We Are Not at Home in the World| National Catholic Register

Here’s a question for you. Are you at home in the world? I mean completely and utterly at home? If not, why not? What prevents you from being completely at peace with the world you live in?

Perhaps you find yourself at sword point with the world, actively resisting its claims and wondering why relationships must always be more or less rebellious at your age. Why can’t you just accept the way things are?

Could it be that you should never be in the world? It is not eternal, that is, it is not an insignificant difference. After all, if God created the world, it must be a good place to be in some sense. Again, our faith commands us to be in the world, but never of it. How can this be if God did not want us to stay here forever?

And so it is good not to be at home in the world at all. In fact, it is fitting that one feels this way, that one is not very comfortable among the meat dishes of this world. For example, knowing with complete moral certainty that nothing finite will be found to fulfill your heart’s deepest desires. If each of us is this “empty void” of which St. Augustine speaks, waiting for God to fill it, why should we not feel less than satisfied with every mortal and sensual thing?

We are all on a journey, in other words, and there can be no permanent place down here until we finally reach our destination beyond the stars. Nor will we succeed in banishing a certain thing entirely disease of the soul – to quote the poet George Herbert from the “disquiet” because there is nowhere below where we permanently belong.

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Not surprisingly, it is a great theme that permeates all of Scripture.

In Hebrews we are told, “For we have no eternal city, but we are looking for the city to come” (13:14).

Or the passage in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians reminding us that “because we are citizens of Heaven, we eagerly await a savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20). Note that St. Paul tells us not merely to wait for the savior, but to do so with impatience, that is, to take some pleasure in the prospect of being united with him outside of history.

Or St. Peter, in his First Epistle, addresses the members of the Jewish diaspora and exhorts them: “Beloved, I beseech you, as aliens and exiles, avoid the lusts of the flesh, which war against your soul” (2). :11). If it wasn’t true, why would Peter speak like that? here Isn’t there a permanent home that God has assigned us to someone else and calls us to go beyond this house at every step?

And then, Scripture aside, we find evidence of the same uncertainty in a letter of Pope St. Clement I, written shortly before the end of the first century, addressing some of the problems of the Corinthian church. In this work he describes the situation of two peoples, each “abroad,” both because they are aliens forced to live in a pagan world, and because they are pilgrims in a strange land on their way to glory in another, truer homeland. It is heaven.

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In other words, like the Archangel Raphael in that beloved prayer by Ernest Hello, “whose home lies beyond the region of lightning,” we are all called to live “in a land that is always peaceful, always calm, and bright with the glory of God.” Who wouldn’t want a travel brochure that describes Heaven in these terms?If man’s home is ultimately Heaven, then it’s not unnatural to feel a certain impatience to get there.

As St. Teresa of Avila described it, life is no better than “a night in a third-rate hotel.” So, yes, of course none of us want to stay forever in, say, a slum. Given the choice, why wouldn’t we want to move to a nicer hotel? It would be kind of crazy to never want to leave.

in a nice little book called A holiday of faith, Joseph Ratzinger reminds us that in the experience of the Catholic liturgy, “the absolute Other takes place, the absolute Other comes among us.” And with reference to the commentary of St. Gregory of Nyssa Song Song, he explains that it describes man as “seeking to escape from the prison of finitude, from the closed confines of his soul and the whole world.” It is true, Ratzinger tells us: “This world is too small for man, even if he could fly to the moon or one day to Mars. He aspires to the other, the complete Other, which he cannot reach.

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Ultimately, of course, behind all this longing is the need to escape death, simply to overcome the tyranny of the temporal world.

“In all their celebrations,” Ratzinger continues, “people are always looking for a life that is greater than death.” Man’s appetite for joy, the last quest in which he wanders restlessly from one place to another, has meaning only if he can face the question of death.”

It is precisely because we must all die, bound to the wheel of a fallen world that rolls mercilessly but leads only to the grave, that we feel the need to leave this material world and not just surrender. We may be finite beings bounded by the boundaries of what appears to be a closed world, but our desires are not finite. They are infinite – which means they can only be met by an infinite God who loves us infinitely. Which he proved by humbling himself so that he could raise us up to his height.


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