What is a home? The dictionary says it’s “a house,
apartment or other shelter that is the usual residence
of a person, family or household.” But even the
dictionary knows there’s more to it than that. It goes
on to say the home is “the place in which one’s domestic
affections are centered,” because we all know it takes a
heap o’ lovin’ to make a house a home. There’s a tension
there between the visible and something much more
important which is invisible, and which communicates its
own indefinable character to the rankest stranger
entering the precincts.
Laying aside the physical properties
of the home, let’s contemplate this invisible thing.
It’s so mysterious, God Himself had to reveal it to us.
Without His help, we could see in the home only what the
biologist sees – or the architect or the sociologist or
the historian – and we might conclude with many of them
today that home as we know it is on the way out, and the
sooner we forget all about it the better.
But what is the home as we know it,
we Christians: What has God told us about the home?
He has in fact told us so much, there
will be no end to understanding it all. Once we begin to
read in the proper light, we find that Scripture from
beginning to end is little else than a dynamic and
absorbing theology of the home.
The Bible opens with a description of
man’s first home in Eden, where it was stationary, but
endowed with all its essential character. There we learn
what home is. Then we are led to study Noah’s Ark, where
we see what can happen to it, how it can be moved about,
all the while offering its members passive, but
efficient protection on the dark waters of evil. Then
the Holy Spirit leads us to contemplate Abraham’s Tent,
where to our amazement we see that the home has become
self-propelled and is fulfilling many functions in the
world at large.
After this instruction about man’s
home on earth, we are ready to hear about God’s homes on
earth among men, and He describes for us the Meeting
Tent of the Israelites in the desert where His presence
dwelt, leading eventually to His Temple in Jerusalem,
together with minute descriptions of the sacred
housework engaged in there. God’s home in Nazareth is of
course the climax of the divine teaching, culminating as
it does in the great seventh chapter of St. John’s
Gospel, where our Lord emerges in majesty as the
personal fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles –
par excellence the Jewish festival of the home.
This is too much to discuss in these
few pages, but for a sample of the panorama, we can look
more closely at the Garden of Eden, where all can be
found in embryo. Scripture tells us:
God planted a garden in Eden which is
in the east, and there he put the man he had fashioned.
God caused to spring up from the soil every kind of
tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree
of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
in the middle of the garden. A river flowed from Eden to
water the garden, and from there it divided to make four
streams. The first is named the Pishon, and this
encircles the whole land of Havilah where there is
gold…the second river is named the Gilhon, and this
encircles the whole land of Kush. The third river is
named the Tigris, and this flows to the east of Ashur.
The fourth river is the Euphrates.
God took the man and settled him in
the garden of Eden to cultivate and take care of it.
Then God gave man this admonition, “You may eat indeed
of all the trees in the garden. Nevertheless of the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil, you are not to eat,
for on the day you eat of it you shall most surely die.”
If the language seems naïve, it can
only be because the truths it deals with are very deep,
and do not lend themselves to big words. What, exactly,
does it tell us?
It tells us obvious things, easily
forgotten or taken for granted because they are so
obvious. It tells us, for instance, that home really is
a place, and that it’s not just any place. It occupies a
particular space and time in Eden, to the east, not
elsewhere, or to the west. It has definite boundaries,
and is set off from the rest of the world, all the while
abiding in that world. It’s an enclosure not open to
just anyone or anything, a self-contained unit, and the
only home Adam has. It’s visible, here, and not there.
This means the home is one.
The home in Eden is the archetype of
every shelter of enclosure providing unity of any kind,
all the way from a palace to a bomb shelter, a hotel or
a stalled elevator momentarily keeping its occupants
together by setting them apart from the world.
The second thing we learn is more
surprising: God, not Adam, created Adam’s home. Adam was
made first and might have been expected to plan his own
home, but the Garden of Eden wasn’t his idea at all. It
was God’s. Furthermore, it was a garden, which means it
was laid out according to a preconceived design, where
growth was disciplined and not allowed to follow its
natural course as it did in the rest of Eden. Adam was
supposed to cultivate and take care of it, but he
couldn’t change its basic characteristics.
Modern atheist technologists tell us
man has now come of age and can contrive exactly the
kind of home he wants for himself if he’ll just set his
mind to it. Scripture says otherwise, that man can only
make his home productive, or he can ruin it. Genesis
shows the home isn’t self-sufficient. Nor was Adam the
one who kept the Garden going. It depended on the
God-given river which watered it. Call this grace,
Providence, or whatever you like, the home cannot exist
This means the home is holy.
