Our Citizenship Is in Heaven

“The world is thy ship,” said St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “and not thy home.”

Gustave Doré, “Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest heaven, the Empyrean”
Gustave Doré, “Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest heaven, the Empyrean” (photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

I’ll never forget the night of Sept. 17, 1985. My husband Mike and I, accompanied by our 8-week-old daughter, had spent the day moving our belongings from our Bronx, New York, apartment into our new home in Bethlehem. The house was situated on a rural mountain road with no pavement markings, no sidewalks and no street lights. Outside the bedroom window, the darkness was deep and unsettling. I couldn’t see a thing, but I could certainly hear it: the cacophonous fiddling of a million crickets. 

I got into bed, but I couldn’t sleep. For 26 years, I’d be soothed at bedtime by a New York lullaby of wailing sirens, al fresco revelry, screeching elevated trains, and an occasional beer bottle hitting the pavement. I didn't want to hear cricket song; I wanted to hear illegal fireworks blasting lids off metal trash cans. 

Country livin' would take getting used to. But at least my mom could be counted on to micromanage our family all the way from New York. 

“You can’t stay in Pennsylvania, Celeste,” she told me bluntly over the phone. I’d made the mistake of telling Mom about a recalcitrant wood tick that had left its mouthparts embedded in Mike’s arm after the rest of its body had been tweezed away. 

“How can you live in a place where your kids can get awful tick-borne diseases? You need to come home.”

Mom was worried that lyme borreliosis would ravage our little family, but that wasn’t her only concern. Death by dehydration was another one.

“You can’t stay in Pennsylvania, Celeste,” she said, after finding out that a well was our primary water source. Mom was used to the New York heat-beating custom of uncapping city fire hydrants and allowing them to flow unchecked at a rate of 1500+ gallons of water per minute. In the Bronx, any stewardship-minded person who pointed out the profligacy of such a practice was dismissed as a fanatical weirdo.

“How can you live in a place where the water supply is so limited? You need to come home.”

Mom may have been baffled by our family’s cheerful readiness to conduct search-and-pluck missions twice a day during tick season, and to monitor water usage during winter, spring, summer and fall. But she was outright horrified by the fact that the nearest grocery store was four miles from our house and accessible only by car from our sidewalk-less neck of the woods. 

“You can’t stay in Pennsylvania, Celeste,” Mom insisted. Mom was accustomed to making twice-daily shopping excursions in our old Bronx neighborhood, where three supermarkets were within walking distance, and the sidewalks were dotted with street carts filled with fresh produce. No wonder Mom had a problem with scheduled weekly grocery trips. 

“How can you live in a place where you won't be able to buy groceries when you need them and your poor little children will go hungry?” she catastrophized.

"You need to come home.”

Mom may have been onto something: ultimately, each of us will indeed need to come home, because “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In this life, our sleep may be troubled by the discordant noise of the world. We might grow weary of plucking at sins that threaten to embed themselves, and we might fear that our well of courage will dry up, even as we are hungering for spiritual sustenance. But through it all, we can joyfully rest in the assurance that we will one day return to our true home.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)

Edward Reginald Frampton, “The Voyage of St. Brendan,” 1908, Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin.

Which Way Is Heaven?

J.R.R. Tolkien’s mystic west was inspired by the legendary voyage of St. Brendan, who sailed on a quest for a Paradise in the midst and mists of the ocean.