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The Sacrament of Home

Home. Home… Is there any word that suggests more comfort? No matter what our experience of “home” might be, something deep in our hearts resonates with Dorothy’s plaintive “Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.” Last week as my husband and I returned from a time away, that line said it all. Our thunderstormy nine-hour ride home awash in truckers’ foggy steam only added to the disorienting sense of having immersed ourselves in a life that didn’t quite fit. As I opened my back door, home opened its arms. Every detail spelled anchor, from the worn slipcovers, to the cheddar in its cockeyed perch in the fridge, to my pile of prayer books beckoning me. No seashore views from my windows, but those familiar sycamore branches? Ultimate comfort. In so many previous homecomings a flat, same-old-same-old would envelope me until I’d settle in again. This time was different. Home was “sweet home.” Lord, what are you teaching me?

I knew by instinct that this was no earthly attachment to be eschewed. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body makes the distinction between icon, a transparency for our Homeland, and idol, a temporal medication which can never satisfy our ache for the infinite. This heart-sense of belonging, of refuge, was no idol, but an icon pointing me to Heaven. I had to stay with it, to breathe deeply of the steadying going on in my very bones. Plato–I’m digging deeply from nearly sixty years ago–spoke of the essence of things. The tree-ness of a tree, the rock-ness of a rock. What could be more essential than the home-ness of home? St. John Paul’s teaching surprises me with an almost giddy thrill every time the topic of “destiny” is presented. Surely the home-ness of home opens a window on eternity. Because God became a man born of a woman, living in his parents’ house, seeing and smelling and tasting and touching, laughing and crying and loving and hurting, all of our home-ness in the here and now takes on new dimension. Through Him, with Him, and in Him every aspect of our “familiar” is sanctified, amplified, glorified, divinized. 2 Pet.1:4 tells us that “In Christ, we become sharers in the Divine Nature.” The Incarnation permeates every aspect of our humanity, opening Heaven to us from the moment of our Baptism.

Pope Benedict does us a great favor in illuminating these mysteries. A scholar by the name of Fr. Andrzej Proniewski unpacks his thinking in his essay, “Joseph Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict XVI) Conceptualization of Eternity.” The Pope’s foundational principle, Fr. Andrzei writes, is that “the New Testament speaks about a new heaven and a new earth in order to emphasize that all (italics mine) of creation is destined for the glory of God.” He continues, “the Christian world’s proposition is very concrete. Everything that is important, precious, and valuable to particular individuals will not be destroyed after death; instead, it will find its fulfillment in God. As St. Matthew writes in his gospel: ‘Even all the hairs of your head are counted.’ This means that within the future world, temporality will be transformed (and not annihilated).”

Such glorious news! Heaven is not a generalized joy-cloud distinct from our earthly life. The frosty beer I love to offer visitors on my patio, the voices so dear to my heart, the smell of bacon on Sunday morning after Mass, the family in-jokes and memories, the music in this generation coming from my grandmother’s piano–who says you can’t take it with you? You can! In what form, who knows, but these home-joys in all their particularity will not be annihilated, only enhanced and transformed. Somehow we will recognize them, caught up in glory “more than we could ask for or imagine,” as St. Paul says (Eph. 3:20).

And what of the home-sorrows? What of the aches that tear at us? What drives us faster to intimacy with Jesus’ suffering heart than our own? He is madly attracted to our misery, St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us. Our anguish, in turn, attracts us to His. And in that union at the foot of the Cross, what mysteries unfold. A visitor who happened into our house during one of the most painful periods of our family life remarked spontaneously, “There is so much love here!” “Say what??!!!” was my reaction, but instead I marveled at the paths Jesus finds to transmit Himself. All I knew was that with my heart slashed in two I had no choice but to cling–cling–to Him. Little did I know how close to Heaven I was; in Pope Benedict’s thought, according to Fr. Proniewski, “Man’s experience of Heaven depends on whether and to what degree he is [united] with Christ. It is for this reason that Heaven…must be presented strictly as a person.”

A person…our Bridegroom. After our daughter Emily’s funeral Mass almost two years ago, even the non-believers present remarked in wonder that it seemed more like a wedding than a funeral. The heart that had yearned so deeply and suffered so profoundly in this life was finally home, swept up in a love “strong as death” (SoS: 8:6) The Cana joy was visceral. Her haunting soprano had touched us who loved her so often with the Wizard-of-Oz-y words of one of her songs, “home can’t be that hard to get home can’t be so far away…” No longer. She was there, and Heaven was a Person–the Belonging and Safety and Home-ness that had eluded her in this life. The Holy Spirit dropped a bomb on me one day shortly after her Mass as I was praying. I all but heard the words, “She is not in some generic glory bubble, but every specific agony she endured has been met with its own specific ecstasy.” I was bowled over. The “particularity,” again…

Pope Benedict’s “Conceptualization of Eternity” captures it this way: “Man is safe, and his entire (italics mine) temporal existence is connected to the life of the eternal God…(who) knows and loves the entire person and includes everything that constitutes man now…in eternity.” Listen for Jesus’ whisper– “My beloveds, the cozy beauties of your home are tastes of the mansions I am preparing for you and for all who are blessed by the particular home-ness of your home. Your kitchen tables? Foretastes of the Communion of Saints. And not one throw-pillow you place, not one pan of chicken you pull out of the oven, not one vase of flowers you arrange, will be annihilated in my Kingdom, already at hand in these incarnational ways. I delight in them with you. And even now as your receive Me in the Eucharist, experience the ultimate Home-ness of Home which I AM. I AM tender Safety, ultimate Security, complete Acceptance, Beauty itself, everything the home-ness of home represents. I gather your particular legacy of “home”–loved ones past and present, places and things, nature and beauty and art, sorrows and joys–every poignant element swept into my all-in-all-ness without loss of its unique place. All redeemed, glorified, and waiting for you in the Mansion which is I.”

Dear sisters, let us rejoice in the “feminine genius” within us which creates home. Does the world tempt us to “not enough” as home-makers? Home is who we are as women in this world, no matter our occupation, and where we are going in the next. Home is a continuum. Every particular way we love, every particular touch of beauty we bring is prophetic, and will find its place in our eternity.

Copyright Bonnie West, 2021

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