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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | The joy of coming home

It’s a joy to return home.

In college, I would happily stay out for late nights and paint the town red. Now that my hair is sprinkled with gray, my attitude has drastically changed. Like Robert Frost stopping by the woods on a snowy evening, I’m eager to return to the warmth and comfort of home. Each evening after work, all I really want to do is get home, play with my children and sit by the fire in my slippers. That’s it. That’s all I need out of life.

The desire for home is also a spiritual longing. This creation that God has given us is good, but it is on a redemptive journey. Before the New Jerusalem, our eternal home, descends from the clouds, we have a ways to travel. There are moments when the divine hand reaches down and connects heaven and earth — special consolations given to the weary pilgrim — but those moments are fleeting. God doesn’t want us too comfortable here. He has so much more in store for us if we’ll just keep going. Because of this, we won’t be truly home until we rest in His presence in our heavenly mansion.

Every year, we pass the future anniversary of that homecoming. The poet W.S. Merwin writes, “Every year without knowing it I have passed the day/ When the last fires will wave to me/ And the silence will set out/ Tireless traveler…Then I will no longer/ Find myself in life as in a strange garment.” The death of Christ is inscribed in our heart and we carry His sacrifice with us, a token of our future redemption. For a Christian, arriving in heaven is when we finally stop traveling. The joy of that arrival is already buried within us like a seed waiting to burst into bloom.

In the meantime, there’s one place we unfailingly find ourselves already at home — in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. This is where God has stooped down to dwell in an earthly tabernacle. When I travel, I always stop in at the local Catholic parish. There they all are, Catholics just like us a thousand miles away. Praying the same way. Loving each other the same way. Entering a parish anywhere in the world feels like home. Wherever the people of God are gathered with our Savior, we find our family. We find rest.

A church has a particular fragrance of frankincense and waxed wood. Encountering it is like smelling the peonies in the yard and remembering how your mother used to put them in a vase on the dining room table when you were a child. That nostalgic smell is the first thing I notice when I walk into a church. Next, I look to find the red hearth-glow of the tabernacle candle. God has worn out time and space to journey to make a home with us.

I am so happy that Catholics are beginning to return to their churches. It’s been a hard few months, but God is calling us home.

Father Rennier is a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He was ordained under the pastoral provision for the reception of former Anglican ministers into the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children. His homilies are posted online at Michaelrennier.wordpress.com

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