This week I was visited by Paul, a gentleman of the road. We kept a respectable distance from each other. I remarked his rucksack which contained the little worldly goods he possessed. He said “I am like a snail, Father. I carry my home on my back”. I gave him tea and a sandwich. He went off happy enough.
The theme of “home” from this homeless friend remained in my thoughts as I, like so many of you, are spending extra time indoors. For us as Christians, “home” is a Person not a place. We live in God. Jesus said: “Make your home in me as I make mine in you”. By the world’s definition, Jesus had no home, nowhere to lay His head. The truth is Jesus lived in His Father with the Holy Spirit. The Father was always with Him, in the wilderness, on the cross, Jesus was in the Love of the One He came from and returned to. Since our baptism, we and our God have had a mutual indwelling. When we pray, we do not pray to God, we pray in God. Believing is belonging. As Jesus enters Jerusalem today He is strengthened by the thought that ultimately He is going home to His Father in Whom He is already living. For “the Father and I are One”. His Passion, Death and Resurrection is Jesus’ loving way of securing the victory over sin and death, putting His arms around us in this life and carrying us gently forward to our enduring home with Him in Heaven where He has prepared a place for all of us.
At the moment we are more Church sick than home sick. We miss our gathering in faith in the Mass. My mother, God rest her, when she was ill and was unable attend Mass, said she was lonely for the whole week. Of course a parish is made up of homes. Our assembly at Mass is our coming together from our homes, with our story, relationships, duties, issues and dreams. What is sacramentally given is given to be shared and disseminated. From our faith celebration we disperse to our homes taking the love and grace we receive to live out in our associations, encounters, and (for some of us) the solitude of our homes.
St John PauI II spoke of the home as the domestic church. Life is expert at keeping us busy and quality time together can be an effort. When some of us do, we may compartmentalize into silence each looking at little screens. Yet, we are not happy to become ships in the night to each other. Again, I remember my home in which I grew up. We prayed together each day. The picture of the Sacred Heart and His little altar with flowers and a little red neon light was the centre of our living room. Some may see this as quaint, or of the past. St John Paul said the home is the place where God is honoured, His teaching respected, prayer is a normal event, virtue is transmitted by word and example and everyone share the hopes, the problems and sufferings of everyone else. Quaint? I don`t think so. This was the home that produced me and fostered my vocation. If this appeals to us, can we apply these words to our homes at this time? Can we use this time together to make some of the Pope’s vision of home come alive in us? Stressing the home as domestic church, John Paul says where we live must be a place of love and prayer which is not to be seen as second best to Church. He wants us to be intensely Church not only in The Holy Mass but in our homes as well. How true this must be for the millions of Catholics in remote places, countries of faith persecution or are just without a priest, where this domestic Church is largely their experience of “liturgy” and “sacrament”.
At this time let us ponder being at home in Christ, our mystical sense of “homeness” or dwelling in God. We often find as we age and the dross of the world’s version of joy and life fall away, we value more and more the gift of our relationships with our God and with each other. As preoccupation fades, relationship is given wiggle room and so much we took for granted and assumed is noticed and seen for the treasure it is. This is the stability of believers. We, as Jesus’ friends, believe He entered Jerusalem to the hosannas of the crowd to offer the world enduring relationship. Do we need anything else? Speaking of which, I’ve been pondering the role of the donkey on which Jesus rode. The donkey is by its God given ability a small but well designed and fit for purpose beast of burden. As it was a donkey that carried His Mother with Jesus in her womb to His place of birth, it is appropriate a donkey would convey Jesus to the city of His sacrificial and freely offered death. My mother said this was how the donkey got the cross on its back. Two donkeys, at different ends of Jesus’ life bearing Him at vital moments. I sense the call to be the Lord’s “donkey” at this time. To lovingly bear the burden of the world’s anxiety, fear and dread. To bear the anguish of those seriously ill and their distraught love ones. To carry them forward from where life has placed them to a sense of hope for both of the donkey’s journeys occasioned life; the Lord’s birth and rebirth. Can our corporate shoulders of faith bear the burden and be the load bearing structure for those who have no faith to cling to and just feel helpless victims? Saint Christopher comes to my mind. His task was to convey weary travellers safely across the flowing river. As He carried the child Jesus, he felt the weight increasing at every step yet he succeeded in taking the Child Jesus to safety to continue His journey. What a wonderful saint for our time! As Christopher sensed the burden of sin and human weakness that the Child Jesus would have to bear out of love for us, we too must be in this for the long haul for our world. There must be no tokenism or half-heartedness or leaving it to others. Each of us must play our full part of intercession, a burdened shared.
We will not be together for our Easter Masses. I particularly love the First Mass of Easter, the Mother of All Vigils, on Holy Saturday night. But I will celebrate this Vigil in a shortened form with you in my heart and mind throughout. As I will bless the Easter Candle. I will say:
“Christ, yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to Him, and to all the ages to Him be glory and power through every age and forever. Amen.”
All time belongs to Him. Even this difficult time. Let us move out of misery to ministry mode. From hand wringing to hand joining. From fearing to trusting. To help the world hand over to God what it feels helpless in the face of. You see, Jesus is not only the One Who sets us free but is still burden orientated. Look at your Crucifix. His yoke of which He spoke is two sided, for two oxen were required to perform the task. I have a mental picture of Jesus on one side and us on the other carrying the world in love and concern. Christ be beside me. In John’s account of the Lord calming the storm, he adds the comforting words (among my favourite quotes): “they soon reached the shore to which they were going”. This is a reassurance for the current crisis and God willing, how our lives will complete themselves in God’s good time.
My thoughts return to Paul, my homeless friend. I am sure he could give us one or two lessons on coping with isolation. I am pleased he counts me as a friend, a relationship to which he can return from time to time. I look forward to the day he comes back to see me and distancing won’t be an issue. I’ll end asking God to look after all the Pauls out there. Just keep them warm and safe, Lord. Amen.
Seen on a Church sign in South Carolina, USA: “We are too blessed to be depressed.“
All my love,