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.

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Portrait of Unity

fray hortensio portrait el greco

At Sunday Mass, we find ourselves in the middle of a three week tour of St. Paul’s treatise on love and unity. Next Sunday, Mass will be like a wedding. The second reading will be I Corinthians, chapter thirteen.

This Sunday, we hear the second part of the twelfth chapter, which contains one of the most entertaining passages in the entire Bible: Body parts begin talking to each other, like members of a self-pity support group.

The goofy-looking foot miserably laments, “I am not a hand, so I really don’t feel included!” The hand just sits there quietly, looking graceful and debonair.

Then the ugly, lumpy ear jumps in: “Look at me! I am not luminous and iridescent like the eye over here. So I just get shut off to the side and used as a kind of doorstop for people’s glasses!”

earLet’s focus on this: In writing this section of his letter, St. Paul focused his imagination on the human body with the meticulous eye of a portrait painter.

The portrait painter wants to capture the details of all the various parts of a person’s human form, in order thereby to present the unique and distinctive whole: the personality of this particular human being.

If you don’t mind, let’s take an example. My favorite portrait painter is El Greco (as you can tell, because he is in the Hall of Fame to the right). He painted a portrait of a friend of his, a priest and Trinitarian friar, whom the king of Spain had appointed preacher to the royal court.

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