Going home: everybody likes the sound of that! This month I went on a great vacation my friend and classmate, Fr. Mark Knestout. We had a wonderful time, but I was amazed at how much I thought about home.
First we went to Rome. Having spent nine years living there, I am very much at home in that beautiful, holy city. I love going back, since it feels like I know the curve of every street, fountain, and cobblestone. Familiar faces greet me in shops and restaurants, gently scolding me for my long absence. But can you guess what was on my mind? You! When I concelebrated Mass in North American College Chapel, filled to overflowing with bright and committed young men preparing for priesthood, I offered my Mass for the people of Saint Bernadette.
On the return trip, we stopped for a few days in London. I had never been there before, and we visited places I had only heard or read about. Each day was packed with fascination and fun, as we explored and enjoyed as much history, art, and culture as we could squeeze into our short time. But you know what I was thinking about? That's right, how good it would be to get home.
Our time on this earth has much in common with my recent journey. As I have with Rome, we grow fond of our own people and our own places, cherishing the intimate familiarity and belonging, along with the ease and assistance they bring. Yet while we love what is ours and comfortable, we simultaneously desire what is new and different - great, challenging, beautiful, or important - just as I did with London.
Common to us all is this seeking and striving after some place where we once were happy like never since, or where we think we will be happy like never before. It seems that whether we are at home or on an adventure, we yearn for somewhere, somebody else: more intimate, familiar, and comfortable; or greater, more beautiful, exciting, and new. It seems that we want both, even at the same time. This is our best clue that we are not truly home – even when we are in our homes. No matter how comfortable and convivial our lives, no matter how filled with goodness or even greatness, our true home is somewhere else.
We just celebrated Thanksgiving, the holiday every American associates with home. The roads and trains and airports are jammed with folks making the trip to get there. It is funny how this civil holiday falls relative to our liturgical calendar; always near, and this year between, two great feasts about going home.
Christ the King is the solemnity that culminates our year; it focuses on our goal, and the One in whose reign we will find it. He, and only He, can and will establish a “place” that will fulfill every human yearning. Then, the First Sunday in Advent takes us back to the beginning, reminding us where our hearts truly desire to be. It resets our annual worship with the promise of Him who comes to take us there, like some sort of liturgical "home" button.
Jesus is our beginning and our end, the Alpha and the Omega. Whether we look back to our origins, or forward to our hope’s fulfillment, we find Him, and Him alone. These two feasts are diametric opposites: the triumphant, glorious achievement of an entire year on its final Sunday; and the quiet, hopeful preparation of the first Sunday of the new one. Yet their Scripture passages and their messages are almost identical: here He comes; get ready. The Infant King who to wants save us is also our ruler and our judge; it is He alone who comes to offer us the joy of truly going home.