Husband & Wife Articles


 

Ecosystem of Faith

They will know we are Christians by our welcoming love

By Jilu Jacob

The dictionary defines “ecosystem” as a complex community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit. Typically, the word ecosystem brings to mind the humid rainforests of South America or the wild animals of the jungle. In fact, the concept of an ecosystem is not limited to nature, but can be beautifully applied to a faith community and the place of family within that community.

Today the family unit is relatively isolated. Gone are the days when children could run and play freely in the streets. These days, we are lucky if we exchange more than a polite hello with our next door neighbor! As my husband and I talked and dreamed about our family, we both recognized the need of community, for ourselves and for our children. We wanted to be active members in our church and local community, but we also knew that we wanted our family to be a base for community. We had grown up with that example from our parents’ lives, and I had experienced community also through my life as a Jesus Youth.

Jacob Family

Jesus Youth is an international Catholic movement with origins in the small state of Kerala, India. What started as a few young people praying together on campuses in the 1980s has now grown to be a pontifically recognized ecclesial movement – “a missionary movement at the service of the Church.” I came in to the movement through a retreat in my early teens and the movement’s spirituality has played a pivotal role in my faith and life formation. While Jesus Youth is primarily meant to evangelize and form youth to live a missionary life, it has evolved to make space for those who desire to continue as missionary families at the service of the Church.  

As a teenager and through my college years, I would spend time visiting and staying with such families. They opened their homes and lives to me and other young people, sharing their joys as well as the messiness that comes with marriage, kids and life. I ate freely from their kitchens, played with their kids, sought advice and answers to life’s deeper questions and spent endless hours enjoying the love that radiated from their marriages and faith-filled homes. Over the years, it challenged me and opened my eyes to the endless possibilities for a family truly living out their vocation. In turn, they relived the creativity and joy of youthfulness through us. They were also grateful for the positive influence that we had on their children; in the same way that my peers looked to the elders in families as mentors and role models, their children came to us with questions as they navigated through their formative younger years. In this way, a beautiful and intricate collection of relationships, an ecosystem, developed around these families.

This idea of an ecosystem of faith is not just relevant to families that desire to mentor youth, but to all families. By living the fullness of our Christian vocation, we have the beautiful opportunity of influencing our larger community with faith and joy. Every time one of our children’s classmates or another parent comes to our home, an opportunity presents itself to share our faith through acts of everyday life. Grace before meals, the affection between family members and the love that comes from a strong marriage in Christ can give hope to those from broken families. To those who have not experienced much love, our open homes and our gentle influence can be a soothing balm for the wounds of the heart. The desire to witness to those surrounding your child can in turn be a great blessing to your family. They will remember your example and also enjoy their home as safe and encouraging space to bring friends.

Now that I am married and have my own home, my husband and I long to have such an ecosystem develop around our own family. We hope that our home is inviting and comfortable, not marked by pretenses or a false sense of perfection, but a place where love and faith are naturally present through the ups and downs of life, and where we can grow with everyone who enters.

Jilu Jacob is a wife, mother and nurse living in Massachusetts with her husband, Roger, and their daughter, Magdalena. She is a first generation Indian American, a Jesus Youth, and her family observes Syro-Malabar Catholic traditions.