We're really feeling exiled right now. Let it be a reminder of what we're made for.
So here we all are, stuck at home in this time of coronavirus, and it is easy to get preoccupied by all the places we can’t go: Kids’ soccer games, plays and recitals, movie theaters, restaurants, and shops and most shocking of all, Mass.
But the Church has a lot to say about being home, and now is the perfect time to discover the Catholic truths about home.
First, the Church admits it: home is hard.
“It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being,” says the Catechism. The words are about marriage, but they apply to all family relationships
We can over-romanticize family life and forget how truly painful it can be. Stuck at home together, we are discovering new things about ourselves and others — and not all of them are good.
There are new arguments over how seriously everyone should be taking virus warnings, new worries about money; and there are old arguments that we had learned to tiptoe around but can no longer ignore as we “shelter in place” together.
But that’s the point. It is precisely in the pain of family life that we meet God.
When things are tough, married couples learn that “Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to ‘be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,’ and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love,” says the Catechism.
Home is where holiness starts.
It is undeniable that our exile from Mass is a terrible circumstance. More on that in a minute. But there are some ways in which it is a great opportunity.
Precisely because home life is hard, God sends enormous graces to families. Not only does the Church say the home a “domestic church,” but that we are domestic priests.
“The home is where the father of the family, the mother, children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way,” says the Catechism.
Home is where we teach each other “endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love” and forgiveness, says the Catechism, but “above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.”
In this time when we can only join in the liturgy remotely, as viewers instead of participants, this spiritual leadership is more important than ever.
Families will find that, “In the joys of their love and family life [God] gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb,” says the Catechism.
But home is not enough.
Like everything else on earth, though, the foretaste of heaven we have in home life leaves a lot to be desired. Literally.
“Have you ever felt, either as a child or an adult, a sense of alienation or discord, a deep sense of not belonging?” Father Robert Spitzer asked in his book Ten Universal Principles. He said this alienation comes even when things are going well and your relationships are strong.
Many philosophers and theologians connect this feeling with a human being’s yearning to be at home with the totality — not merely at home with myself, my family, my friends, or even the world, but to be perfectly at home without any hint of alienation.
He said this longing for “home” even when we are at home is a longing for God himself.
This is exactly what St. Paul said.
“For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven,” he wrote. “For in this tent we groan, longing to be further clothed with our heavenly habitation.”
This is why church feels like home, and we feel like exiles right now.
As great as family life is, the closest think we have to the “heavenly habitation” we are destined for is the Church.
Maybe you have had the experience I’ve had, when you are traveling far away from home, feeling out of place in the world, and then walk into a Catholic church and feel like you just walked into your mother’s living room.
And maybe you have had the same experience I’ve had watching the Mass through a screen. It is helpful spiritually, but it is far from satisfying. When I do it, I feel like a homeless orphan in a Victorian novel staring through a window at a family feast.
With the tabernacle as its center of gravity, our churches are the only places on earth where time and eternity meet and mingle. We are made for God, made to be in his presence, loving him and being loved by him; that’s what we find at church.
So, now is a time to rediscover the value of being at home with our family — and the value of the greater home that we have in store when all this is over.