Homesick for Heaven

Image: Caspar David Friedrich, Monk by the Seashore.

I recently came across a line by Samuel Johnson that struck me as having a particular relevance to Dominican friars: “A man unconnected is at home everywhere; unless he may be said to be at home nowhere.” As mendicants, we are “unconnected” to a place; we give up a stable home for the sake of serving the Church. But Johnson’s statement holds for Christian life generally: in one sense we are at home everywhere; in another we are at home nowhere.

This paradox is particularly apparent in the life of Mary. This Saturday, we will celebrate the Annunciation, when God came and made his home among men, and Mary became his physical dwelling place for nine months. But as she became the home of Jesus, she became rather homeless herself.

What do I mean? First, Joseph, naturally suspecting infidelity, sought to avoid taking Mary into his home. Next, when Mary heard that she would conceive the Christ and gave her assent, she also learned of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. So Mary, in the early months of her own pregnancy, left her own home behind to visit Elizabeth. Nine months later, when Jesus was to be born, Mary and Joseph were on the road, and a stable had to do for a maternity ward. Finally, before they could settle into their new life and raise this child, they had to flee to Egypt. In short, as soon as Mary offered herself as a home for God, she lost any sort of stability in her own living situation. She became a dwelling place without a place to dwell.

St. Paul asks the Corinthians, and by extension all those “living in the faith,” “Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5). If this is true—that we, somewhat like Mary, can spiritually carry the Lord in ourselves—we should expect to see in our own lives some of the instabilities that Mary experienced. Caryll Houselander, in The Reed of God, describes the repercussions of God’s life in us in this way: “We shall be haunted by a nostalgia for divine things, by a homesickness for God which is not eased in this world even by the presence of God.” Those days come when we realize that nothing in the world around us—nobody, nothing—can make us ultimately happy. Because we find in ourselves a lack, an aching void, a homesickness, we are led to discover in a deeper way that our final happiness can only be God. This lack burns with a purging flame. We realize how often we have sought our final happiness in passing things, which brings us to mourn for our sins.

A would-be follower of Jesus told him that he would go with him wherever he went, and Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and bird of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Lk. 9:58). Jesus was warning of the cost of following him: in accepting, as Mary did, the promise of God’s presence, we accept a sort of homelessness. So even as we sigh—“When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and enter the presence of God?”—we become a home, a dwelling place of the Lord.

Image: Caspar David Friedrich, Monk by the Seashore.

You May Also Enjoy:

Do Whatever He Tells You Today is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, marking the day when the Blessed Mother first appeared to the three Portuguese children. What makes this particular apparition really stand out from the other times and places at which the Mother of God appeared? There are the three secrets, the call for the consecration of Russia, the mandate to pray the Rosary daily for the staying of divine judgment. And, yet, I must confess that this feast day does...
A Transfigured Christmas “Calvary casts its shadow over Bethlehem,” wrote Fulton Sheen.  The original televangelist meant not to steal away Christmas cheer, but recognized that the Cross mysteriously “shaped” the life of Jesus.   From his infancy to the heights of Tabor to the infamous “place of the Skull,” death followed him.  However, the darkness of suffering and evil could not overcome the one who revealed himself as the “Light of the World” (Jn 8:12).  In the final ...
Ramblin’ Men The Allman Brothers were onto something with their lyrics, “Lord, I was born a ramblin' man.” We are wanderers upon the earth. Why? This world is broken and, though it is filled with beauty, it is still a place of loss and impermanence. Yet we have a desire within us for a more lasting home, a homesickness for a place of joy where our wandering hearts can rest free from sorrow. Our hearts yearn for such a home because “here we have no lasting cit...
The Face of an Angel Yesterday we celebrated the birth of the Son of God. Today we remember the death of a man. Through Advent we watched for the coming of God, before being surprised to see angelic hosts and to hear the cry of a baby. Now, the day after Christmas, we see a man whose “face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15), and the first sound we hear is his death cry. Why did Stephen’s face look like an angel’s? Did he regress decades of aging and take o...
Br. Philip Nolan, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Philip Nolan entered the Order of Preachers in 2015. He is a graduate of Williams College and spent two years living in New York working for First Things. On