9th Sunday Ordinary Time 2011 : God's House

Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian o...Image via Wikipedia

After this weekend’s liturgy, the Church suspends Ordinary Time until July 3rd. 

This is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the  beginning  of that “joyful (?) season of Lent.” 

Clingstone House on a Rock Narragansett Bay off Jamestown from New York Times

Sunday Mass readings and reflections are here

Also a nice reflection  on today's readings here   from  Fr.Larry Gillick S.J.

Gospel : Matthew 7; 21-27

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord,  Lord,’
will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my  Father in heaven.

Many will say to me on that day,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your  name?
Did we not drive out demons in your  name?
Did we not do mighty deeds in your  name?’

Then I will declare to them solemnly,
‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you  evildoers.’

“Everyone who listens to these words of  mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his  house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the  house.
But it did not collapse; it had been set  solidly on rock.

And everyone who listens to these words  of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house  on sand.

The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the  house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”


In the weeks since the NZ earthquake , reflecting on today's Gospel and the dire straits that many churches including my own find themselves in, I have been asking myself what  sacred space means in our lives and what it means to be church and what the church means to people.
A lot has been swirling around and I would have liked more time to polish these reflections but I have had too much on this week and too little time so here is a fairly broad sweep of ideas around the topic. 
It is long , overlong, I know but as I won't be here for three weeks it is my only post during that time.

To begin with it is interesting to hear what the loss of their church through natural disaster meant to the people of New Zealand.

ONE of the savage ironies of the New  Zealand earthquake is that a city named Christchurch  abruptly lost so  many of its churches in the earthquake.
For 130 years, Christchurch Cathedral stood at  the centre of its city as a graceful monument to its heritage and civic  pride. It's decapitated spires and once - stately but now ruined belltower  became a symbol  of the city's anguish.stood tall through more than 100  years, a proud symbol of the community of Canterbury. Its collapse  was a traumatic body blow to that community.  Up to 22 people were buried beneath the tonnes of grey masonry  that tumbled down the belltower.
The first and only priorities  - for the Church,civic  leaders, for the whole country - was the citywide search for any last  survivors, and the grim task of recovering the bodies of those who did not make it.

But as the focus begins to shift to rebuilding the community, the  Cathedral emerged as a rallying point.
There is a gentle groundswell for the Cathedral to be rebuilt - not just  as a symbol of restoring the brick-and-mortar heart of the city, but as a symbol of restoring the human soul of the community.

Anglican Cathedral before and after earthquake

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said the city should aspire to that target.
Christchurch Catholic Cathedral after
earthquake shown below.


"We can't let it go," he said. "It does deserve to be rebuilt, stone by stone.. it is a symbol of all those that have gone before. We've lost a lot of things , but that is one we should not lose."

The world is a rockin' and in these times of uncertainty, when the winds and waves of change beat against the church, against our homes and our communities, we'd better be sure what we have built our faith upon.
The dean of the Christchurch Cathedral, Peter Beck, says he was not fussed about the stones and mortar of his church, including the landmark spire that slipped from its 200-year-old perch with devastating consequences.

With so many dead now confirmed, and perhaps more still unaccounted for beneath  the pancaked floors of the Canterbury Television and Pyne Gould Guinness  buildings, Christchurch is more concerned for its people than a steeple.Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe added his voice to the  calls : "As a Christchurch boy the Cathedral has always been part of my life and  has huge spiritual and physical symbolism for this city," he said.
  "When the time is right there is a place for it to be a new symbol of  this city's recovery.
 "Whether it is repaired, rebuilt, or replaced, the space it occupies in Cathedral Square will always be a focus of this city's hope and pride.Structural engineer John Hare, who inspected the Cathedral said: "It's been horrendously damaged, anyone can see that. But there's  hope for it. There's enormous willpower and determination to save it.  We'll do our absolute best."
The cathedral is the heart of the city, and the city has a broken  heart," the building's Dean, Peter Beck, said while looking at the  damage."One of my  tag-lines over the years has been that this cathedral has been a place  where all faiths - and none - can feel welcome and at home. It has been and in the future again it will be."

Resident Tina Macdonald,  55, who works at a motel and considers the building one of the city's  main draws.
"It's an icon," she said. "It was such a beautiful building inside,  and people would go there just to sit in the quietness."Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews said the cathedral would rise again and reclaim its place as the city's spiritual centre.Matthews said it's important not to value a building over the city's people.

"I never underestimate the importance of symbolism. The cathedral is  symbolic but it is not all that is important," she said. "The big  problem for this city is not the cathedral, it's the loss of so many  lives."

Not everyone wants the Cathedral to be rebuilt.
The comments section reveals the differing views and aspirations of people.
All this got me thinking about whether a house for God is really that important at all....
In the New Testament the house of God was referring to the Temple in Jerusalem, up until the death and resurrection of Christ.  After that point the house of God is not referred to very often. 

