Recently I happened to drive past the house where one of my closest childhood friends had lived. I spent many hours at that house, and the people I met there not only offered me kindness and hospitality, they also shaped the course of my life.
My friend, Maggie, came from a literary family whose friends included the legendary Catholic publishers Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward. Their publishing house, Sheed and Ward, brought distinguished Catholic literature to a wide audience in the 20th century. The Sheeds—husband and wife—played a leading role in Catholic intellectual and spiritual life.
It was my privilege as a teenager to meet the Sheeds at Maggie’s house. I was dazzled by their knowledge, conversation and wit. Maggie’s parents and their other friends influenced similarly. Their house seemed to me to be a place where faith, intellect and literature came together in a way that was joyful, profound and enduring. Years later, it was no accident that I found my way into the Catholic press. There is no career I would rather have had, no work I would rather have done.
Maggie and her parents have died, but their influence will remain with me for the rest of my life. As I drove past the house, my memories stirred again, and they seemed to affect me more deeply than usual. I wasn’t sure why, but later I thought perhaps the reason is this time of year. As Christmas approaches, we find ourselves remembering celebrations of the past, and the people we loved and who loved us, and the joys we shared.
My thoughts, however, did not leave me with a sense of loss. On the contrary, they filled me with gratitude and happy remembrance—and something else that is connected with the season.
Radio stations have begun playing the popular music of Christmastime. The songs are secular, not sacred, and they can never take the place of the sublime music of Advent and Christmas that we sing in church. But some of them have a humble place in our Christmas celebrations, and one song that resonates for me is “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays.” My aunt and uncle always played it at their apartment, where we spent Christmas Day when I was young. The lyrics fit perfectly: Our family was together, and that was the best way to celebrate.
This year I’m thinking about home in a wider sense, and about the ways that a home can embrace and influence not just the family who lives there, but also the neighbors and friends who spend time there. Whether it’s a gathering for Christmas or a visit on an ordinary day, home is more than the place where we live. It is the center of our lives, the place where faith begins and grows, where sacred traditions are honored and passed down. It’s the place where the love that binds family members together is extended outward to others in hospitality and kindness. The family that welcomes others to its circle can give them a sense of belonging, of being valued, that will remain with them for life and might bear fruit in ways yet to be seen.
I recalled some lines from a poem I particularly love, “The House of Christmas,” by one of my favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton. It ends: “To an open house in the evening/Home shall men come,/To an older place than Eden/And a taller town than Rome./To the end of the way of the wandering star,/To the things that cannot be and that are,/To the place where God was homeless/And all men are at home.”
It isn’t always easy to welcome others; sometimes it is difficult to welcome even family members. But when Christ truly is at home in our hearts, it becomes easier. Then all whom we encounter, at home or outside it, will find shelter and peace and joy. This Christmas, let us make our homes and our hearts into places where others can experience the love of Christ, which is the best gift of all.