As they say, a house isn't the same thing as a home. Even when Paul lived in apartment after apartment, each place was home for him and his family. Because a "home" is a place (not necessarily physical) where our hearts can find rest, security, understanding, and love. We could live in a palace, and it wouldn't necessarily be a home. I remember visiting parishioners from different races and ethnic groups in a run-down, crime-infested city apartment complex, and being so touched by the tiny clean apartments filled with photos of family members, and religious shrines, and loving people. Each one was a home, lit from within by peace, understanding, and love, a light of hope and security in the midst of the surrounding neighborhood chaos.
Every family home is built from the ground up. The foundation and frame are the adults' belief in a higher purpose for their coming together: children, hopefully, or a desire to build a relationship together that will benefit not only themselves but society. Many believe God called them to each other for this higher purpose. So many romantic novels, t.v. shows, and movies reflect an idea that the couple lives only for themselves, but that first passionate phase of the relationship is only the beginning.
As Paul and his parents, after they moved in, watched new house after new house go up on their street with many new neighbors to meet, so a family home eventually becomes surrounded by others and fills a unique place and purpose in its neighborhood and larger world. Children, relatives, friends, neighbors, joint undertakings, gradually stretch the hearts in a home wider and wider as the years go by. And "home" expands from a physical place to the home of love which the family provides.
Eighty-two year old Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and esteemed writer, thinks of his wife Marion and how their relationship has evolved into a partnership, their hearts stretching to encompass many more people, as he is wheeled into the operating room for open heart surgery:
"My eyes are closed, but I feel her presence. I can almost see her. I think of the extraordinary qualities of this woman. Her strength of character. Her sensitivity. Her intelligence. I open my eyes. Marion and Elisha (our son) stand next to the gurney, waiting to accompany me to the door of the operating room. Marion looks sad and forlorn. For once there's nothing she can do....She usually knows how to resolve difficult situations. But now she is vainly trying to find words to alleviate my fears. There probably are none......I relive our life, together, the exceptional moments that have marked it....
"I recall our first meeting, at the home of French friends. Love at first sight. Perhaps. Surely on my part....We were married in Jerusalem...in the Old City (then recently liberated), in the heart of an ancient synagogue, the Ramban....Since then, I cannot imagine my life, my lives without her. I owe to her the best translations of my work. Our Foundation for Humanity is fully her responsibility....(Our foundation has) opened two large enrichment centers for Jewish Ethiopian immigrant children. There are now close to one thousand young people in these centers, and thanks to the help they receive from dedicated teachers, they pass the exams required for entrance to University.... All that I have undertaken in my life has been with her, Marion. Journeys, projects, dreams of yet more projects - we do it all together." (from "Open Heart.")
The Wiesels, hearts joined, have built a "home," more than a physical place, which, over the years, has grown to give love, security, and peace to first their son, then to their two grand-children, then to thousands of people.
The center of a home is the couples' mutual love for each other. The deeper heart of the home is their mutual faith and prayers for each other and with each other. Paul and I both believed that God had brought us together, that we owed this tremendous love in our lives to God, and that God had brought us together for a purpose. I remember how from the beginning, each time we went to Church, I would bless my wedding ring with holy water at the holy water font and silently ask God to make us one, as the Father and Jesus were one. For, if a couple isn't truly "one" in their priorities, their ideals, their goals, people could look inside their house at the people moving around in it, but they wouldn't see or sense a real home.
In the kitchen of a real home, delicious food is cooked, served at a bounteous table open to children, relatives, and friends. Instead of arguments and television, the family table serves loving, riotous conversation, humor and discussions, - including discussions about God.
The living room is where real living happens; I remember wonderful times when every couch and chair has been filled, and teens perched on the arms of chairs, and little ones squirming, sitting on the floor, and the floor is a riot of multi-colored wrapping paper as everyone opens Christmas presents from each other. The living room is also where prayer happens, couples sitting side by side praying and reading Scripture together, and children praying with their parents.
The couples' bedroom is where loving produces more love, where husbands' ears get pressed to slowly rounding bellies to feel movement, and, lying down, those husbands feel their backs kicked by little feet stretching out from the tightening skin of their wives' bellies. Beds get soaked by amniotic fluid when a woman's water breaks, and get pressed down by children clambering on it together for monkeyshines or to hear Mom or Dad read stories.
Love rules a house that's a real home. Love settles the arguments and tucks the children in bed. Love soothes colds with medicine and soothes hearts broken by illness and death. Love fires up souls with creativity and individual giftedness. A house which is a real home lives by these words: "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is Love and whoever remains in Love remains in God and God in him/her." (1 John 4:16.)
From the foundations of commitment and shared purpose, to the heart which is Love and Faith, to the many rooms filled with communication, shared experiences, laughter, jokes, arguments and tears, a home is a growing, thriving entity, stretching farther and farther to give hope, purpose, security, and love to future generations, to more and more people. In fact, the best word given to a real home is the word "Church." Because, no matter how big or small a home is, and in what part of town it is, God lives and is permanently at home in a real home.