Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Resisting ideological colonisation: the home as a blessed space.

Having recently moved house we have just had our new house blessed by our parish priest.  And now it actually feels like our home.  So thank you, Fr. Mark!  It is, of course, a very traditional Catholic / Orthodox thing to do, and it is, I think, a very important ritual.  But blessing a home is something which we have in common with other faith communities.  Having had Jewish and Hindu friends and neighbours over the years, I know that house blessing is also widely practiced in their homes.  Indeed, the idea of 'blessing' or in someway 'sanctifying' a home appears to be a universal practice.

Home, is often said to be where the heart is.  We can feel 'home sick'  after a long absence from  the place you call home.  When you leave a house that has been a home it is quite an emotional event.  All the memories, for good or bad come to the surface, and it feels as if you are leaving a part of you behind as you drive away and hand the keys over.  It is silly, you say- after all it is just a collection of bricks: but a home is more than that. The home is a sacred space.  A loving home is indeed a great blessing. A home is where you feel that you belong. No pretence, no trying to be someone you are not.  For that reason, however humble, there is, as the song has it, ' no place like home'.

The kind of image showing the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary is very familiar to Catholics all over the world.  We had one on the wall as a child, and my parents always had this kind of picture.  Ok, it is not high art, but it was a perfect expression of a deep desire: that the home would be a safe place full of God's love. It was a heart felt prayer for protection in a challenging and oftentimes frightening world. I still have my mother's old picture and I treasure it.

And yet, today the home is now more under threat than ever before.  It is in the front line of that process Pope Francis talked about recently: ideological colonisation.  With the TV and the plethora of other forms of internet communication the home is now invaded by ideas and values which make it more of a commercial space than a sacred space.  A home is in many ways a space which is a set apart from the other spaces such as the public or economic spaces. Sadly, however, the home is being increasingly colonised  by the economic sphere.  Ironically, the word 'economic' comes from the Greek concept of household management -  home/oikos + law/nomos - οἰκονομία!

There was a time when you could always tell if you were in a Catholic home - not least by the presence of an image of the Sacred Heart.  However, nowadays I am not sure that Catholic homes are so distinctive. Blessing a house is, I think, one of the most important ways we can resist the colonisation of our homes.  In the ancient world the Greeks had the concept of a space which was 'cut out' of the public space and designated as a sacred space - the temenos ( τέμενος) .  The home should be a sacred space that should not be colonised by the market place.   For Christians the home should be a space  within which we as Christians try, with God's grace, to become a 'holy family'.   When we bless a home and place sacred images on the walls we are not just being  passive  in the face of this colonisation , we are being active in our resistance to those powers in our  world that wants to see the home as little more than  a place where people called consumers and customers and voters live.  When we put up an image of the Sacred Heart (or 'enthrone' the Sacred Heart ) we are asking the Lord to bless our home: we are asking for the Lord to de-throne the very real powers of this world that seek to manipulate and control us.  The danger is that our homes become places where we worship Mammon and not God.  The danger is that our homes become places where we store up all our idols. * *

Unless our homes are places where we worship God, then they will inevitably become places where we bow down and make sacrifices to Mammon. If our homes are just places where we hoard our treasured stuff then we must recall Jesus's warning: for where we keep what we regard to be our precious bits and pieces is where we will find our hearts. (Matthew 6:19–21,24)

'Where your treasure is, there will be  your heart also.' 
Does this mean that we should not take delight or pleasure in a beautiful object or an image or wonder at a piece of technology? Of course not. But material things are seductive - they can  lead to some of the deadliest of sins - so we need to be constantly reminded that that material things are not what life is all about: possessions are not our treasure.  Just pay a visit to a local recycling centre and see all that stuff that people used to treasure just being thrown into a skip! All that stuff they lusted after, and saved for and got into debt for or stole for: there it is just a pile of junk.

 When we sanctify a house with a  ritual blessing, and when we use images of Jesus and Mary and other saints we are  reminding ourselves that it is God we worship and adore, and not all our stuff that will one day end up as junk and rubbish.  An image of the Sacred Heart, or a crucifix or an image of  the BV Mary  is sign of  our active resistance to the powers of the world that want to make us into just a little dependent colony of consumers : these powers want us to feel at home in the world that they are making.  But our homes are so much more than the powers of this world want them to be: a home is a holy and sacred space first and foremost. Hence the importance of one of the promises made by Jesus to St Margaret Mary:' I will bless every place where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honoured.' If you read about the history of the Sacred Heart you quickly realise that it was ABOVE ALL a sign of resistance: an image which was used to challenge secularisation. In a materialistic and Christ hating world, the simple act of blessing a home, and honouring an image of God's mercy and love ( which is what the Sacred Heart is all about) is perhaps one of the most active forms of resistance we can take to counter-act the forces that want to colonise us all.

In the battle against the darkness and wickedness in the world today our homes are really in the front line. And so we should pray with all our heart : God bless our home. So, if you haven't had your home blessed give the priest a call and he will be only too delighted to help you enthrone Christ and de-throne the powers of this world!


** Pope Francis reminds us what sin really is: 'Sin is not a simple mistake. Sin is idolatry: it is to worship the idol, the idol of pride, vanity, money, ‘my self’, my own ‘well-being’.  (Read here. )  To be 'house proud' or to 'love' your house is not in itself a bad thing, but it becomes sinful if our lives are devoted to just to acquiring objects of desire out of pride, envy, and avarice.  A house can make us into just mere 'Consumers'.   A Christian home should help us to be 'Christians'.  A Christian house is a place where God is worshiped, and not idols of the marketplace.

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