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.
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.