Over the past four years as a theology teacher and soccer coach at a Catholic high school, I’ve learned how important it is to help students feel at home. Beyond the curriculum that is to be taught, I’ve found that helping students feel heard, seen, and known creates the space their hearts need to open up and more readily talk about God, faith, and life.
My particular experience of working with teens unveils a current area of important reflection for the Church’s mission of evangelization—namely, how the experience of home can help reawaken the human heart’s desire for God.
The desire for home is a manifestation of our deeper desire for God
This desire for home is one of the human heart’s five transcendent desires, and is intimately bound up with the fourth level of happiness since it points us to our eternal home in God. The longing for a lasting home is a universal desire of the human heart because of the way God created us. Everyone wants to be unconditionally loved, heard, seen, and known.
This is why the Catechism says that the “desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is made by God and for God; and… only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC 27). Thus, the desire for home is a manifestation of the deeper desire for God embedded within the human heart.
Our deepest desires are a reflection of the Father’s deepest desires for us. Our heart’s longing for an eternal home finds its origin in the heart of God himself. Jesus, in the final hours of his earthly life, prayed that we “may be one” (John 17:11) as he and the Father are one. In the Paschal Mystery, we see the depths of God’s infinite desire for us to be one with him—to be at home in him.
Therefore, our desire for a lasting home is a pathway towards discovering the fullness of truth of what it means to be human, created in the image and likeness of a God who is Love.
The ‘eclipse’ of the desire for God
Speaking into the Church’s mission of evangelization, the Second Vatican Council emphasized how “scrutinizing the signs of the times and interpreting them in light of the Gospel” ("Gaudium et Spes," 4) is a crucial task of every era.
In listening to the hearts of men and women today, the Church discovers people who are lonely, isolated, and hurting, even in the midst of an ever-increasing technologically sophisticated and connected world. Or as John Paul II said, at the “heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man” is the “eclipse” of the desire for God in the human heart ("Evangelium Vitae," 21).
Awakening other’s desires for home
A loss of the experience of home is a potent factor leading to the burying of the human heart’s desire for God.
So often the longing for home is buried under layers of pain caused by life’s sufferings and traumas. Repeated experiences of human brokenness, of not feeling wanted, known, heard, or seen can lead to numbing one’s longing for home and closing oneself off to the truth that a perfect, lasting home exists.
How can the Church help reawaken a heartfelt desire for God?
Although the answer clearly has many facets, Father Joseph Kentenich, founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, sheds important light on the answer in drawing a connection between the burying of the heart’s desire for God and the loss of a home experience in everyday life. In his book, “Forming the New Person,” he says that, because spiritual “homelessness is the issue at the heart of today’s culture problem… giving others a home is the important task for us.”
Similarly, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, saw the crucial role of cultivating a spiritual home for others in evangelization. He said:
“I don’t think the first form of evangelization is to proclaim Jesus. The first evangelization consists in offering everyone a place where they can laugh, dance, celebrate and experience a sense of belonging… Joy comes from feeling you belong to a community… the greatest means of evangelization is small communities where there are happy, joyful people who care for one another.” -Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche
The buried desire for God is awakened when the human heart experiences being at home in others—when the heart feels seen, heard, cherished, and wanted. As we accompany those whom God has entrusted in our daily lives, let us also take on the task of cultivating a spiritual home, thereby reawakening their deeper desire for God, our Eternal Home.
This article was written by Carolyn Leatherman. Leatherman is a high school theology teacher, residing in Austin, TX.