At Home in the World

There's a gospel hymn that says "this world is not my home," and indeed it's a familiar theme. We're pilgrims in this world, just passing through, with our eyes and our hearts on Heaven. But I want to turn that around, and say that unless we make our home in this world, we can't reach the eternal home later on. I don't mean to contradict that other sentiment, just to point out what it really means and where it falls apart if misinterpreted or taken too far.

So what does it mean, properly, to say that "this world is not my home?" I think it means that we shouldn't get too hung up on worldly prosperity, security, or status. We should be willing to sacrifice everything for our conscience's sake, confident that there are consequences beyond what we can see in front of us. But where it can fall apart is in a tendency to spiritual selfishness. We want to climb the mountain and then stay there. We want to live the ideal holy life, and we want to "keep ourselves unstained by the world," as St. James put it (Ja.1:27).

But this world IS our home, and we can't get to Heaven by cutting ourselves off from it. I think that both the monastic vow of "stability" and the marriage vow of "for better or for worse" are meant to push back against the tendency to blame other people and circumstances for our own shortcomings. Once that vow is taken, we're stuck with each other, and that is where spiritual growth has to take place, not in some imaginary ideal world with imaginary ideal people. There are no shortcuts to Heaven. Jesus isn't going to beam me up.

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about what is right behavior: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." He means, of course, that "whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me." I'm going to extrapolate a little, and add, "I was annoying and you were patient with me, weird and you didn't make fun of me, weak and you accommodated me, wrong and you didn't gloat." 

And, of course, I'm not walking on water, either. I am no perfect specimen of humanity. I have to put up with myself, too, and love myself just as I am, even as I try to become better. Every time I sit down to write in this blog, I seem to come back to the same thing: the need to 1) see myself as I really am, here and now, in order to 2) love myself as I really am, in order to 3) become more like I want to be. Again, there are no shortcuts.

This world may not be my home, ultimately, but it's the only way home. Lift up your eyes to Heaven, by all means, but then bring them back down to earth again. Jesus said, "whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me." St. Benedict said, "receive all guests as Christ." St. Teresa of Calcutta saw Jesus not only "in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor," but also in the distressing disguise of an unfair or incompetent mother superior. We are made in the image of God, we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, "the world is charged with the grandeur of God."

The problems and shortcomings of this world and its people are not impediments, they are exactly what we need in order to reach that happy home. Seen with the eyes of love and faith, this world IS my home.

Comments

  1. Beautifully articulated. And so relevant right at this moment.

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