The homes I knew growing up were indeed humble by the standards of today’s glossy magazines, but they were truly homely places, and I remember with gratitude the shelter they gave me, and the lessons they taught me, writes Margaret-Mary Flynn.
BY Margaret-Mary Flynn
Joan Sutherland could bring the tears prickling when she sang “Home Sweet Home”, her glorious voice reminding us that “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home”.
Our memories still recall the very first home we lived in as little ones, the home we made for ourselves when we grew up, and had our own families. We look at old photos and smile.
Sometimes the memories are bittersweet, of places we can never go back to; and sometimes, especially for the very old and frail, of a time and place that can never be again, this side of heaven. “I just want to go home,” the old lady says. “I must go home. My mother will be waiting for me to help with the dinner.”
I remember my grandma’s home: the scrubbed front steps; the long, polished lino floor of the passage; the worn pine-topped kitchen table; the green and white Kooka gas stove with the singing kettle on the boil.
I remember the home I grew up in. With seven children there were always babies to play with, books and toys scattered, mounds of potatoes in the sink to be peeled, music on the radio, an ever-ready tea-pot, and laughter all through the little house.
The homes I knew growing up were indeed humble by the standards of today’s glossy magazines, but they were truly homely places, and I remember with gratitude the shelter they gave me, and the lessons they taught me.
I learnt about unselfishness, and making the best of what you had; about the loveliness of little, overlooked things, like a beautiful darn in a tablecloth, a swept path, sparkling windows; a well-made bed; the smell of dinner cooking, the pay packet handed over. Quiet gestures of devotion and love.
I learnt about the importance of giving, even when you had nothing yourself, and about dignity and respect. I learned about community, and how good it was to belong somewhere. Much later, I came to understand that a shiny car in the driveway and a flash holiday every year did not always add up to a happy home, that greatest of blessings.
As a teacher, I sometimes met children who had everything, except a home where they were cherished. A colleague once wrote a note home to ask who owned the professional basketball left at the back of the classroom, unclaimed for the term. No-one owned it. I wonder if it’s wealth or poverty if you don’t know what belongs to you because you have so much?
You cannot walk the streets of our cities without passing those with the marks of homelessness in their eyes. They are poor – but if you have nothing, at least you know what you need.
Pope Francis reminds us that “Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope”. He challenges us to accept Jesus’ invitation “to be enriched by his poverty which is rich, and his richness, which is poor, to share his filial and fraternal Spirit”. Our Father calls us to make a loving home for all.
As Ronald Rolheiser writes, “Home is where things ring true, where what’s most precious to us is cherished, the place of tender conscience, of intimacy. And we know when we’re there and when we’re not. Home is a gut feeling, a resting place, a goodness, a security that we sense or don’t sense”.
Whilst in a wilderness, far from his home, Jesus was tempted to exchange the love that kept him ‘home in his heart’ for the glittering promises of privilege. And when his time of testing was over, he was ministered to by angels.
Which is what home, at its best, is like.