Building God’s kingdom of peace and justice through ‘homefulness’


By Mara Fitzgibbon Adams
SAU Theological Perspectives


In 2016, one of the finalists for “The Oxford Dictionary’s” Word of the Year was hygge (hyoo-guh), a Danish term that means “a quality of coziness that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” The word has its roots in the 16th century Norwegian word “hugga,” which means to comfort or to console. It makes sense that the term would come from a region of the world that spends a great deal of winter in darkness, where people would seek to make their homes a place of refuge and comfort. A home is more than mere shelter. It is a place that consoles and restores us, giving us the energy to dream about the possibilities of our lives. But what is life like for the homeless? From where do they derive their comfort and solace?

In “Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement,” authors Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh ask what would the world look like if everyone had a home. They propose the term “homefulness” to describe when God’s reign of goodness is made present on earth. In his ministry and teachings, Jesus reminds us what life in community with God and others looks like. “Homefulness” is when all of humanity will live in communities of peace rooted in God’s justice. Yet collectively, we struggle to have compassion for those who are homeless. Stereotypes abound, such as assuming that homeless people are lazy or morally deficient. In reality, homelessness is a complex problem that defies short-sighted reductions — and many factors are at play. Mental illness, substance abuse, poverty, natural disasters, war and regional conflict all contribute to homelessness around the world. In our local community, some whose jobs and/or health were impacted by Covid-19 found themselves facing homelessness.

Homelessness is incompatible with a Christian sense of human dignity. During his 2015 visit to the U.S., Pope Francis said, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.” Adequate shelter is a basic human right and as the Catechism states, society acts justly when it provides the necessary conditions for persons to obtain their due. So why is it that so many ignore the suffering?


Perhaps one reason for our collective societal indifference is that we find it hard to care about others whose lives are very different from ours. Catholic Social Teaching is rooted in specific principles, beginning with the concept that every life has dignity and worth because we are members of one human family. Yet a cursory glance at media and entertainment sources illustrates how often we mock and dehumanize others, especially for the things that make them different from us.

Pope Francis has frequently cautioned against observing the suffering of others from balconies without getting involved, or worse, without being moved by the suffering of others. When we come down from the balcony, we are practicing solidarity, another key principle of Catholic Social Teaching. Pope John Paul II taught that solidarity was a virtue because relationships are essential to humanity and we are less than human if we exist apart from community. John Paul II wrote that solidarity meant “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good: our good and the good of others.”

Related to solidarity, perhaps another reason for our collective indifference is the banality of evil, a term coined by the American philosopher Hannah Arendt. After witnessing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, she described him not as a monster but “terrifyingly normal.” Arendt said that acts of great evil can be committed in a daily, systematic way by people who are thoughtless. The actions of the Nazis were terrifying, but equally terrifying is when ordinary people fail to be reflective. Little by little, almost imperceptibly, we can drift into patterns and mindsets that support evil actions and the crisis of homelessness is one such example. Pope Francis challenges us to adopt a new mindset that prioritizes the common good above the material comforts of the few. He has given us examples of how to help. He has demonstrated charity by providing the homeless in Vatican City with sleeping bags, showers, meals, laundry facilities and apartments. He has demonstrated justice by calling for policies and practices that address the underlying causes of homelessness.

Winter can be a quiet time of the year, gifting us with moments of reflection and simple pleasures as we spend more time inside our homes. May the warmth of our homes inspire us to build God’s Kingdom of justice and peace.

(Mara Fitzgibbon Adams, PhD, is a professor of Theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and a community mediator for the Eviction Diversion Program with the 14th Judicial Circuit in Illinois.)

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