Imagine for a moment being stuck at home. It’s easy to do these days.
You dream of getting away from the black-and-white routine of life: getting up, doing chores, passing time with solitary walks, taking care of pets, and having conversations with the same old set of people. You might even sing a song about a magical escape to some great colorful beyond, where even the sky above feels bright and new.
And then one day, you get your wish. A catastrophe strikes; but once you emerge from your little house, you are set on a new road, heading toward an unknown destination, with every color of the rainbow lit up before your eyes. You make new friends, you overcome adversities; but before you know it, you like the idea of being back under your old roof. “There’s no place like home,” you emote.
There we have the basics of one of the most beloved films of all time, the 1939 technicolor classic The Wizard of Oz, adapted from the novel by Frank L. Baum. I’ve loved it my whole life, and especially so when I discovered as a teenager that you could synch it with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
It is also on the Vatican Best Film list.
As we begin to come out from our COVID-19 quarantine, we may flip its plot for the next season of our lives as Catholics. “There’s no place like home” . . . in the Church.
At the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale dreams of getting away from it all, but she eventually longs to return to what may not end up being any happier a place than it was before the tornado took her away. Presumably she once had a different home with her parents, and the life lived with her poor farmer relatives, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, reinforces the ache for a home that could have or should have been. In fact, in Frank Oz’s 1985 sequel Return to Oz, her family treats her like a lunatic, and she escapes back to a dystopian Emerald City. But after new adventures, she still itches to see Kansas again.
For many of us, the start of the COVID-19 lockdown was a strange journey, to say the least. Just as we began to hear mutterings about the virus possibly affecting our lives, my city of Nashville, Tennessee was hit by devastating tornadoes that evoked the Gale family’s horror in The Wizard of Oz. Our house and neighborhood were spared, but it shook our whole area deeply. At the same time, my family and I were just a week away from closing on the sale of our home and relocating to Texas. We were excited for our move, but “there’s no place like home” rang true as we said tearful goodbyes to our dear friends.
And then we arrived at our new home and had to stay inside. Our Oz has presented itself within a lockdown; we were exploring and enjoying our new (if quarantined) space immensely, not longing to go back to our old home or anywhere else, but dreaming of the day when “home” can mean more than just the place I will be paying the bank to live in over the next thirty years.
For Catholics, all the positives and negatives of our earthly homes—intensified during these weeks of pandemic—should raise our eyes to heaven, by way of the Church. We’ve been stuck within a familiar space, but pretty soon we will really be able to go home. The Oz-like experience has been within our walls, not over the rainbow. As the Catechism teaches, “We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem” (CCC 117). I find myself turning over and over again in my mind that phrase that everyone told us when we came into full communion: “Welcome home.”
Every morning I take a long run in still unfamiliar surroundings. My chosen route is going back and forth between my new house and our local parish church—precisely one mile each way. Every day I feel the hunger pains for the meal that only the Church can provide, from a building in which I have never worshiped. I have no idea whether the choir sings my favorite hymns, or the preaching is inspiring. I don’t know whether the people are friendly, or the faith formation opportunities are solid. But I know that Jesus Christ is inside, and I want to be with him. It is the Lord of lords, not a snake oil salesman turned self-styled wizard, behind the curtain there.
Whatever else it is, it’s where I truly belong.
What awaits us as we go home to our churches? No doubt, we will find many of the same old controversies and annoyances, just as Dorothy likely did when she woke up in Kansas. But maybe seeing our spiritual father, Pope Francis, step out to bless the world, as he did on March 27, will put new wind in our evangelistic sails. Maybe after months at home, lapsed Catholics or non-Catholics will step into our churches looking to belong to something bigger than their own small worlds. Or if church was a place where we felt bored or stuck before, maybe, like Dorothy, our perspective will be refreshed, and we’ll be unstuck now.
Let us hope, at least, that all of the dream-like detours since our last Holy Communion have been of some benefit. More brains, more heart, more courage.
In any case, it’s almost time to find out if Dorothy’s heel-clicked refrain proves true.