The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. (Gospel of Matthew 8:20)
(In contemporary time, this is accounts as poor advertising for consecrated life.)
To follow Christ is to take the road less travelled: the one that is uneven, unclear and uncertain. And that’s when I realize that as religious, we cannot designate a fixed place as home. Home for a religious is as uncertain as the weather. The adventure of religious life takes us to unexpected places: away from one’s language, culture and family.
I have had the opportunity of spending the few years of my formation in diverse settings. From the hilly Lonavla to the coastal Kudal to the arid Telangana, from the populous and urban Nashik to the sparsely-populated rural Alirajpur, from bread to poha to dosa for breakfast – I should say that life has been amply generous in subjecting me to the diversity of India.
Each new place presents varied demands on one’s being. The physique needs to adapt to the weather and food, the mind to language and culture, and the spirit to amity and purpose. But he who owes two-thirds of his existence to the city of Mumbai develops a very high degree of adjustability (the kind that qualifies one to walk a tightrope on toe-nails!) Personally, adjusting was at no time very difficult: only that it took a little longer at some places.
But then it is not the atmosphere without but the atmosphere within that makes us comfortable wherever we are sent. To be comfortable would mean to feel ‘at home’: to feel loved, respected and appreciated for who one is. It is to belong to a common dream, hope and purpose. Well said in the words of William Arthur Ward: A house is made of walls and beams whereas a home is made of love and dreams. Home is what breathes life into the house, fills it completely and gives meaning to its form. It’s a fusion of hearts affiliated to a common purpose in mutual love. Therefore in an alien place, only when we align our hearts to the ‘heart’ of the community, we will feel at home.
The word ‘heart’ is derived from the Latin ‘cor’ meaning centre or core or essence. Therefore ‘Home is where your heart is’ only translates as home being the place where the core of one’s being – consciousness, emotions and activities – rests. Like said before, it need not (and in case of religious, should not) be a cozy niche in one’s room. Don Bosco, was at home amidst the boisterousness and prattle of his boys. Mother Theresa felt at home amidst sores, smell and sickness. Francis of Assisi felt at home homeless beneath the starry skies. The Pope, who was then a certain Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio felt at home travelling by bus, cooking his own meals and staying in a rented apartment among his people.
These holy people have something important to tell each of us. They prove that for a person of God home is not a closed secluded place but somewhere out in the open. Rationally social as we are, we find our home amidst people and not away from them. And finally, yet more significantly, it is through the people we set our heart upon that we encounter God. Finding God in the marketplace! Don Bosco conversed with Christ when he toiled for his boys and thus concludes ‘Work is Prayer’ while Mother Teresa believed to have seen the face of Jesus among the ostracized.
Imitating Yahweh, who pitched His tent among His people (Ex 40:34-38) and following the examples of the saints (both canonized and not) who found home among people may we, as religious, set our heart onto the sheepfold so that it may be our home and our altar, and the smell of the sheep scent the sanctuary of our being.