Instead the phrase  the "body of Christ" is used to indicate believers as they are considered more important than a mere building, however holy it was. But once again it is easier to approach this by examining what happens when a church or sacred place is no longer there.

In a moving reflection here on the loss of sacred space due to a fire which destroyed a chapel on a University campus in Virginia, Episcopal  minister Kathleen Staudt says this :

"We know that “the Church is not a building. . . .the church  is a people”  – but this grieving-time has invited more reflection, for me, on what  places mean to us, in a sacramental tradition.
We remember  sacred places, often, because of what happened here.  Every one of the  Welsh churches I saw was sacred to a saint who had a story. And as I  have spoken with grieving members of the community, I have heard  stories.  People remember the events that happened in the chapel: a classmate buried, an ordination, a profoundly memorable liturgy or sermon, the daily round of prayer that is part of community life and forms us. 

The sites would include, typically, a tiny grey-stone church,  with old  wood interior, silent yet filled with echoes of centuries of prayer. 

Beside the church, there is typically an ancient (and sometimes still  active) cemetery, together with a stream and a holy well.Their sacredness dates back to pre-Christian times and is often incorporated  somehow into the story of the saint of the place – for each one of these  places has a story attached to it. 

There is a sense that these  churches and tombstones and celtic crosses mark a holiness beyond what can be contained."

A religion that is entirely made up of  external practices has no point;  we see Jesus fighting against such a  religion everywhere in the Gospel.  But there should be no contradiction between a religion of signs and sacraments  and one that is intimate and personal; there shoud be no contradiction between ritual and soul and spirit.
The great religious geniuses  (Augustine, Pascal,  Kierkegaard, were men of a profound and  personal  interiority who were at the same time members of a community,  went to church, they “practised.”

Raniero Cantalamessa tells  this story in the “Confessions” of St. Augustine of the great Roman   philosopher Victorinus and his conversion to Christianity from   paganism. 

Now convinced of the truth of  Christianity he told the priest  Simplicianus: “You know I am already  Christian.” 
Simplicianus answered  him: “I will not  believe you until I see you in the church of Christ.” 

  Victorinus replied: “Is it the walls that make a Christian?” The   skirmish continued between the two. 

But one day  Victorinus read in the  Gospel these words of Christ: “Whoever disowns  me in this generation, I  will disown before my Father.” 

He  understood that it was his fear of what his academic colleagues would  say, that kept him from going  to church.

He  went to Simplicianus and said to him: “Let’s go to  church, I want to become a Christian.” 

Does  this story have  something to say to people of all cultures today too ?

The Catholic consciousness of  the community, of building the city of God has a long history.

There are those who bleakly predict that all churches will sink in the secular sand that seems to be the foundation of the post- modern world, and so some churches have tried to incorporate modern methods into their services 

 Although this article, "Why I Walked"  relates to an evangelical church member it also has deep meaning and rich lessons to be learnt for the Catholic church which is seeking to bring lapsed Catholics back to church in various parts of the world and is also re evaluating and rethinking its stance on how to evangelise in the twenty first century.

As one minister from her own church commented : 
"I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of Julie Neidlingers out  there .

Only a chapter earlier in today's  gospel Matthew records these words of Jesus : 
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust  destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves  treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

For where your treasure is, there  your heart will be also."

In reading through and studying the Sermon on the Mount over the past weeks, I have been challenged to really think through  this question and to evaluate if our churches  are seeking after self or whether they offer  a real, vibrant and expansive relationship with God that seeks to bring all to the table.

With regard to the church ; Where is our treasure buried ?
  Where is our heart? because where treasure is, there our hearts will be also.

Where is our focus? What are our eyes focused on? 

Are they focused on the seen or  the unseen or both ?

 “Who, or what, are we serving?”

 Below is an excerpt from an essay by author and theologian Ron Rolheiser which says so much that is important. (IMHO). entitled “A Heart with One Room,” and explores the  “fundamentalist  heart” – a way of being that Rolheiser contends is anti-Catholic, as  true Catholicism “speaks of a comprehensive embrace.”

According  to Rolheiser, “the opposite of Catholic is not Protestant,” but rather  “narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism,  factionalism, fundamentalism and ideology.”

Our age is witnessing an erosion  of Catholicism. The consequence of this, besides our drab somberness, is  a polarization which, both in the world and in the church, is rendering  us incapable of working together against the problems which threaten us  all. Let me explain.

We are, I submit, becoming ever less Catholic. What is implied  here? What is slipping? What does it mean to be Catholic?
The opposite of Catholic is not  Protestant. All Christians, Protestants or Roman Catholics, characterize  their faith as Catholic – as well as one, holy and apostolic.

The word Catholic means universal,  wide. It speaks of a comprehensive embrace. Its opposite, therefore, is  narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism,  factionalism, fundamentalism and ideology.

To my mind, the best definition of the  word Catholic comes from Jesus himself, who tells us: “In my Father’s  house there are many rooms” (John 14:2).

