With his usual gift for insights and clarity, Fr. Tom McKenna, CM reflects on home-making in the light of the Gospel fo the Prodigal Son and the experience of St. Louise.
“Home-Making” Lk 15:1-3; 11-32
Some years ago, Time magazine ran one of those reflective pieces on the subject of “home.” It spoke about what it is to be there, and what it is to be away from there. But mostly it commented on the richness contained in the word itself, laying out how primal a metaphor it is.
Metaphor: a word like a diamond. A kind of prism-word, radiating out not just one but many different meanings; a word-image shot through with associations that reverberate in many more parts of me than just my head.
And “home” is one of those rudimentary images. The mention of it draws up deep seated memories and stirs strong feelings, both happy and sad. It’s a word that moves us into realms we can’t fully name.
The article pointed out how, though it seems to refer to the past (i.e., the home I came from, and, in hard times, where want to snuggle back into), it more fundamentally points to the future: home, that perfect place where peace, fullness, security and mutual love will all come together.
In other words, it’s the place where, when I’m away from it, I want to go back to, — even when it’s in front of me as a perfect place I long for, as in “I want to go ‘back to the future’.” The author ended with the etymology of the word “Nostalgia.” It’s from 2 Greek words, home and yearning. Even better: “agony for home,” “groaning for the home place.”
In a number of ways, this parable of the Prodigal Son is really about home. There’s leaving home, recognizing my true home, returning to it, and unfortunately, not seeing it when it’s there in front of me.
- Leaving: the first son setting off to the distant country with his inheritance.
- Recognizing: in this new home “coming to his senses” and recognizing where his true home is.
- Returning: “so he got up and returned to his Father,” the exiles returning from Babylon to the promised land.
- Not seeing it in front of me: the elder son who out of jealousy becomes blind to the home his Father’s house really is.
This is “Agony for Home,” in Jesus’ key, home being the deeply echoing metaphor for that place of fullness, acceptance, of flourishing. In bible language it’s “the bosom of Abraham”, and for St. Paul is that special “Peace of the Lord beyond all understanding.”
But further, when you give anything resembling such a home-space to others, you touch onto what they are most deeply looking for – that link with a certain fullness from the past and the glimpse of some even fuller peace off in the future. Everybody wants to go home. When you provide even a little of that for someone else, you’re giving them gold.
All of this is a way to appreciate what St. Louise wanted to do for others in her day. With Vincent, she felt drawn to relieve the condition of homelessness. And that was not just the lack of roof over your head, a place to stay, and a table with food on it. It was still more importantly that more profound homelessness of being lost in life, East of Eden, in exile from the Promised Land, away from sweetness of that home-space Louise would call the Kingdom of God.
You can use this metaphor of “home-making” as one of those especially clear windows through which to look at all she did — and why she did it. Paraphrasing Louise: “I want to show these stranded people the Love of God. I want to try to convince them they are special in God’s eyes. I want to give them a taste of what it means to be in the Home of the Father, taken in there, returned and led to that place of fullness, their hearts opened up to where our home really is, newly able to “go back home again.”
We could go on here with Louise’s “home-enabling, home-making” ministry to people who were poor. But let me switch to another kind of home-making she did – the kind for the women she gathered around her, her Daughters.
I’m referring to all the things she wrote and insisted upon that these women come home to a place of peace, that their life together be a kind of “home-life. ” This would not be in its more familiar form of spouse and children and grandchildren gathered around the hearth, but nonetheless it’s the fundamental sense of the “home-place,” the place you want to come back to, the space you want to make, and that paradise spot always out in front that you long for.
Recently I came across a passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, where he writes about what he calls “Appreciative Love.” It’s the kind that goes on between good friends, especially old friends. For his word “appreciative,” you could substitute “home.” To catch his sense better, think of your own “circles” in community over the years, perhaps even the ones around the tables here last evening.
“In this circle of real friends, this Appreciative love (“home love”) is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in her secret heart, humbled before all the rest. Sometimes she wonders what she is doing there among her betters. She is lucky beyond deserving to be in such company.
Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in the others…when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on, or responsibility for another, but all are free and equal as if we had first met an hour ago.
Life – natural life has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it.”
To pull this together: 1) the prodigal Son, coming home again and his Father making a home. 2) What Louise sought to make for God’s poor and wished for her own Daughters. 3) What her followers still work at putting in place, among the poor and themselves. That is, that “Home Space” for which we all long. We want to come home to it. “Thy Kingdom come!”