christ with the whole world. In our current cultural moment, the renewal of the church might begin with the renewal of the domestic church as a family on mission. In this case, the family, is not as much a protector of Christendom as a leavening agent in the pre (or post)-Christian context.
Second Plenary: When the Church Was a Family (And Vice Versa): The Radical Social Order & Spiritual Lives of the Earliest Christians
Dr. Ben Witherington and Frederica Mathewes-Green
As we consider the implications for the New Evangelization, how did the church evangelize in the first place? Using examples from Scripture and tradition, we will consider the social order and spiritual practices of the earliest Christians. While the early church was often anchored by biological families, these households created a new kind of extended family where the waters of baptism was thicker than the blood of the family line. Our technological age allows us to be more connected than ever, but it also creates a lack of physical connection causing loneliness, addiction and isolation. How might this early age of evangelism and spiritual practice give us clues for the transformation of society today?
Third Plenary: Reimagining the Mission of Marriage and the Family
Christopher West and Msgr. Renzo Bonetti
The Theology of the Body espoused by John Paul II undergirds our understanding of the original design of creation and our partnership with God in the restoration of all things to the way it was in the beginning. The Christian—whether married or single— finds true identity and life in God the Father through Jesus the Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit. In this way, the goal of every Christian is union with the community of God. The marriage relationship deeply informs our understanding of the community of the holy and undivided Trinity because the marriage relationship is one of sacrifice and self-giving for the sake of an undivided life. Marriage is inherently ‘missional’ because it is a sign post for the Good News and an invitation for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness. With this understanding in place, we will show how the married couple, is a solution for evangelism because married couples multiply the visibility of the community of God. Through reimagining the marriage, family, home and table—even the smallest family can build the family of God.
Friday, March 17
Fourth Plenary: The Domestic Church as an Agent for Evangelization in post-Christian Society
Intimacy with Jesus is foundational for the Christian life. When the family recognizes the presence of Jesus, the home is a practicum for intimacy. It is the natural place where we learn to love one another the way Jesus loves. Loving like Jesus is not a private affair. A people learning to love like Jesus loves can’t help but share this love with others. In a post-Christian society, the family serves a prophetic role. It is best-positioned to share the love of God leading to the transformation of individuals and whole communities. The household is a model of intimacy, and it is the greatest resource for evangelism in a post-Christian society. In this session we will look at ways that the family develops and expresses intimacy, sharing the love of God with each other and with the rest of the world.
Fifth Plenary: Christian Liturgy in the Everyday Life of the Family
Msgr. Renzo Bonetti
The word liturgy means ‘the work of the people’. As part of a priestly community, all baptized Christian offer themselves as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1-2). As they open their home to share God’s love with the world, the family serves a priestly role. This builds the larger family of God—the great cloud of witnesses—throughout time. In the ordinary-time of family life, we experience a liturgy of celebration, forgiveness and caring for the sick. The body is the common theme in these household celebrations because the body is made for giving and receiving love. As the body matures, it learns the art of giving and receiving as part of everyday life. This deepens an understanding and practice of intimacy that shapes our practice of evangelism.
Sixth Plenary: Organizing God’s New Family
The growth and maturity of Christian disciples in the context of household and family life aids the maturity and growth of the whole parish or congregation. If family life is truly foundational to the whole church, how might the local parish or congregation organize itself so that the domestic church is central to the fulfillment of the mission of God? How might the local church extend its reach through a network of domestic churches or mission-based house churches practicing an outward-facing life?
Seventh Plenary: The Family of God & the Restoration of All Things
Dr. Margaret McCarthy
Jesus is making all things new. He works through his creation restoring the world to himself. As it was in the beginning is how it will be in the end when Christ the bridegroom and the bride of Christ—the Church—feast together in the new heaven and the new earth. Marriage is a foretaste of this day. As couples build the domestic church as an extended family on mission together they strengthen the whole Church in partnership with God in the restoration of all things.
Response: When the Church Becomes a Family
We often speak of the church as a family. But if we dig deeper, we realize that the church is really a family of families. The strength of the church is directly related to the strength of the family. When families are strong they reach out and form new kinds of families bound by the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. This experience with Jesus speaks to the birth, death and resurrection in our own communities. In the words of Pope St. John Paul II “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.”