This old dictum can be deceptively simple, rather like “Home is where the heart is.”
When I first considered becoming Catholic in 1984, I went to the local church, only a block or two from my apartment in New Orleans, and talked to a very young priest, whom I’ll call Father Francis. He was fresh out of seminary in Ireland. In RCIA, I wondered what became of him. When I asked about him, the deacon in charge of RCIA told me that Fr. Francis was homesick for Ireland and was suffering from depression. He stayed in the rectory a good deal.
Well-meaning people tried to introduce him to New Orleans culture, but the attempt was a failure. He just didn’t want to be there. One of the parishioners said, “We’re just not good enough for him, I guess, not white enough, maybe.” Sympathy morphed into resentment.
Finally, one day, he was over it. “You have to be where you are,” he said, as though he’d stumbled on a discovery—and maybe he had. If you are where you are, you won’t understand the difficulty of not being where you are. It’s not a matter of geography. It’s a matter of being. There are all sorts of accoutrements to go with that being—being where, being with whom ….
Having lived all over the place when I was a child (17 school changes in 12 years), and having attached and detached from numerous “fathers” (I had a very romantic mother), I learned very early on that it’s not a matter of where you are, or with whom—all that matters is how you are. If you are self-alienated (another term for this condition), you can project that discontent in any direction you want, and change locations/mates/jobs/situations, and be repeatedly surprised by the smallness of the improvement you’re able to make, even with the most radical changes. Until finally, one day, you may discover that it’s not a matter of where you are. It’s only how you are that counts. And that how comes from the inside out, not from the outside in.
This discovery may seem unimportant. But that’s where the deception lies. The significance of young Fr. Francis’ discovery can’t be overestimated, for, consciously or not, he had decided: “I shall not want.” Even if he forgets that decision, even if he resumes emotional dependence on the world around him, a reference point is made. And the soul remembers what we do not. Wherever he is for the rest of his days, whatever the conditions of his life, he has chosen the better part and his cup runneth over.