More than a house or a place

Home is more than a house or a place on a map. It’s a place in the heart, the place where you most want to be at the end of the day.

Jun 12, 2021

By Fr Ron Rolheiser

Home is more than a house or a place on a map. It’s a  place in the heart, the place  where you most want to be at the  end of the day. The metaphorical  idea of home can help us sort out  many things, not least how sex  connects to love.

Sex can never be simply casual,  purely recreational, something  which does not touch the soul. Sex  always touches the soul, for good  or for bad. It’s either sacramental  or harmful. It’s either building up  the soul or tearing it apart. When  it’s right, it’s making you a better person and when it’s wrong, it’s making you less of a person. Metaphorically, when it’s right, it’s taking you home; when it’s not, it’s  taking you away from home. Sex is designed by God and nature to take you home. Indeed, it’s meant  (metaphorically) to be your home. If you are going home after sex,  something is very wrong. This is  not, first of all, a moral judgment, but an anthropological one on behalf of the soul.

The soul, as we know, is not  some invisible spiritual tissue  floating inside our bodies. A soul  cannot be pictured imaginatively, but it can be grasped as a principle. As we see in the insights of philosophers like Aristotle and Aquinas, the soul is a double principle inside us. It’s the principle of life (of all  our energies) and it’s the principle  of integration (what holds us together). This may sound abstract,  but it’s not. If you have ever been  present with someone who is dying, you know the exact moment  when the soul leaves the body. Not  because you see some spirit float  up from the body, but because one  minute the body is alive, an organism, and the next minute it is inert, lifeless, dead, and beginning  to decompose. The soul keeps us  alive and the soul keeps us glued  together.

If this is true, and it is, then anything meaningful we do, anything  that touches us at any depth, affects  our soul, both its fire and its glue,  either weakening them or strengthening them. Sex is no exception.  Indeed, it’s the preeminent example. Sex is powerful and that’s why  it can never be simply casual. It is  either building up the soul or tearing it down.

Thirty years ago, teaching a night course at a college campus, I assigned my class a book of essays  by Christopher de Vinck, Only the Heart Knows How to Find Them –  Precious Memories for a Faithless Time. These essays are simple reflections by the author on his life as a young husband and father. They are warm, not unduly romantic, aesthetically crafted, and devoid of  sentimentality. They make a strong  case for marriage, not by making any apologetic arguments in its  favour, but simply by sharing how marriage can make for a home, a calm place of mutual solitude that  can take us beyond that overpowering restless search that besets us at puberty and drives us away from  parents’ home in search of our own  home. Marriage and the marriage  bed can bring us home again.

At the end of the semester, a student in the course, a woman in her  late twenties, came into my office  to drop off her term paper. She was  carrying de Vinck’s book and she shared this: This is the best book  I’ve ever read. I grew up without a lot of religious or ethical guidance  and I have slept my way through  a couple of Canadian provinces; but now I know what I really want. I want what this man has! I want  the marriage bed. I want my sex to take me home, to become home. Her insight merits repeating, not  least today in a culture where sex  is often divorced from marriage  and home.

Earlier in my teaching and ministry, when I was still working  more with young people who were  sorting out what love means and  who they might choose to marry  and try to spend their lives with,  the question often arose: how does  one recognise the kind of love on which you can build a marriage?  It is a crucial question because  love is not an easy thing to read or gauge. We can, and do, fall in love  with all kinds of people, often with  people who are all wrong for us, people we can enjoyably flirt with  or have a honeymoon with, but  with whom we could not share the  rest of our lives.

What kind of love can you build  a marriage on? It needs to be the  kind of love that takes you home.  You need a strong sense that with  this other person you are at home  because a marriage is quite different from a honeymoon. You go  home from a honeymoon. In marriage, you are at home.

So too with sex. It’s meant to  be something that takes you home  and is your home rather than something from which you go home.

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