Buying my first house made me rethink what Pope Francis means by a "common home"

(iStock photo)

Matt Malone, S.J., is traveling.

At the end of this month, if all goes well, my husband and I will be first-time homeowners. Thus far, however, all has not gone well, so I will remain slightly nervous until we sign on the dotted line. When we began our search last fall, we had no idea that our hope for an affordable home in a nearby, friendly, artistic, quaint New Jersey town was shared by what seems to be every other young family in the entire tri-state area. The past year has been filled with endless open houses, one broken contract, hours of budget calculations and then bids, followed by bidding wars and the eventual news that, yes, we had been outbid once again.

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We petitioned St. Joseph, acknowledging that he generally was known to work on behalf of the sellers rather than buyers. Still, we hoped he might be willing to put in a good word for us. And since we currently live in a tiny, fourth-floor apartment without a yard in which to dig, we stuck St. Joe’s statue upside-down in the laundry basket for a while, to no avail.

We are hopeful the end is in sight. We have settled on a house in the town adjacent to the nearby, friendly, artistic, quaint town. This adjacent town had significantly less competition when bidding, and I am sure will have its own charms, the first of which is that we could afford to buy a house there.

Over the last year, I have also learned that the process of buying a house involves questions far greater than, “What does this place cost?” When choosing a place to live, one must first sort out what one values most. Is the town welcoming, diverse? Will we share values with our neighbors? Will we have the chance to be a part of a larger community? Are there opportunities for service? How will my family be challenged by being here, and how might this community be affected by my family’s arrival? Does it feel like home? They are questions not unlike those one asks when discerning which parish one might join.

Kaya Oakes’s article in this issue (pg. 14) describes a California parish in which the parishioners are living at the intersection of many of these sorts of questions. St. Columba, a mostly black Catholic church in Oakland, exists in a changing neighborhood that has both frequent crime and hipster enclaves. Through all the changes, the church remains committed to being welcoming and serving as a force for justice for all. “I was looking for a place to feel comfortable,” one parishioner told Ms. Oakes. Her words sum up the search of so many of us looking for a home, whether physical or spiritual. They also offer a challenge.

At a time when our world too often seems divided along political, cultural, socioeconomic or religious lines, how do we help one another to feel at home in our shared communities? Of course, being comfortable does not mean that we do not challenge one another. Rather, it means knowing that even when we are challenged or disagree, it is not out of a desire to evict one person or party but out of a desire to be more loving in the context of true commitment to one another. It means working to make sure that all of us, with all of our flaws, feel welcome here in our common home, whether on a global or local scale.

Pope Francis recently urged us once more to avoid “physical and social walls” that “close in some and exclude others.” His words are a welcome reminder to each of us to challenge ourselves to be present to our neighbors, both in our towns and across the globe, to work for justice, to welcome the stranger into our lives, to walk gently when we are the stranger, to each day give of ourselves and not to count the cost.

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Bruce Snowden
1 year 6 months ago
Hello Ms. Kerry, - I believe you will get that house of your dreams with husband and family in the “nearby, friendly, artistic and quaint ” location in the Garden State, and enjoy Faith-filled prospering years there. I must say not surprised that St. Joseph hesitates giving a helping hand considering he is buried upside-down in soil, probably losing his bearing and saying to himself, “Waah happened? I used to live in a Land of Light, but now darkness surrounds me! Son, you were once lost and your Mom and I had to go searching for you – now I’m lost, please come find me!” Of course this little flight of fancy is just meant to give a little laugh to you and family. Righteous Laughter, good humor, is I believe, linked to the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Joy and so if true, heaven must be one rocking place, everyone in good humor with laughter the norm! Back in June2001 my wife and I jumped from NYC apartment living to a Ranch-style three bedroom, two bathroom house in Brunswick GA., offered by one of our sons who had to make a Company move up near Savannah and all we had to do was pay the mortgage and utilities. Then 70 and my wife 60, like Abram going to a “foreign land” we accepted our son’s offer and was sure that was it. The saying “Man proposes, God disposes” proved true as six months later in January 2002, my sister got a life-altering stroke, so we tripped up to NYC to discover her paralyzed and wheel chair ridden. She was alone, a former Religious Sister and unmarried, so hard pressed for the right decision my wife agreed we should move back to NYC so as to be near her. Making a long story short we gave up our GA. Home and returned to apartment life and watched my sister greatly rehabilitate herself to get-around wheel chair life in a Nursing Home, where she still resides. Two years ago we moved back to GA. to Rincon, having easy access to six of our grandkids and two sons and we now live in a Gated Apartment Homes loving it here. But a home will never again be ours, as I’m now 85 and my wife 75. Amen! Just though I’d pass on this little converse sharing your joy and your husband’s for your soon be had home in New Jersey. God bless you all! P.S. Put St. Joe in your new home and daily say a Glory Be to the honor and Glory of God. Better than burying him?
Lisa Weber
1 year 6 months ago
Buying a home is a nerve-wracking venture. It is helpful to remember that neighborhoods change. The neighborhood you move into may not be the neighborhood you live in ten years later. If you bring positive change with you, you will see positive change around you. Best wishes!
Kerry Weber
1 year 6 months ago

Hi Lisa and Bruce,

Many thanks for your kind words of encouragement. Things keep moving along with the move, thank goodness. We'll try to find a place of prominence for good ol' St. Joe in the new house. 

And, Bruce, thanks for sharing your journey. I'm glad you're settled nicely and enjoying Georgia living!

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
1 year 6 months ago
Kerry, thank you for this great column! Please be assured of my prayers that all will go well for you! May your home open up in every way that is right and good. Finding a home in the larger context, how timely. Your words confront the challenges of many as we seek places to be rooted and in which to grow. As a nation we are in uncharted territory in terms of things like home, welcome, and walls. Being who we are as we make common cause and work for the greater common good can seem daunting. May we all examine more deeply the neighborhood our of own hearts, and then work towards the open houses that matter most - the ones in which we build, share, and create a welcome for all.

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