The call of home

Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington

This time of year families travel to vacation destinations, hoping to occupy their days away from work and school with plenty of fun-filled activities and relaxation. While away, they seek distraction in various forms of entertainment, especially novelty, something unavailable in the locale where they reside. At vacation’s end, many of them, if they are honest with themselves, are actually eager to return to the familiar surroundings of that special place they call home. Whenever I’ve been away for an extended period, I too have been happy and excited when the time came to leave and go back to my family.

Home holds precious memories and evokes a powerful sense of place and of belonging. Everyone sooner or later hears and responds to its irresistible call. Every year at homecoming alumni return to college campuses to renew old friendships and show support for their alma mater. And during the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, family members inevitably converge on their parents’ or grandparents’ house, as if drawn there by a magnet.

We all have a location of one sort or another we can go back to. It may be our birthplace or where we were raised. It may be where we have lived the longest or even where we currently reside. In any case, it’s that specific spot to which we feel deeply connected, the place we love that grounds us and sustains us. It’s where we feel at ease – comfortable, safe and loved. It’s our center, a geographical area we might even refer to as God’s country. As the saying goes, home is where the heart is. Perhaps this is why so many people desire to return to the land of their birth to be buried.

Born and raised in Jackson, I called the Capitol City home for most of my early life. After graduating from college, I moved away and lived for about ten years in several other states before returning to Mississippi and settling in Oxford, where I have resided for the last 40 years. Mississippi is where I’ve spent most of my life and career. It’s where my wife, children and grandchildren live. It’s home, a term that surely must be on the short list of the most beautiful words in our language.

When I fill out forms that ask for my permanent address, I write the location of the house my wife and I live in. But my domicile is not really permanent in the strict sense of the word because this world and everything in it is transitory; it’s slowly but surely passing away. However, one thing will not pass away, and that’s the church.

As members of the Mystical Body of Christ we can all say that our real home in this world is the church. When we’re in God’s house praying along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, uniting our worship with that of the saints in heaven, and receiving communion – the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord – it’s heaven on earth!

But we can take it a step further because our ultimate dwelling place is the one our Blessed Lord has prepared for us. We believe this because of His promise: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again, and I will take you to myself; that where I am, there you also may be.” (John 14:2-3) No one knows what it will be like, but it will surely be more beautiful and wonderful than anything we can imagine: “Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9)

So, what does this strong impulse to return to one’s point of origin mean? Is it part of a ritual of self-discovery and a search for the meaning of life? Does it signify an archetypal journey back to the source – to God, our Creator and the source of our being? Is it a longing for heaven? Whatever the case may be, in the meantime we remain here in a world dominated by the philosophies of materialism, hedonism, relativism and all the other “isms” that run counter to the Kingdom of Heaven. As C. S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, “we are living in … enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is.” But then he goes on to say “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death … I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

As I get older, I find myself thinking more and more about my ultimate destination. Maybe it will be like Lewis’ beautiful description of Aslan’s country at the conclusion of The Last Battle, the seventh and final volume of The Chronicles of Narnia. Near the end of the book, one of the characters, upon arriving there, remarks: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”

I love these lines because they perfectly summarize the way I felt when I was received into the Catholic Church. That day, after many years of searching and seeking, I finally reached the end of my journey to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church established by Jesus Christ. I found the fulfillment of my deepest longings and rest for my restless heart. It was like coming home. And as Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)