Book Review: Theology of Home—Finding the Eternal in the Everyday
Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering, in this well-intentioned work, attempt to weave a synthesis of Catholic home life, homemaking, and Catholic Culture. Unfortunately, the authors fall short of the task, relying too much on superficial stories and images which fail to convey what it means to be Catholic in a three-dimensional sense. Credit should be given to both for recommending classically pious practices such as consecrating the home to Christ the King, the Sacred and Immaculate hearts, and blessing it with Epiphany Chalk, but these are only a starting point for developing not just a Catholic home, but a Catholic family.
The authors are right that “[h]ome is a source of grace and conversions for all.” Where the book falls short is exploring that theme with requisite depth. There are several nods about finding the eternal in the everyday items and tasks before us, but the text simply does not go far enough in directing readers toward that end. For instance, there is a great deal said about incorporating beauty into the home, but beauty alone is not enough. Aesthetics take up too much space in this text, which gives the impression that beauty and the sacred are always synonymous. A well-decorated home, even one decorated with sacred art, is not necessarily a home where holiness thrives. A statue of the Virgin Mary only draws us closer to holiness if we are willing to connect with what it points to, namely our Blessed Mother and the example of devotion she set for all Christians. While the authors do not ignore this entirely, they also do not provide a strong roadmap for how home design can lead to an authentic conversion of the heart.
The risk in placing too much emphasis on beauty is that it naturalizes what should be supernatural. It also leads to a problematic misunderstanding that creating a home that “looks Catholic” in and of itself produces good Catholics. Obviously, this is not what the authors intended to do with their book, but is a common enough misunderstanding that ought to have been addressed better. Moreover, although the book claims to be a “theology of home,” there is a noticeable lack of theological sophistication throughout. And so instead of delivering an intellectually rigorous account of the home in all of its aspects, specifically the sacred, what is presented instead is a handbook for giving the appearance of a Catholic home, whether it truly is or not.
Those interested in reading Theology of Home should pay attention to these shortcomings and not fall into the trap of thinking this book provides the whole picture. Perhaps supplementing it with more classical works that focus on Catholic family life is the best route to go. One can hope, of course, that the authors may revisit their work in the future and add the necessary details which, in this edition at least, are sorely missing.