by Father Paul A. Keenan
Father Paul Keenan passed away June 10, 2008 -- three days before his
62nd Birthday. He was a dear friend and wise and compassionate columnist for Soulful Living for six years. Father Paul was a generous, loving soul who always had a kind, healing word of encouragement to share. He will be deeply missed.
Let us celebrate and remember his soulful life,
which he devoted to God and helping others, through his service as a Catholic priest for over 30 years, and through his radio ministry and his many books.
Father Paul was a great light in our lives. And his work and legacy live on in the many people he has inspired. We grieve, yet we know he is in Heaven, smiling upon us.
Within each and every one of us, there lies a place
called "Home." It may look and feel different
at various points in our lives. There are times, perhaps
long ones, in which Home seems to be conspicuously
absent. (Did it move away and forget to tell us, or did
we wander off from it?) It is there nonetheless and if
we are not presently aware of living in it, we are
necessarily engaged in the search for it. Home is that
place where we feel the greatest inner warmth, where we
can go to be ourselves, and it is where we must go if we
are to fulfill our purpose in the world.
Home is an inner place, not an outer one. It is
important for us to know that, and to know it for sure.
Numerous people and influences in our lives will
blithely assure us that Home is somewhere on the
outside. People spend lifetimes, fortunes and much, much
energy trying to find it or create it outside of
themselves. But until Home is found on the inside, all
our best efforts to build it on the outside eventually
come to naught.
Contrary to appearances and to common belief, Home is
not something that can be lost. Certainly, there are
times in life when we feel rootless, Homeless, sitting
among the ruins of shattered lives and broken dreams. In
those times, everything in our experience tells us that
all is lost, that we are lost. The truth goes otherwise.
No matter how discombobulated our lives seem to be,
there is still that inward place to which we may turn
The illusion that we have nowhere to turn, that we
might lose our Home, is the basis of fear. When someone
or something threatens to take away our security, our
life, our domicile, our means of support, or people that
we love, we become afraid and often panic. The basis of
that fear is our belief that our very roots can be taken
away. Our enemies will have us believe that they have
the ability to destroy us. All their power over us lies
in their assuring us of the truth of that belief. They
will sue us in a court of law, they tell us. They will
soil our name in the public square. They will make a
laughingstock of us. They will rob us of every penny we
own. It is in just such moments that we must remember
where our true Home lies and how impossible it is for
them to destroy it. Even the ravages of illness, no
matter how severe, or the suddenness of an unforeseen
accident cannot destroy the foundations of Home.
Home is where we know we were always meant to be. It
is an inner experience of belonging, but belonging not
to something outside of ourselves, but rather of
belonging within ourselves. We get there by mentally
collecting and contemplating those persons, places,
times and situations that for one reason or other we
came to cherish. A certain piece of music, an aroma from
a long-lost kitchen, the memory of a beloved pet, the
thrill of our first kiss, the first snowfall and babyís
first Christmas. Within and beneath and around each and
every one of them lies a tonality, a feeling, a common
warmth that defines precisely who we are in life and
what makes us happy. Home is where we come to know
ourselves as no one else ever will.
Paradoxically, we also come Home by way of feeling
that we are away from Home. Centuries ago, the
philosopher Plato spoke of the forgetfulness that
accompanied our arrival on earth; and he claimed that
our experiences here were reminiscences of our former
life, opportunities to recollect it. Much of the time,
we can feel that we are seeking something, we donít
know quite what, but we find ourselves longing for a
simplicity, a warmness, a friendliness, a glowing
fireplace by which to sit and bask in the play of the
embers as they flicker on the wall. We feel it has
eluded us. Broken promises, lives shattered by meanness
or fate or abandonment, foolish mistakes and failures
and plain bad luck Ė these, we feel have made it
impossible for us to go Home. Didnít Thomas Wolfe
write a book about it Ė You Canít Go Home Again?
You can go Home again. Home has always been there,
burning brightly inside you, waiting for you to find it.
No matter how far you believe you have strayed, no
matter how much hope you believe you have lost, no
matter how tired or ill or jaded you feel you have
become Ė all you need do in order to cross the
threshold into Home is to put your awareness there.
Because, you see, being Home has nothing to do with
having a certain job, or a certain amount of money or
certain types of friends or furniture, good luck or even
an unblemished moral record. Being Home has only to do
with being Home. The door is always open.
If you want to find Home, ask two questions. What do
I love? How would I like things to be?
What do I love? To list what you love and to
feel the emotional impact of that list is to decorate
and to infuse with loveliness the rooms of Home. What
treasures do you bring from the various stages of your
life? Even the bleakest times have breathtaking sunrises
and sunsets, mouth-watering food and drink and the joy
of music. What do you love? Take time to savor the
feeling of all you treasure. Indeed, this is an exercise
worth taking time over. Go through the various stages of
your life, and make note of the persons, events and
things that have special meaning for you. Nothing is too
small or insignificant so long as it educes a feeling of
worth and value.