It’s a sacred place, designed for man
by God, and sustained by Him. The home is an
institution, but like the Church it is unique and set
apart, above all other merely human institutions in the
same way the Church is above the state. God communicates
with Adam in his home, giving him there the basic
commandment to pursue good and avoid evil, saying he may
eat of all the trees but one. This tree is sin, and
every home, precisely because it is a sacred place,
contains this possibility in its very makeup.
In view of all this, we might
conclude that Adam was rather constricted and
housebound, but not so. The story makes clear that
everything in the whole world worth having was in Adam’s
home to begin with. He would have been foolish to run
out for anything. It was set in Eden, a Hebrew word
which means “delight,” and “every kind of tree, enticing
to look at and good to eat” was there. His home even
contained something which couldn’t be found outside: the
tree of life.
So we see that man’s home is
catholic, or universal.
It contains everything that is, if
only in embryo, and it’s found wherever man is found.
Even the most earthbound sociologist must admit that the
home is the prototype of every department store,
library, power plant or zoo. Everything ever produced by
man on earth had its beginnings in the home. Not without
reason did Pope Pius XI tell parents their homes should
be their children’s foretaste of Paradise.
The fourth characteristic of the home
is easy to guess from the foregoing. If the home is one,
holy and catholic, surely it must be apostolic. And so
it is, for according to the story the river watering it
divides into four branches reaching out to the whole
earth and all its wealth.
There are no limits to the power and
influence of the home, for the simple reason that all
mankind comes out of it. It’s the source of everything
that has ever been accomplished in the world.
Sociologists must admit this, too. Law-courts, armies,
banking institutions, universities, foreign missions –
all are rooted in its apostolate. If the home is in
trouble today it’s precisely because its works have been
so prodigious and have become so powerful that they can
rise like man himself to compete against their origins
and their Creator in a radical infringement of the
So we see that the marks of the home
– one, holy catholic, apostolic – are identical with
those of the Church; but before we can understand why
this is so, we must delve very much more deeply into the
mystery. Luckily, we have God’s word for the following:
God said, “It is not good that the
man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.” So
from the soil God fashioned all the wild beasts and all
the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man to see
what he would call them; each one was to bear the name
the man would give it. The man gave names to all the
cattle, all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts.
But no helpmate suitable for man was found for him. So
God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he
slept, he took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh.
God built the rib he had taken from the man into a
woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed,
“That at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my
This to be called woman, for this was
taken from man. This is why a man leaves his father and
his mother and joins himself to his wife, and they
become one body. (Gen. 2:18-24)
With the creation of Eve the home
acquires an entirely new dimension. It’s no longer
merely a shelter filled with material delights, or even
just a place to meet God and from which to rule the
universe. It has become a place of sleep: a bridal
Through God’s power, Adam has become
two in order to become more truly one. The home itself
has taken on a higher unity, and we sense that something
tremendous may happen. Doesn’t the Psalmist say that
overwork and sleeplessness are futile when God “provides
for his beloved as they sleep” (Ps. 127:2) Don’t we know
that our works, useful and necessary as they might be,
are always secondary to a much higher function of which
we are capable?
The story in Eden shows how Adam,
created in God’s image, couldn’t be satisfied with
material things, or with animals. Knowing this, God
brings forth Eve from Adam in the same way He brought
forth the Garden of Eden from His original creation.
Like the Garden, Eve is a new perfection elicited from
the original work. Now Adam has a spiritual partner like
Here we plunge headlong into the
Trinitarian mystery which sustains every living home:
Because Adam was created in the divine image, he could
never be content in a home that was merely a place. Like
God, he required a home which was a person.
Woman is the very personification of
the home God made for man on earth. She is the human
representative of the Holy Spirit, who is produced from
the Father in the Blessed Trinity in a manner analogous
to the way Eve came from Adam. We call the Holy Spirit
Lord and Giver of Life; and we can think of Him – all
due proportion kept – as the “House” uniting the Father
and the Son in the Godhead. He is their bond of unity,
as the mother is the bond of unity between father and
child in the family.
The ancient rabbis, who knew a thing
or two about depth psychology, found the home, in its
deepest carnal manifestation, to reside in the genitalia
of the mother. Need we be surprised that today obsession
with sex is the telltale symptom of the homeless, who
have never known what sex is really all about?
Like the Godhead it portrays, the
home doesn’t produce just things, animals or even human
works. It produces workers, persons. It generates,
both physically and spiritually. It was the divine image
in Adam that made it “not good” for him to be alone; man
was created to exist, like God Himself, as a society of
persons. God is three Persons in one nature, and so, in
a different way, is mankind, where father, mother and
child are three persons sharing the same human nature.
Such is the unfathomable mystery of
the home, which led our own American poet Emily
Dickinson to exclaim to her friend Rev. Cowan in her own
quiet way, “Home is the definition of God.” This must be
true, for what God reveals to us about the home is only
what He reveals to us about Himself.
