Here is an excerpt from our book, Theology of Home, taken from the Introduction.
Home. It is an elegant word, at once both simple and far-reaching. Home is that place where we are meant to be safe, nurtured, known for who we are, and able to live and love freely. Even for those from broken homes or homes that no longer exist, there is still something in the idea that pulls at us.
Home’s universal appeal populates culture. “Take Me Home, Country Road,” “Sweet Home Alabama,”and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” are just a few of the many songs that invoke the theme. Movies and literature end happily with protagonists, like Odysseus, finally going home. The entire goal of the American pastime of baseball is to be safe at home. YouTube videos of joyful homecomings of perfect strangers fill up our social media feeds and can leave us in tears. We spend billions of dollars constructing and decorating our own houses, turning them into “Home Sweet Home,” while converts to the Catholic faith, like Scott and Kimberly Hahn, speak of finally coming to find “Rome Sweet Home.”
This all begs the question: Why? Why the fascination and universal appeal of home? What is it about this place that so captures our minds and spirits?
Home Is Where Life Unfolds
Our homes are the great theatre where the drama of our lives unfolds. G. K. Chesterton eloquently said:
The place where babies are born, where men die, where the drama of mortal life is acted, is not an office or a shop or a bureau. It is something much smaller in size and much larger in scope. And while nobody would be such a fool as to pretend that it is the only place where people should work, or even the only place where women should work, it has a character of unity and universality that is not found in any of the fragmentary experiences of the division of labour.
Home is, as Chesterton said, small in comparison to a business or office but enormous in terms of the impression it makes and leaves upon us. Home, by its nature, is meant to be a foreshadowing of heaven. It is to be both satisfying in this earthly life while also offering a glimpse of things to come when we see the fulfillment of Christ’s promise of heaven. Pope St. John Paul II’s final words in this life were: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” He wanted to go home—to the home where all of us are willed by God to go, even if he allows our own will to lead us elsewhere.
Ironically, despite the innate human desire that there is for home, the notion that someone would actually want to make a home, providing a place of safety, love, order, education, and hospitality, has fallen out of favor. Could there be, in the minds of millions of women today, anything worse than being a “homemaker”? The pendulum, however, seems to be swinging back toward home even if the homemaker title is still unpopular. The meteoric rise of home-centric programming, such as HGTV and DIY Network, and the celebrities they have spun off, such as Chip and Joanna Gaines, speaks to the fact that people are craving more connection with home.
“There are two ways of getting home,” Chesterton explained. “One of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.” As the world seemingly grows darker, we are longing for our homes to mean something again. Our homes are becoming sanctuaries—a place where we feel safe, protected, cared for. Even the word sanctuary reflects a deeper meaning. It stems from the word sanctus, meaning “holy.” It initially meant “a building set apart for holy worship.” Only later did it come to mean “a place of refuge or protection.” Making our homes a kind of sanctuary means more than simply having nourishing comfort food on the table or high thread-count sheets on the bed. There must be nourishment for the soul. Without this, the soul will be left hungry and searching for the One who truly satisfies every desire of our hearts.
Homes Can Evangelize
The phrase “Theology of Home” calls to mind a vital spiritual truth: that our homes can evangelize. All the time we spend “in the recesses of our homes”— cleaning a cupboard here, making a bed there, hanging up a picture, watering a plant, cleaning up after a child, cutting potatoes, saying prayers, arguing and making up—all these things, seen and unseen, somehow work their way into the fibers of a dwelling. We can fail to recognize how beautiful it all is until a stranger is among us and is moved. Life lived according to God’s way, lived under the banner of love, teaches us, and others, through a humbling sort of beauty. True, we might not be able to get all our friends and acquaintances to step through the doors of a Catholic Church, but we can get them into our kitchens. Because secularism is so pervasive, interaction with a family in an orthodox and authentically Catholic home might be the only intimate exposure some will ever get to human lives struggling and striving to fully and sacramentally live according to God’s designs.
Catholic daily living—with all its imperfections and struggles, its mercy and its joy, not to mention aesthetic and hospitable beauty and nourishing food (and hopefully some good red wine)—can be an intoxicating inducement to the reality that life is fuller, more secure, more exciting, and more fulfilling when lived in the context of the divine. To step inside this context is a foretaste of heaven, and sometimes, mysteriously, this experience can be even more profound for a stranger than being inside a church. For in the liturgy, he may not know the “language,” but the language of a home is universal.