What is the meaning of home for us at this time?
Because of Covd–19 many of us have spent more time at home this year than we have in years. While occasionally muttering about Cabin fever with work and play, family and office merging too much into each other, nevertheless, if asked, most of us would readily respond – home is a gift. Yes, because for most people, despite the inevitable ups and downs of navigating family relationships, home conjures up notions of shelter and sanctuary, warmth and support, fond memories and feelings of belonging. The famous Irish proverb puts it well, “Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin”, “there’s no place like home”. T.S. Eliot reminds us that “Home is where one starts from.”
This explains why there is so much upset this year as we head towards Christmas – where will be able to celebrate Christmas? Will our loved ones abroad be able to get home? Will we be able to visit each other’s homes? The fret is understandable – Christmas is the great celebration of home. It is the season when we recall how God made his home among us, choosing to live in the homely atmosphere of the love between Joseph and Mary. Though he experienced the hardship of migrancy, Jesus eventually knew years of peace in his home in Nazareth. We know too that for some time he made Peter’s home in Capernaum his missionary base in Galilee. And he enjoyed visiting and staying at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
We all know that dreams and hopes alone don’t build a house or form a home. Bricks and mortar are needed. For too many of our sisters and brothers our broken housing system is depriving them of these basics that could provide them with a home they can call their own. Despite the positive legal measures put in place to protect those who were at risk of losing their home in the middle of the Covid–19 pandemic, the issue of homelessness on the island of Ireland has not gone away. Many of the measures have expired. Individuals and families live in the fear of homelessness. Each of is compelled to ask: what are we to make of this?
We know the parable of the Good Samaritan. Remember how only one person stopped to actually approach the man who was lying on the roadside and then do something about it. The others had good reasons to hurry on but the fact is they chose to ignore a suffering staring them in the face. If we place ourselves in the parable and in our mind’s eye imagine that injured man as representing homeless individuals and families who are lying helpless looking up at us, we can ask ourselves: how am I responding? Am I among those rushing onwards or stooping like the Good Samaritan to do something to help.
In his recent letter on social friendship and universal fraternity, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis takes up precisely this imaginary exercise of meditating on the parable of the Good Samaritan and offers his reply, “Now there are only two kinds of people: those who care for someone who is hurting and those who pass by; those who bend down to help and those who look the other way and hurry off. Here, all our distinctions, labels and masks fall away: it is the moment of truth. Will we bend down to touch and heal the wounds of others? Will we bend down and help another to get up? This is today’s challenge, and we should not be afraid to face it” (n.70). We need to face it not just as individuals but as communities and institutions and not just in a personal gesture of altruism but also in informing ourselves and promoting better socio–political policies.
Bishop Brendan Leahy is Bishop of Limerick and co–Chair of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting
The series of posts starting today on this blog wants to provide you with resources for reflection and action on the topic of homelessness. Different voices representing a number of organisations will help focus us on the scale of the issues including the personal and social impact involved. The blog inputs will also offer useful suggestions for study and civic engagement. Small church community gatherings will find them most helpful. There will be seven posts in all and they will be published on every Sunday and Wednesday in Advent. Please pass on the word to others about this initiative. May Advent be a grace–filled time for you. Further resources for churches on housing insecurity and homelessness can be found at irishchurches.org/homeless.