My parents decided to sell our family home in Edwardsburg, Michigan the year after I was ordained a priest. Even though I had not lived in the cozy house for ten years prior to that decision, the news of my parents’ move devastated me. I was an adult having made decisions about my future, but my past seemed to be slipping out from under me. This charming white, renovated home sitting on the edge of Garver Lake was not just a commodity; it felt as if it were at the core of my identity.
I did not realize the emotional power of this piece of land and the house with the open view to the lakefront until I visited my parents just before they sold our home. I walked into the familiar setting to see cardboard boxes being filled with family heirlooms, everyday items and simple gifts I had given them. I saw antiques that my mother and I purchased at flea-markets through the years being carefully stored in bubble-wrap. The setting in which I felt safe, comfortable and protected from the world was being torn up and being sold to strangers.
I felt so alone walking through once-familiar rooms. I strolled through the home one last time before saying goodbye to my past and my parents. I ambled out of the house being stripped of so much of what I thought was important. Part of my angst was that I was being transferred for the first time as a new priest to a different state in the western part of the country. Not only could I not visit my old house, I would be living even further from my folks.
I stood on the driveway looking back at the house and wept like a baby. My mother held me and I felt my father’s arm on my back. This moment was a clear transition into adulthood. There was no going back on my decisions or my parents’ choices. At that moment I was a lost child, a homeless adult.
I remember my fear on the driveway especially during another transition into a new liturgical year. I hear the gospel writer Luke tell us again that people were speaking of the temple adorned with costly stones and votive offerings. Jesus explains that a day will come when there will not be one stone left on another at the temple site. I can imagine the fear people felt hearing these words. The temple was a place of security, community and faith. The panic of change overwhelmed many believers. Saying goodbye to my family home that last day crushed many stones in my memory of what I thought was secure.
As Advent unleashes its prophets’ voices, I hear Jesus spearheading the end of time. He commands our wakefulness. He cuts our ties on earth telling us that two men will be out in a field, one will be taken and one will be left. Two women grinding at the mill will be separated, one taken and one left. If the master of the house would have known when the thief was coming, he could have saved the home from robbery.
Panic must have been written on their foreheads and fear inscribed in their hearts. The one who was to come, the Messiah, first separates us from people we love. I still sleep with one eye open remembering the day that Jesus invited me to let go of the home of my youth.
John the Baptist insists that good fruit must be born in us from our change of hearts. This conversion remains costly as we try to adjust our attitudes about our human priorities and cling to God alone. The Advent wake-up call challenges even the most dedicated believer and the most sophisticated parish assembly to let go of earthly ties of safety and familiarity. This challenge for every individual and community comes at the time of year when we prefer to focus on our cultural nests of financial security, family relationships, warm memories and stable futures.
As I got into the car at my parents’ old house after saying goodbye, I wondered why I was really leaving. I questioned God’s plan for me to move, to live a vocation that would always separate me from my family and my past. I hear again in Advent the reasons for my growing up.
John the Baptist’s followers see that Jesus is healing the sick, getting the lame back on their feet and cleansing the lepers of all disease. They witnessed deaf people hearing and friends being raised from the dead. Jesus also preached news that the poor should always be housed in our concern and love.
I left the security of my childhood home to find my real shelter in God. Finding my life in God enables me to provide a home for others. Now I experience the need for people suffering poverty to always have good news preached to them. I see in other adults the devastation of childhood abuse and the deep grooves of generational poverty and loss. I let go of my childish ways to teach the illiterate, welcome the outcast and befriend the sinner.
Advent calls every worshipping community into adulthood.Our faith cannot remain in cozy corners of sentimentality or in rooms locked in the past. Our common faith is not a dusty antique packed away in our history. God calls our generation to open our eyes to people suffering mental illness and those who make their homes on the streets. We must show our children the real reasons why the Church exists. Advent calls us again to step into the unknown, to cling to God and to embrace people living on our cultural margins.
I celebrate now the gift of being an adult and leaving my hometown so many years ago. I still miss my deceased parents every day and I hold tight to the support they instilled in me as I left home.
As we enter into a new year of grace, some memories still stick to the pavement of our family’s former home. However, now as an adult I do not weep for my loss but instead grieve for people who have never known the security of love, self-worth and family integrity. I now understand my real home in Christ Jesus. He was born humbly on earth so we will know our relationship with heaven. Now I minister among God’s fragile who teach me to wait for a new earth where everyone will find our true home in Christ Jesus.