“Home Again”: An Interview with Fr. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.
“At a certain point everyone revisits his or her faith with questions, fascination, or a deep hunger for meaning in life, ” writes Fr. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem. in his new book Home Again: A Prayerful Rediscovery of Your Catholic Faith.
In this interview, the St. Josemaria Institute speaks with Fr. John Henry about how his new book aims to lead everyone home through a return and revitalization of our faith in God’s plan for each of us. The book is published by Scepter Publishers and is available online as our July 2020 Book of the Month.
Fr. John Henry: I took my inspiration from something Pope St. John Paul II said at the turn of the millennium, that we don’t need a new program of renewal in the Church, but a return to the Gospel. And this means, first of all, reading and meditating on the Scriptures and the truths of our faith that we are already familiar with. We can never go too deep into our faith and my book is a contemporary revisiting of the familiar territory of our Catholic faith from a prayerful, contemplative perspective. To know doctrine is an extremely important thing, but our work doesn’t end there. We have to allow the truth of it to nourish us, inform the way we think and act. My book, in other words, does not take an apologetic approach. Mine are chapter-length reflections, drawing meditative fruit out of the truths we believe as Catholics.
Q: Home can mean many things to many different people. Can you briefly explain the Christian meaning of home? And how a person who may not have a positive view of home can come to understand this meaning?
Fr. John Henry: Home means for most people their family and/or place of origin. But in the end, our true home is heaven, and it is there that we find all of the beauty and warmth and acceptance that our earthly homes could only give us in an imperfect way. I think of St. Paul speaking of those “seeking a homeland” and desiring “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb 11:14, 16). This helps us to have more realistic expectations of what home life can offer us in this world, and what we have to look forward to in the next. Creating a Christian home, with love and order, is hard work and requires continual building-up. It’s never done once and for all. But in heaven, we will enjoy a place already prepared for us by God, already perfect—so perfect that we cannot even imagine it.
Q: The journey home again often begins, as you wrote, with the realization that: “There is an undeniable emptiness within us all, a void fillable by God alone.” What is it about emptiness and the void that make it an ideal place for an encounter with God?
Fr. John Henry: Very good question. Again, I think it is a matter of realistic expectations for happiness and love in this world. The hunger we feel within for love, connectedness, happiness, is never fully satisfied here. And we shouldn’t expect the world to do these important things for us. Love and happiness are God’s domain, and His gifts to us. Many try to fill their emptiness by a series of relationships, entertainments, drugs, and so forth. Once you realize the futility of everything except knowing the Lord, then you see things as they truly are. You see that substituting short-term gratification for the deep peace and joy that come from God is a doomed effort.
Q: Throughout the book, you highlight stories from the Gospel and the lives of the saints to illustrate the presence, love, and mercy of God in all of our lives. For example, in writing about the Samaritan woman, you write that: “Jesus took a simple, everyday errand and turned it into a revelation.”
How can this, and all the other stories, help us understand that our stories and journeys are our own, that God works in our lives individually/personally?
Fr. John Henry: This is where the contemplative dimension of our prayer life needs to become operative. In the light of faith, in the quiet of prayer, reviewing our lives reveals a providence at work that might not seem so obvious without this kind of deeper reflection. Reading those gospel stories with an eye to my own life really opens up both the scriptures and my own story to a fuller appreciation of what God is continually doing in salvation history and in my own personal history.
Q: You write that: “Before you can begin to find God out there, in the people and events of daily life, you must first recognize him within.” Why is this important to contemplate not only for those who are far from God but also those who are near him, who are home?
Fr. John Henry: I had in mind the spirituality of Opus Dei and of St Josemaria when I wrote those words. Because we are children of God, finding God in daily life becomes the hallmark of Christian spirituality—even more than a hallmark, a necessity. And yet, in “reading” our daily lives the things we see and hear and experience may not yield a clear picture of God at work. Everything can seem too random and disconnected. This is why we must first look within, where things can also seem very random, if not chaotic, and begin to perceive the workings of the Lord. How does He speak to me, challenge me, love me? I believe if we can meet Him there first, we will find it isn’t such a huge step to meeting Him on the outside in people and events. I don’t know if my explanation is clear, but I think this is an area where experience teaches better than words. St. Teresa of Calcutta would often say how if you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus you will not find Him in the poor or anywhere else.
Q: Speaking of home, our homes have taken on a whole new role and meaning in our lives as we continue to cope with the challenges of the pandemic, especially isolation and social distancing.
How can a rediscovery of home during this time help to ease the growing anxieties and sense of hopelessness many are experiencing?
Fr. John Henry: Whenever we are “forced” to stay put at home, for whatever reason, we are inevitably compelled to look within. We become more reflective. For some this is a very unconsoling, disturbing prospect. Without at least an openness to living the interior life, I don’t see how it can fail to disconcert. And so many will distract themselves with food and entertainments to block out the unpleasantness of self. In this sense, being at home can be a torment, not a warm and joyful experience of peace.
Our rediscovery of home means more than exploring the familiar spaces of our house or apartment. It means finding a deeper source of happiness and peace within, where God dwells. Jesus says, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23). That is an incredible promise and blessing. Why not explore this gift of God’s presence within? Take Jesus at His word and see what He means by this indwelling. I guarantee we will find a more solid ground for happiness and peace in that place within that God calls “home.”
Q: Thank you, Fr. John Henry, for your time and for the profound spiritual guidance you offer to us in your new book. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Fr. John Henry: Thank you for the opportunity to share my book with your readers. I would just add that my hope and prayer for everyone is that no matter what happens in the world, we may look to Jesus for true peace and love. His kingdom and His peace are not of this world. And this requires us to look to Him within to taste His divine presence. “The kingdom of God,” he says, “is within you.”