A Response to “There’s No Place Like Home for Our Generation”

Santiago de Compostela is, at first glance, a rather unassuming Spanish town. Its population rivals South Bend’s. Its cobblestone streets and architecture embody medieval Spanish style. Yet, it is special – possessing one of the oldest Christian pilgrimage sites and the probable body of an apostle.

Many believe that St. James is buried in this pilgrim-worn medieval town in Gallencia. Tradition holds that, after preaching throughout Spain and France, St. James returned to Jerusalem and was martyred by Herod Agrippa. Legend has it that through a collection of miracles – including transit by Air Angel (the leading airline of the day, precursor to Spirit airlines) and a rudderless boat – his body was carried by the faithful to its current place in Santiago de Compostela. Since the 9th century this hallowed town has been a gathering place for the faithful, 300,000 having made El Camino in 2017 alone. 

Marking El Camino is the ubiquitous scalloped shell. Throughout many towns in France and Spain one can find this shell – carved in a wall or imprinted in street mosaics or on 20th century metal street signs – ensuring that one is still along The Way. Many believe the scalloped shell represents the many ways one can make the pilgrimage, [traditionally El Camino begins as soon as one sets foot outside one’s home and not in any particular town in France or Spain] all converging at the tomb of St. James. The shell, this indicator of one’s journey along the way, is also an ancient symbol of baptism. Indeed, shells were often used to gather the water to Baptize young and old alike, and were even used last weekend during the Easter Vigil to welcome our new brothers and sisters into Life Himself. 

It is significant that this sauntering (see particularly Henry David Thoreau’s “Walking”) is represented by a shell – the direct representation of many peoples converging on one place, the indirect representation of baptism. Most fitting is that baptism is what not only prepares but also inspires the soul to such journeying. A pilgrim’s life is what the Christian adopts in baptism; ours is a life modeled on and invited into the Trinity, standing firm in the constant motion of each Person’s love for the other. But what does this mean for our lives as Domers? It’s quite simple. We are, both by our vocation as Christians and through gratitude for our privilege, required to go out into the world in bold ways. For some, this vocatio will mean a calling home to small-town life, boldly living the Gospel therein; for many, however, it will mean the bustling cacophony of Wall Street, the chattering halls of Capitol Hill, the wind-buffeting bases round Wrigley Field, or the echoing chambers of Carnegie Hall. If one takes Tocquevillian localism as the ideal then few of us shall ever adhere to what is good, beautiful, and true. Yet, if we take Jesus’ Gospel as rule of both our religious and political lives, we will find that it is the norm for Domers to adhere to that which is most truly human. We desire those places of power in order that we might spread the Gospel there. It is our new homes, those places to which we go, for God’s Home which we form, that we are called. 

To re-pose Ms. Hansen’s question, “When we refuse to return home, what exactly are we leaving behind?” Indeed, what happens when we refuse to return to our heavenly Home, to live the life of pilgrims? We lose everything. We lose ourselves to the world; we become confined to the finite. As the rich man in Mark 10:17-22 is told, we must go, sell everything we have, and come and follow Him. How can we go and follow Christ when we restrict our vocation to a return to our birthplace? Why do we not “let go so as to let God?” Further, how can we truly live the Gospel if we restrict our faith – Truth – to corollaries of political philosophy which require us to return to a place against our vocation to pilgrimage? There is nothing more nor less being asked by the Gospel: we must participate in a death like His in order to participate in a life like His. 

This is not an article to say one ought never return home. In the home, we find our renewal. In Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, one notices how Christ constantly finds the energy to endure by looking at Mary, his mother. Yet this is what is so significant: Jesus does not take His strength from Nazareth! In fact, Nazareth rejects Him. He finds His strength in the Godhead, in the love of His mother, and in the love of the Apostles (even those who left Him). We ought return home often to the people who love us; we ought not keep our heads and hearts buried ostrich-style in hopes of an earthly home. “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:16-18) We are here for a time, to “make God known, loved, and served and thus save souls.” And then we get to go Home.

Indeed, Ms. Hansen is correct as she quotes Wendell Berry, “When going back makes sense, you are going ahead.” The Apostles left home: Peter his home, Paul his prestige, Matthew his occupation. They left so as to work for true union with God: our real Home. Our baptism sends us forth, inverting the image of convergence and serving as our stepping off point – stepping off into the Gospel, out of the boat, away from the known. And then, having run the race, we get to go home. And that’s all that really matters. Because under the shade of the golden dome, we are reminded that we’re just Homesick.

Gaven DeVillier is a senior studying theology and political science. He enjoys externally processing, and over-explaining himself and, well, like it isn’t really over-explaining. Sometimes I just have a lot of thoughts and I’m worried people will think of me poorly and I just wish. He can be reached at gdevilli@nd.edu.