Being at home means being with God

Being at home means being with God

One of the most moving moments of my first four years of priesthood was celebrating the Vigil Mass of Christmas in a homeless shelter for women run by the Legion of Mary.

When I was preaching the sermon, I casually mentioned that Jesus was born into homelessness. I thought it was a totally normal thing to say, but a few of the residents sat up in their chairs as if this had never occurred to them, that their awful condition – loneliness, hostility, uncertainty, cold – was a condition shared by their Saviour.

They seemed never to have made the connection, so I improvised a bit on the theme and the look on their faces was extraordinary. As I mentioned some of the struggles the Holy Family would have gone through, being homeless in a strange place, one of the women whispered out loud, “God love them”.


I had just read G.K. Chesterton’s wonderful poem about Bethlehem, so I was able to share with them his insight into the homelessness of the Child Jesus: “A child in a foul stable,/Where the beasts feed and foam;/Only where He was homeless/Are you and I at home”.

In Christ, God became homeless so that we could cease to be homeless; he stepped into the darkness to lead us into the light; he allowed himself to feel the freezing cold so as to draw us into the warmth of his presence. Very simply, the child born in Bethlehem is our way home.

And this year above all years, we feel the need for home. How often have we described 2020 as a “strange year”? It has certainly been an unhomely year for many of us. Even our Christmas celebrations have been muted. Comfort, contact, community – all these things which make us feel at home, all have been taken away to varying degrees, plunging us into a certain kind of homelessness.


This is immensely painful, but it can be a reminder too that, for us Christians, this world is not our ultimate home, and being at home – truly, safely, peacefully at home – means being with God, in this life and the next. And at Christmas we recall with joy that it is God who takes the initiative in this encounter, God who comes to be with us: “Only where He was homeless are you and I at home”.


Enduring in a place of danger

“Only where he was homeless are you and I at home”: the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine knew how true this was. They were martyred 25 years ago in Algeria, but before their murder they received many death threats. They knew perfectly well that staying on in this mission territory was dangerous. Their north-African home had become a strange, unhomely place, and some encouraged them to return to the comfort of France. But in the mystery of Christmas they found the strength to stay. Their prior Christian de Chergé wrote: “We must find in the mystery of the Incarnation our true reasons for staying here, despite the threats. Christmas is about Emmanuel, God silently present”.

They found the strength to stay, to endure joyfully in a place of danger, to live hopefully in strange times, because they knew that God was with them in the child Jesus. This little child, Fr Christian preached at their last midnight Mass, came to each of them to be held in their arms, and to offer to each a way forward, “the little way of Christmas”, a way home.


Making homes merry with Christ-centred carols

It has been very painful for congregations not to be able to welcome the birth of Christ by singing familiar Christmas carols. Churches normally filled with joyful voices have been strangely silent this Christmas. All the more reason, then, we should make sure our homes are filled this season with the merriness of Christ-centred carols. With the help of the Internet, we can even access Christmas music from around the world. I love the ‘Carol of the Birds’ and ‘RiuRiu Chiu’ from Spain, as well as the French song, ‘Il est né le divin enfant’. But nothing can beat the Kilmore Carols, especially the haunting ‘Jerusalem, our happy home’, which stirs up the Christian hope of heaven, a hope made possible by the Christ-child: “Jerusalem our happy home, When shall we come to thee?/When shall our sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall we see?/There’s cinnamon that scenteth sweet, there palms spring on the ground;/No tongue can tell, no heart can think what joys do there abound”.