6.4.2 Practices for Christian families

Back to 6.4.1

Unit 6 Contents



To end the unit, we place what we looked at on the last screen in a wider context.  Julie Hanlon Rubio has addressed exactly the question we are concerned with at the final stage of the pastoral spiral about family life.  But rather than focus on particular things that families can do as one-off actions, she has given a lot of attention to the regular practices that form family life – that is, to the ways of doing the ordinary things families do that then become habitual in their shared lives, in effect the customs they form.

Rubio focuses on five such practices: sex, money, eating, prayer and service. 

In a moment you will be asked to read two interviews with Rubio about a book she has written, following several years of work on this subject.  It is called Family Ethics: Practices for Christians (Georgetown University Press, 2010).  As is plain from the interviews, what it argues for was forged through reflection on the practices of her own family alongside reading the CST literature on family life.

She can be seen as taking forward the perspective for which Cahill argued in the reading you did earlier.  This is so especially because she develops Pope John Paul’s “domestic church” idea with which you are now familiar.

Cahill has commented on Rubio’s book, calling it a “splendid re-visioning of the vocations of marriage and family for Catholics in today’s world.”  Cahill continues:

Rubio inspires and challenges by linking the social vocation of the family to the concrete practices and problems of family life. She speaks from the realism and wisdom of experience, backed by current data on real-world social trends, relationships, and human behavior. Rubio is that rare voice that manages to keep ideals in clear view while appreciating the importance of negotiation, compromise, persistence, and practicality. This book will satisfy everyone from scholars to students to all those working out connections between faith and family.1

As a good introduction to your reading of the two interviews with Rubio, here is a brief extract from a review of her book.

Rubio repeatedly characterizes her approach as “countercultural”…  [S]he renarrates key, existing common components of family life through “the richly personal and social Christian vision” (16)…  I call this approach “renarration” because (to her immense credit) Rubio’s five practices are ones that are present, even if in distorted or limited forms, in most families. Couples have sex, families try to eat together, households try to support charities and do some community service, and prayer at least is attempted.  Here, Rubio suggests that the way we do these practices, as well as a further awareness of how they are misshapen by the culture and re-shaped in Catholic contexts, is key to realizing the Christian vision of the family.  She is trying to intentionalize these ordinary activities, in ways that are consistent with the cultivation of Catholic identity, in terms of both the internal goods of married life and the vocation of marriage to church and society…

“The genius of Catholic teaching on the family is its refusal to limit families by telling them to simply focus on themselves,” she writes (30). This description follows immediately from one of many analyses of the teachings of Pope John Paul II. While “theology of the body” is not in evidence here, the late pope’s social commitments, above all to solidarity, and the fact that he urges families to realize this solidarity both internally and externally, play a very important role in the normative vision.2


Reading  (2pp + 5pp)

Two interviews with Julie Hanlon Rubio:

In press release issued by Georgetown University Press, May 2010: ‘Q&A with Julie Rubio’

U.S. Catholic, 76.2 (Feb. 2011), pp. 34-37: ‘Don’t focus on the family: Julie Hanlon Rubio on family ethics’




In the second of the interviews, Rubio says this about ‘service’, one of the five practices in family life she focuses on:

Some families are hesitant to do service with the poor because they think their kids won’t be safe.

One way to start is with children. We organized our parish youth group to take children who were staying at the Catholic Worker shelter to a park or to the zoo. I matched them up one to one with the youth group members, who then really felt like they had something to do. They were just talking to one kid, and that worked out well. And it didn’t feel like service because we were doing something fun.

The truth is that we don’t tend to live close to people who need us. This is where fear comes in: If we’re so worried about keeping our family safe, then we can’t cross those lines. And sometimes we just need to know that it’s an exaggerated fear. People are not often killed on the street.

The ideal is that we move from just helping the poor to actually trying to build some relationships. That would transform parishes and families.

Whether you come from a poor or more well-off family, to what extent has service of people outside your family who are in need been a part of your family life?

Are there practical ways in which such service could be made part of the life of the family or household in which you now live?



End of 6.4.2

Go to 6.4.3 Review and discussion of Unit 6

Copyright © Newman University.  If you wish to quote from this page, see Citation Information. N.B. If you are a student and make use of material on this page in an assignment, you are obliged to reference the source in line with the citation information.

  1. Lisa Sowle Cahill, quoted in Editorial Reviews on Rubio, Family Ethics, at: http://www.amazon.com./Family-Ethics-Christians-Traditions-ebook/dp/B003URQH52/ref=dp_return_2?ie=UTF8&n=341677031&s=digital-text, accessed 23 Apr. 2014. 

  2. David Cloutier, review of Rubio, Family Ethics, at: http://catholicbooksreview.org/2010/rubio.htm, accessed 23 Apr. 2014.  Cloutier is the author of a chapter in McCarthy, ed., The Heart of Catholic Social Teaching, although not one set as reading in this module.