Beautiful Church

"I don't know what he's talking about.  I'm from New Jersey."
“I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’m from New Jersey.”

“This Temple has been under construction for 46 years!” (John 2:20)

King Herod ruled when the Lord Jesus was born. Herod’s son Herod “ruled” when the Lord was crucified. The earlier Herod had great vision and skill as a builder of magnificent buildings. He laid out the plans to transform the small, unassuming second Jewish Temple into the enormous complex that Jesus drove the oxen out of.

Anybody know what happened on February 22, 1987, and then on November 25, 2001? On those dates, the Bishop of Richmond solemnly dedicated the buildings of our cluster parish churches. It hadn’t taken a full 46 years to build either of them. But it took plenty of blood, sweat, and tears.

Anybody ever been to the National Shrine in Washington? Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Washington has one very significant thing in common with Rome. Both cities have one huge Catholic church, which everyone thinks is the cathedral, and then another large Catholic church, which actually is the cathedral.

The Pope's cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
The Pope’s cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica
The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is not the cathedral of Washington, D.C. Anybody know what the actual cathedral there is? Right, St. Matthew’s.

What exactly is a ‘cathedral’ anyway? To know that, we have to know what a ‘cathedra’ is. Anybody?

The cathedra is the seat from which a bishop teaches, sanctifies, and rules the Christian people of his diocese. Simply put, then, the cathedral is the bishop’s church.

Who is the bishop of Rome? Papa Francesco, of course–the world’s most beloved Italian-American. Everybody thinks St. Peter’s is his cathedral. But it isn’t. St. Peter’s Basilica is where St. Peter’s bones are. San Giovanni in Laterano is the pope’s cathedral. It’s on the other side of town, in a more ancient part of the city of Rome.

St. John Lateran took about ten years to build, originally. It was solemnly dedicated 1,690 years ago this Sunday. The church has undergone a few expansions and renovations since then, involving people like Michelangelo and Bernini.

Buildings can help us a great deal, since we are not wolverines; we are not jaguars; we are not caribou. We cannot spend all our time outside. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have places inside, where we can celebrate Mass. And it helps us pray when these places express our faith in their appointments and adornments.

Basilica of St. John Lateran
Basilica of St. John Lateran

But: The bottom line is, we need a good building to get together to pray in because, in fact, We are God’s building, His Temple.” The Church is not a building. The building is for the Church, to house Her and keep Her warm and dry. The Church is us, nosotros.

Us, united in one Body. United in faith and love. United in the joy of the Gospel. United in the peace that passeth understanding. The Body of Christ. The Heart of Christ unites all the members.

Did you know that our first reading for Sunday Mass, from the prophet Ezekiel, is actually about the Sacred Heart of Jesus? “The angel brought me to the Temple, and I saw water flowing out.” Does water flow out of the divine Heart of Jesus Christ? Yes, it does: a kind of fire-water.

Not Franklin-County firewater, but the fire-water that flows into the Dead Sea, and makes it fresh. The fire-water that flows, and every sort of living creature can multiply and live. The fire-water that flows, and, on the banks, fruit trees of every kind shall grow, with leaves that don’t fade, with fruit that doesn’t fail, and the fruit will serve for every kind of food and healing medicine.

This fire-water of heaven flows into us and makes us the Church. We see each other, and we see the most beautiful building, the most beautiful edifice ever constructed, God’s building.

sacredheartNow, maybe we are thinking to ourselves, like the dude in the Taco Bell Destiny commercial: “Wow. This priest is calling me some kind of ‘chosen one.’ But I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’m from New Jersey. God’s building? I’m lucky if I can get a good night’s sleep. I eat a lot of microwave burritos. I have to go to the bathroom just like everyone else. I hardly qualify as the Temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Ok. Yes, the Lord looks at us, and He sees poor, incorrigible sinners. Yes, He looks at us, and He sees works very much in progress, embryonic masterpieces that still need a lot of finishing-up.

But He also sees bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. He sees the Bride for Whom He gladly spread out His arms on the Holy Cross. He sees the members of the Body that His Sacred Heart beats for, to fill us with life.

To the divine Eye, nothing could be more beautiful than the dusty, wounded, struggling human race. Nothing could be more beautiful than us—gathered in His Church, believing in Him, hoping in His grace, loving with His love.

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