St. Paul certainly saw what the “nun
of Amherst” saw, and more. He tells the Corinthians, “We
know that when the tent we live in on earth is folded
up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting
home not made by human hands, in the heavens. In this
present state, it is true we groan as we wait with
longing to put on our heavenly home over the other.” (2
Cor. 5: 1-2)
The Psalmist, like Miss Dickinson,
comes to the point quickly, for he too is a poet. He
tells God, “You are my shelter!” (Ps. 32:7) Our home on
earth could only be a visible, temporal analogue of the
loving eternal Godhead, a pledge given to comfort and
sustain us in this life. “That we are permanent
temporarily it is warm to know!” rejoiced our Emily.
This is why man’s home on earth must
bear, insofar as it can, the same marks as His Church.
The early Fathers indeed always saw the Christian home
in these terms, especially St. John Chrysostom, who was
wont to refer to it as an ecclesiola, a Church in
miniature. Given the primordial organic relation between
them, whatever affects one must affect the other.
Certainly looking about us today we
can see that the same divisions and reversals of
authority afflicting the Church are also afflicting the
home. In Eden home and Church were indistinguishable;
mystically they are still one and the same where society
is Christian. One is a barometer of the state of health
of the other.
Such being the case, it might be
profitable to concoct an examination of conscience for
any given home, based on the four marks of the Church.
First we might examine its sins
against unity. Is it one? Or is it several? Are there
competing fragments? Are the members one body? Are there
some missing who should be there, who were perhaps never
allowed to be born? Does it maintain its integrity in
relation to the outside world, or is it open and shaken
by any and all influences? Are its notions of
hospitality so vitiated that even evil is welcome to
enter and disrupt its unity? Although its members may
express themselves differently, do they possess one mind
Then we might check its sins against
holiness. Is the family rooted in the sacramental
wedlock of parents joined by God according to His will,
or simply by each other? Is it a garden or an open
field? Does its peace spring from interior order, based
on the divinely instituted hierarchy of authority? Or is
there chaos, with everyone there just doing his thing?
Do the sexes there represent the Trinitarian image
properly, the father a man and the mother a woman? Is it
a place of prayer and intimate union with God? Is giving
God glory its primary function, or does it keep up with
worldly Joneses? Are idols enthroned there, or the
Sacred Heart? Are there images and crucifixes and family
prayer? Is it truly a little church? Is it a clean
place, where good housekeeping excludes moral filth as
well as spots on the rug?
Next, what are its sins against
universality? How catholic is it? Can its members be
content with what is found there? Does it really contain
all that is best in the world outside, or must the
family run out for everything really important? More to
the point, does it contain what can’t be found outside,
namely the tree of supernatural life? Could this home be
picked up and set anywhere without falling apart? Does
it maintain its proper sovereignty in regard to other
human institutions made to serve it: Or has it degraded
itself by shamefaced servitude to the state, the school,
father’s employer or – God forbid – mother’s career?
And finally, what are its sins
against apostolicity? Is it a little closed-circuit
Shangri-La existing only for its own ends? Or, on the
other hand, does it pursue an apostolate at the expense
of its unity? Is it fulfilling the vocation God gave it
as a home, distinct from the calls of its individual
members? Is it also producing individual vocations,
persons who will in due time go out and do God’s work in
the world? In short, is it producing Christ?
Not many homes would score high in
such a test. This is hardly surprising, however, for
every one of us comes from a broken home: the beautiful
first one in Eden. We all know what happened there, and
we all suffer from the effects.
I was especially sorry to learn that
the break-up began with the defection of the woman in
it. As I recall, Eve fell for the devil’s suggestion
that she seek “personal fulfillment” without reference
to God or her husband. Even so her husband could still
have saved the situation had he exerted his authority
properly, but alas, he ended by following his wife’s
wishes instead of God’s. As we know, their firstborn was
also disobedient and ended by murdering his brother. He
left home and took to wandering. For what happened after
that, we need only refer to the daily papers.
Thank God, we’ve been given better
example for our terrible latter times: the Home in
Nazareth, which produced, not Cain but the Son of God.
It must be studied carefully, all our
lives, if we are serious about being at home, or going
home. Nazareth is the most perfect social representation
of the Most Blessed Trinity the earth has ever
sustained, one in which St. Joseph, the father of the
family, reflected God the Father, perfectly as worker,
ruler and provider; where the mother, our Lady St. Mary,
was the chosen personal representative of the Holy
Spirit of love and prayer; and where the child was in
very flesh the Son of God.
The ultimate measure of any Christian
home is its degree of conformity to this sublime ideal,
the degree to which its members have become like God in
His own intimate inter-Personal relations within the
Most Blessed Trinity.