The ancient term is pride. A 20th- and 21st-century way of saying it is: We have big egos. Pride, ego get in the way of communion, of the unity and harmony willed for us by the Lord. He has invited the human race to a table of unfathomable delights. The thing is: we have to take our places together, and the seats are small; big egos don’t fit.
I think we should pause and meditate for a moment on just what our parish buildings represent. The fact that the doors stand open. What a miracle of love and communion our parishes really are.
A parish church means: More than anything else, we need God. Jesus Christ gives us God, and the Catholic Church gives us Christ, and this place gives us the Catholic Church. We walk in, and, without a word, we join an unbroken chain of love and friendship that began when the Son of God walked the earth.
The world boasts many languages and styles of art, music, and architecture. Some of us have traveled widely and seen a lot of parish churches. They look and smell somewhat different. But the differences sit on top of a single foundation. Altar, crucifix, tabernacle, and the padrecito. From Timbuktu to Kathmandu, from Nawlins to Djibouti: altar, crucifix, tabernacle, priest—I see them, and I know, Church, Christ, God right here.
Anybody see “Babette’s Feast?” The chef had a past. She had no pretensions of being perfect. She arrived in the remote town a hard-luck case. But she could cook; she produced a feast for her neighbors. A cosmopolitan visitor to the town had eaten her dinners before, in Paris. But the self-righteous natives held themselves aloof, disapproved of her. They would not eat the sublime feast that Babette had set before them. The movie brilliantly succeeds in making these self-righteous townspeople look like perfect fools.
Now, for good or ill, I get to stand at the center of the glorious, living mess that our parishes are, in our humble little cluster. From where I stand, I have to say, this is what people who ‘leave the church’ look like to me. They look like the fools who won’t eat the delicious dinner.
St. Paul says: Children obey your parents. And parents, be kind to your children. Slaves, obey your masters. And masters, treat your servants with kindness and respect. Because, at the banquet table of God, we are all servants, we are all children. We are all small.
Our parishes have not come into being as the work of any single individual. No single individual can keep them going or sink them. Our buildings are beacons of the Blessed Trinity; our life in them shares in the power of heaven. We each take our small place; we mortify our foolish, judgmental, proprietary pride; we let our egos be cut down to their proper size by jostling against our brothers and sisters; and we rejoice in the goodness and almighty power of God.