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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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