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A Woman and Her Home...

The Home as Divine Mystery

Solange Hertz POSTED: 1/15/12

(  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.” (Gen. 2:8-17)

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 without it.

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 Fourth Commandment.

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 flesh!

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 chamber.

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 himself.


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 and heart?

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.

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