Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI: “The Loneliness of Leaving Home”

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Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Among the kinds of loneliness that afflict us, there’s one we don’t often recognize and deal with very well, the loneliness of moving on. There’s a loneliness that comes with leaving home, with forever losing loved ones, loved places, and loved things.

Home, T.S. Eliot says, is where we start from. But we never get to stay there for long. Neither does anyone else. From the time we’re born until we die, we, and everyone else, are on the move. People, places, things, organizations, and knowledge are passing through our lives in a way that is forever cutting away at our roots, destabilizing us, and leaving us scrambling to find a home.

Finding a home is not, in the end, so much a question of finding a building, a city, a country, or a place where we feel we belong. That’s part of it. More deeply, finding a home is a question of moral affinity, of finding another heart or a community of hearts wherein we feel at one, safe, warm, comfortable, able to be ourselves, secure enough to express both faith and affection. To find a home is to feel what Adam felt when he first saw Eve: “At last, bone from my bone, flesh from my flesh!” That’s not so much an expression of sexual attraction as it is of moral comfort. What Adam sensed in Eve, that he didn’t sense in the rest of creation, was a home.

We go through life lonely, looking for a home, aching to stand one day before some person, some place, some truth, or some family and, like Adam, realize that this, among all the others, is what we are looking for – “At last, bone of my bone!” But how to find that? Where is home?

Everywhere and nowhere, it would seem. There’s an incident in the gospels where Jesus tells us where home is. He’s seated among a circle of disciples when someone comes to him and says: “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you!” Jesus’ response is a curious one. No doubt, he loved his mother and his relatives; yet he doesn’t get up and go out to them. Instead he says: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers and sisters?” Pointing to those around him, he says: “Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.”

By saying this, Jesus is not distancing himself from his natural mother, Mary, since she, in fact, among all the people around him, is the one who most truly fits the description for discipleship that he has just laid down. She, more than anyone else, did the will of God. What Jesus is doing is redefining what makes for family, for home, for homeland.

Normally we define family by blood-ties, common ancestry, ethnicity, language, skin-colour, gender, nationality, or geography. Blood, we say, is thicker than water. But, according to Jesus, the waters of baptism and faith are thicker even than blood. A shared faith, more than a shared blood, ethnicity, language, skin-colour, religion, gender, or geography, is what makes for a family. Faith is what ultimately gives you a home, a homeland, a nationality, a mother-tongue, a skin-colour, and a family that is lasting.

Simply put, when we share a common faith we find ourselves within a community of hearts that is our true country; when we speak the language of faith we have a common language that is understood by all; and when, as Jesus challenges us to, we are willing to sacrifice some of our blood in love, we help create the real blood that makes for one family – Bone from my bone, flesh from my flesh!

Home is where the heart is. Jesus would agree with that. But in his view of things, what ultimately draws the heart and makes for family are not the historical accidents of birth, biology, ethnicity, language, gender, and geography. Family that lasts is constituted not by biology but by faith. In another incident in the gospels a woman says to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” In today’s idiom, she’s saying: “You must of had a wonderful mother!” Jesus’ answer: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” He’s saying: “Yes, I had a wonderful mother, more wonderful than you imagine; but she didn’t just give me biological birth, she gave me faith!”

We come into this world as a stranger and some people pick us up and make us part of their family. In faith, that happens again, except our new family is bound together by something beyond blood, ethnicity, and geography, and so it outlives these.

There’s a loneliness that comes with leaving home. Something always stays behind, and even that doesn’t stay the same. But there’s an answer to that loneliness, a new home inside a community of faith.