So I’m beginning a third year here in Buffalo and it’s taken some time but Buffalo is starting to feel more and more like “Home.” I wouldn’t say that it’s completely there as of yet, but I began to wonder what people consider “home.”
I know an obvious place for me is where I live with my wife and dog. Just having them around gives me that warm feeling. But it’s taken us some time to settle into our first “real house” to the point where now it has really taken on our character and feels familiar. (and the dog has “claimed” a spot or two, now and again).
For some I think home is a childhood home. For me, Yonkers served in that capacity. But when I head (haha) “home” for the holidays, I almost never refer to it that way. I often say that “I’m going to my parents for Christmas or Thanksgiving,” but I never refer to that location as “home” anymore. After all it’s been nearly 15 years since I considered that place as my residence.
For others, a place that you’ve lived for a long time might be home. New York City, and specifically, Woodside, Queens was that for me. The roar of the 7 train (Elevated Subway), the nice tree lined streets, a burger and a beer at Donovan’s, St. Sebastian’s parish and a nice park to walk the dog in. All good things that I loved along with the excitement of Manhattan not far away and a diverse neighborhood with all kinds of people. On a recent trip to New York we passed the Long Island Rail Road stop for Woodside and I felt a warm feeling and the need to stop and just breathe the air in before the doors closed.
A former intern of mine, during the exit interview I had with him was asked what he really enjoyed about working at BustedHalo®. He replied very simply:
“Everyone made me feel welcome and a part of a team. My ideas were always considered and I felt cared for and valued. Coming to New York from California was tough. And whenever I came here it was, you know…home.”
That was unexpected as a description and certainly one that I treasured as his supervisor.
A college retreat once gave me another glimpse. We had spent the afternoon outside in the snow. Throwing snowballs, tackling each other, generally getting soaked to the bone. When we came in we all changed out of our wet clothes and sat by the fire with blankets each with a mug of hot cocoa.
One student replied:
“I used to do this as a kid all the time and my mom would wrap me in a blanket after a nice bath and we’d sit by the fire and warm up with cocoa. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time. It’s kinda like being home again.”
Could a church also be “home?” Each time I enter a Catholic Church the familiarity of the mass brings me to that safe place. I’m part of a family. At a wedding many years ago a co-worker who was Jewish was seated next to me at the mass. I told her to ask me any questions she might have. “How do you know what to say or when to stand or kneel?” was her main quandary. I replied, “It’s the same thing every week. Only the readings change for the most part.”
Then I reflected on that myself for just a few seconds and there it was….
Church had become a place where I knew exactly what was going on. Perhaps I didn’t know the people in this specific parish, but I knew they were there to pray for John and Kelly, who married that day. When it becomes a bit more familiar in a parish I attend weekly then it becomes more than a simple parish community, it becomes “home.” Showing others some hospitality welcomes them into that spiritual home, where we unlock the doors of the hidden riches that we all are given at no cost.
Perhaps that feeling of home needs some cultivation in many parishes. With the new liturgical translations upcoming in Advent the opportunity to give hospitality will be greater than it is right now. Will people know what’s going on? Will they be able to join in readily? Will they feel comfortable enough to worship freely without regard to feeling stupid or uneasy? How can we engender a sense of ownership in a parish to create a place that truly belongs to all?
In the slums of Managua, Nicaragua the people have very little. Some live in shacks with tin roofs. Children with special needs are put out to the street because those needs would bankrupt an already starving family. Many rely on the kindness of others in hopes that they can make it through the day.
But in the center of the city stands a Cathedral. It has beautifully manicured gardens and lovely candles all around the interior. The place needs a bit of work on the inside, but overall, the church building is structurally sound, a lot more than houses around the neighborhood are–if you can even call them houses.
As I walked around the Cathedral, I became annoyed. People are starving and begging just outside the door. Heck, people are begging for alms INSIDE the church itself. And here we are buying candles to pray and seeing some nice art and a beautiful gardens. Aren’t our priorities a bit out of whack?
A man with one arm came up to me and asked me for some money. I gave him about 5 bucks, which would probably feed his entire family for that week (the average salary is $1/day). He noticed that I was disturbed by the place.
“Haven’t you ever been in a church before?” he asked.
“Of course I have,” I replied.
He smiled and said, “Then you should know that this place is ours. Yours and mine. Here I am not so poor and you are not so rich. Together we have a beautiful garden and priceless paintings. And together we have Jesus here, not for ourselves but for whoever asks. Everything is taken care of here and it belongs to all of us. Some of us even sleep here. It is home for so many who have nothing and yet here, have so much.”
Maybe our priorities are exactly right? The question here is whether or not we are willing to make our churches as much of a home for others?
And in doing so, might we find a home ourselves?