Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Catechetical Value of Home Decor

When The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions was published in 2004, one reviewer accused me of reducing Catholicism to colored place mats. (Like that was a bad thing?)

If I were more mature, I'd no longer be cheesed off by that snarky comment. I'm not more mature. Even worse, experiences since then have made me fairly triumphalistic about the catechetical value of home décor. Yesterday's encounter with the plumber is a fine example.

After writing out an invoice for my latest skirmish with the garbage disposal, the plumber handed it to me and said, "I notice you have a lot of religious stuff around here." Yes, I do.

I practice what I write, so my home is filled with religious artifacts I've collected and received as gifts. My home is painted in colors that prompted one visitor to exclaim, "Wow, this is like walking into a Byzantine icon." There's lots more -- arranged in what I hope is a tasteful and visually pleasing way.

Well, turns out the plumber had been raised Catholic, educated in Catholic schools, did the altar boy thing, no longer goes to church, and recounted it all with exasperated affection. I listened, laughed in the right places, mentioned how I view church as being much more than a building. The plumber told me about his sense of Christ's presence. And so forth and so on for twenty minutes that, thank God, were not added to the invoice.

Over the years, I've had similar conversations with guys who have trooped through The Hermitage to clean lint out of my dryer vent; inspect my damp basement; deliver a washing machine; figure out why certain electrical outlets weren't working. I never start these conversations about faith and religion; my décor does.


  1. Lest we forget: If it weren't for Protestants, there wouldn't even be any Catholics!

  2. I am laughing and laughing - what a great post and a reminder of an event long ago.

    I used to have two friends who had a very -um, how do I say this, liturgical style home. One of the highpoints was an old,gorgeous stained glass window of St.Cecilia, originally in a convent in PA and purchased by them from an architectural salvage place in Philly.

    When they redid their kitchen, they wanted to use it as a skylight of sorts on a slightly slanted section of ceiling and have a light that would shine on it at night.

    In their effort to hire a contractor, most of whom scoffed at most of what they proposed ("a floor that looks like a medieval Cathedral in Spain" or "walls with a finish one might find in an Italian monastery" and endless tiles of saints collected over many visits to countries where such things come from) an Irishman came in.

    No longer churched, he was bowled over by it all and wanted to do it all, most especially because he "loved that holy picture!"

    I will have to email you some photos of my wall of saints from my former home. Being single had its advantages...


  3. Having been a guest in the Hermitage, (I have often thought of pitching a tent in you luscious garden). I know exactly why your home sparks conversation. It has little to do with the painted walls and icons, and more with the overwhelming presence of Christ. Your home, as I’ve stated many a time, is a loving sanctuary where one feels so safe and open to the Word.
    Be it the colors on the wall (which are so magnificent, I copied for my home to my overwhelming delight), the religious icons, or the feeling of calm, whatever prompts the conversation. Remember “Wherever two or more gather in my name….“
    On a side note, I ’v thought long and hard about this… I think should bless the deck with a Labyrinth made from potted plants. Just a thought. Peace be yours this glorious day.

  4. Great post - and it does not have to be a "Catholic" issue: what is displayed in a home, even the books you have lying around, says much about where your heart is. And that language of behavior speaks far more loudly than words.

    May God richly bless your visual stand for Him.

  5. Our homes are outward reflections of what and how we feel inside. That is why it feels so good to come home after a hard day's work or even a vacation. Having recently returned from a 6 week journey through Eastern Europe, including my ancestral home, I am truly grateful for the security I find in the many Jewish symbols adorning the walls and tabletops throughout my house. There can be no mistake about who I am and it makes me both humble and proud. Home decorating is another life-affirming act Christians and Jews share and can respectfully appreciate in each other.

  6. Meredith,
    My basic decor, as you can imagine, is metal box with metal wall locker inside. I have raised the bed on blocks so I can a a green and camo footlocker under the bed along with three sizes of camo back packs. And, of course, my roomie and I have matching rifles and other accessories. But for whatever reason, they gave us velour bedspreads when we moved in. They make it easy to make the bed, but the colors. Mine is a very deep purple. My platoon sergeant's is buttercup yellow. My roommate got steel gray.

    Who would have thought the Army would supply the purple velour bedspread that is the only color in my room--besides green, sand, and black.

  7. Wow, Sgt., treasure that purple velour bedspread. It's going to come in very handy during Advent and Lent. You might want to check if the RCC Chaplain would like to borrow it for those liturgical seasons.

  8. Oh, what a great post ... and how I can relate! It's like a Mary convention in my house. The BVM is everywhere. Plus there's a crucifix, and a framed photo of the stained glass at our church, and ... well, it's much like your house, it seems.

    I haven't yet had a religious conversation with a plumber, but I think it's just a matter of time.


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