Blog Template Theology of the Body: Saint Sabina, 126 AD

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Saint Sabina, 126 AD

One of my favorite churches in Rome sits atop the Aventine Hill, on the site of one of the earliest titular house churches where the first Christians met in secret. This one is vast, and brooding, with ancient carved doors that display the earlist known image of a Christian Crucifix. I have visited there late in the evening after Vespers, when lone Dominicans kneel in the chapels to pray; last spring, I heard the Holy Father say Mass there, on Ash Wednesday, after his solemn procession from St. Anselmo up the way. This old church is dedicated to the memory of St. Sabina, a Roman wife and mother who was martyred in the second century along with the slave who had converted her. Now, we worship her Lord, with her memory, at her house.

This church, which was once a home to a family, and is now a home for the whole world, is particularly special to me because it is a headquarters of the Dominican order. I was received as a married woman and mother into the Domincan third order for the laity this past Sunday, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, which fulfilled my desire of many, many years to participate with those who have given their entire lives to God in a way appropriate to my own vocation. The wonderful priest who heard my initial promises to follow the Dominican rule and charism stopped my husband and me after the Mass to give us a special blessing as a family. He asked for the intercession of Christ's own Holy Family, on whose feast day my husband and I were married. And then he winked at me and said, "now you are a family... within a family."

In the days before I knew that the Catholic Church had already thought all about it, I spent a lot of time stuggling to understand the role of the family within the Church. Which existed for which, I wonderered- the family for the Church, or the Church for the family? Without resolving such questions, I figured that it was impossible for a Christian family to justify its own existence- anyone can marry and have children, but Christians have a Great Commission to follow; there is work to be done! That attitude evidenced some latent problems with my anthropology at that point; and it was a great relief when I discovered that the Church's characteristic answer to my question is, as usual, "both"- both the family for the Church and the Church for the family, in as much as both exist to form and present one soul to Heaven, one at a time. As John Paul II put it, man is the way of the Church; she serves him, and in his mandate to give himself to Christ through his brothers, he will realize his highest potential by giving himself to her. And I think that it is this sort of intuition whereby the Church generously acknowledges and provides for the ministry of the laity, and calls us to realize our responsibilities fully, perhaps in the kind of special lay consecration that I am so excited about. And all of this while remaining simply what we, as Christians, are- famillies, within a family.