It goes without saying that during the course of this
exercise, many unpleasant feelings and experiences may
also arise. They, too, are part of Home. In her
beautiful novel The Bonesetterís Daughter, Amy
Tan has Ruth Young, her main character, go through the
closet of her mother, LuLing, who is becoming old and
beginning to suffer from loss of memory. As she rummages
through her motherís long-saved belongings, Ruth has
two bags beside her Ė one for things going to Goodwill
and the other for things going to the garbage. This
scene may provide a useful model for this exercise. As
you go through the closet of your memories, you will
find things you want to keep. You will also find
experiences you no longer need, but whose wisdom might
benefit others. And you will find other experiences that
simply need to be acknowledged, dealt with and thrown
away. For example, we can share with our children what
we learned from a foolish mistake we made when we were
their age, but is it really useful for us to continue to
carry around guilt and self-abasement over it? What weíre
doing here is sorting through the closets of Home.
How would I like things to be? As we sort
through the closets of Home and discover what things we
love, we want to be sure that we do not simply remain in
the past. Home is certainly furnished with the best of
the past, but it is not right to turn it into a museum
dedicated to days gone by. Home is our haven of safety
and security as we go out to embrace new people, new
situations and new challenges. It is important that we
know that we have considerable say in determining the
course of the future and what our Home will be like in
the days and years ahead. Answering the question,
"What do I love?" gives us a good emotional
foundation for asking the question "How would I
like things to be?" How I would like things to be
is determined to a large extent by what I love; and when
I know what I love, I actually can begin to live in the
future I want to create. And thatís an important
secret Ė in order to manifest the future that we want,
we must live in it right now, in the Home of our heart
Architects and contractors know this secret, but we
seldom think of it or apply it to other aspects of life.
Letís say we are thinking of remodeling a home we have
lived in for many years. There is much that we love
about our home, and we need to make additions that will
enhance what we love rather than diminish it. We need to
plan. As we sit with our contractor and draw up the
plans for the renovation, we will want to have the feel
of each room of the new house in order to know whether a
possible change is right. In other words, we need to be
able to live in each room of the remodeled house right
now in order to make the changes that will enhance the
feeling of being at home. We canít afford to wait and
see or to hope for the best. We have to live there now.
When we apply that lesson to the whole of life, we
are using one of the greatest gifts we have been given
Ė the gift of Imagination. The inspirational writer
and speaker Neville (full name Neville Goddard)
described this quality in his many books as "living
in the feeling of the wish fulfilled." Ordinarily,
when we look to the future, we use words like
"try" and "wish" and
"hope." Thatís why we often donít get the
future we were planning. When we live in the feeling of
the wish fulfilled, we place ourselves right in the
feeling we will have when the future is manifested and
from there proceed to imagine the details of our wish as
already fulfilled. In our house example, we live in the
rooms that we plan for.
Sometimes that turns people off, because it sounds
too much like playacting, but itís not. The reason itís
not is that we have already faced up to the question
"What do I love?" The funny thing about that
question is that it looks like a question about things
inherited from the past, but thatís not quite the
whole story. Remember, the question is not, "What did
I love?" but "What do I love?"
When we let the question "What do I love?"
guide our movement into the future, we are bringing the
future Home. We are not reaching out into an abyss of
pure potentiality and hoping against hope that we can
somehow make it come true. Rather, we are taking our
deepest, truest reality and allowing ourselves to create
what comes next.
The two questions "What do I love?" and
"How would I like things to be?" produce an
important axiom when taken together: Home begets Home.
The Bible says the same thing differently: "To
whomever has, more will be given." Again, we can
turn to the construction industry in order to see. You
canít get a building from an empty lot. Of course you
need a place to put the building, but if that empty
space does not have a vision around it, it will remain
unoccupied and even deteriorate. By the same token, if
we want to feel at Home on the outside, we have to fill
our life with the vision of Home, the feel of Home right
here and now. If we fail to do that, our lives will feel
like a piece of property that is lying unused,
unoccupied and utterly abandoned. But if we do it, we
will be richly blessed.
Come Home, then. Discover what you love and what you
would like to see happen. Bring them together. Live it
now, from the fullness within, and you will watch your
world unfold before your eyes with a joy and a depth you
never imagined as being your Home.
© Copyright 2003 Father Paul A. Keenan. All Rights Reserved.
Father Paul A. Keenan: Popular speaker, author and
radio co-host of WABC Radioís "Religion on the
Line," Father Paul Keenan likes to talk and write
about the issues that matter to people. Widely
experienced as a national and local television and
radio news commentator, he is the author of Good
News for Bad Days, Stages of the Soul and Heartstorming.
As Director of Radio Ministry of the Archdiocese
of New York, he supervises, produces and writes for
various radio and television programs. In addition, he
serves as a parish priest in New York City.
Father Paul Keenan, came to his
now-ten-year-old career in New York broadcasting after
having been a college teacher and administrator and a
parish priest for many years. He hails from Kansas City,
where he graduated from Rockhurst University and
completed an M.A. in Moral and Pastoral Theology at
Saint Louis University. He was ordained to the
priesthood in 1977, and went on to complete an M.A. in
Philosophy at Fordham University.
Father Paul is also known for
his work on the Web. He hosts his own website (www.fatherpaul.com)
and contributes regular articles to various other sites.
He is a regular columnist for the monthly newspaper,
"Catholic New York." His other talents and
interests include reading, cooking and being humble
servant to his three cats, Teddy, Lionel and Midnight.