In speaking of the Father’s house,  Jesus is not pointing to a mansion in the sky, but to God’s heart. God’s  heart has many rooms. It can embrace everything. 

It is wide, unpetty,  open and antithetical to all that is factional, fundamentalistic and  ideological. It is a heart that does not divide things up according to  ours and theirs.
Nikos  Kazantzakis wrote: “The bosom of God is not a ghetto.” That is another  way of saying that God has a Catholic heart.

To affirm this, however, is not to say  that, since God is open to all and embraces all, nothing makes any  difference; we may do as we like, all morality is relative, all beliefs  are equal, and nobody may lay claim to truth.

There is a false concept of openness  which affirms that to embrace all means to render all equal. 

Jesus  belies this. 

He affirms the universal embrace of God’s heart without  affirming, as a consequence, that everything is OK. His Father loves everyone, even as he discriminates between right and wrong.

Catholicism can be spoken of as  slipping, in that, unlike God’s heart, more and more it seems, our hearts have just one room.

Today we are seeing a creeping narrowness and intolerance.  Fundamentalism, with its many types of ideology, has infected us. This  is as true in the secular world as in the church. Fundamentalism and the  narrowness and consequent polarization it spawns are everywhere. But  this needs to be understood.

We tend to think of fundamentalism as a conservative view  which takes Scripture so literally as to be unable to relate to the  world in a realistic way. But that is just one, and a very small, kind  of fundamentalism. We see fundamentalism wherever we see a heart with  just one room.

The  characteristic of all fundamentalism is that, precisely, it seizes onto  some fundamental value, for example the wisdom of the past, the divine  inspiration of Scripture or the importance of justice and equality, and  makes that the sole criterion for judging goodness and authenticity.

In that sense, the fundamentalist’s  heart has just one room – a conservative, liberal, biblical,  charismatic, feminist, anti-feminist, social justice, anti-abortion or  pro-choice room. It judges you as good, acceptable, decent, sincere,  Christian, loving and worth listening to only if you are in that room.

  If you are not ideologically committed to that fundamental, complete  with all the prescribed rhetoric and accepted indignations, then you are  judged as insincere or ignorant, and in need of either conversion or of  having your consciousness raised.

In the end, all fundamentalism is ideology and all  ideology is fundamentalism - and both are a heart with one room, a bosom that is a ghetto.

That is the real un-Catholicism."

Excerpted from “A Heart with One Room,” an essay in Ron  Rolheiser’s book, Forgotten  Among the Lilies(Image  Books, 2007).

 I came across the remarkable story of Clarence Jordan , a Baptist preacher who set up a community called the Koinonia Farm during the civil rights struggle in the 1950's and 60's . Women and men from any race, economic background lived and shared their income and ownership of property.

By all accounts Jordan Carpenter was a man of great vision and also had a wicked sense of humour:
Jordan was once being given a red-carpet tour of a brand new  church, which had spared no expense.
"You see that cross?" said thelocal preacher, "We paid ten thousand dollars for that cross alone!"

"Imagine  that!" said Clarence. "They used to give them to Christians for free!"

Commenting on the elaborate church facilities of the South he said that churches should spend at least as much money trying to house their brothers whom they have seen as they do trying to house God whom they have never seen.

It grieved him that the civil rights movement had achieved its main victories in the courts , not the churches :
"The thing that just burns my heart out is that the supreme court is making pagans more Christian than the Bible is making Christians Christians. the whole integration struggle is being fought not in the household of God but in the buses,depots and around the Woolorth tables in arguments about whether or not we can sit down and eat hamburgers and drink cokes together. We ought to be sitting around Jesus' tabledrinking wine and eating bread together... The sit-ins never would have been necessary if Christians had been sitting down together in church and at Christ's table all these many years."

The Koinonia farm never achieved the ideals of harmony that Clarence Jordan hoped for but it did survive despite attacks from the Klu Klux Clan and local boycotts and even excommunication by their own Baptist community whose racist views could not accept the work of Koinonia.

You can read more about this extraordinary man here

The Catholic church is deeply involved in development of health and education in all parts of the world and has been respected by civil governments of many persuasions as a leader in its teachings and work for social justice. It is because of its vast size that it can carry out  these works effectively across the globe.

Philip Yancey has a point when he says , " Christians sometimes describe their faith as a force that runs counter to culture. I wonder if we have it backwards. Perhaps The City of God is the culture and the city of this world is the counter culture. 
Jesus the revolutionary was setting up a normal pattern for life on  this planet . That he appears radical and got murdered for his beliefs says more about us than about Him."
When I examine my own life I have to ask myself whether my actions reflect more the values of this world than the values of the beatitudes.

When the monk Brother Laurence writes about practicing the presence of God it seems as if much of the world  barely practices God's existence let alone God's presence.

In countries with a heritage of Christianity, freedom,democracy, medical care, education, charity, and profound respect for the care and sanctity of the individual are things we take for granted and churches have always been at the forefront of such work. Christianity does not always live up to its ideals but that does not mean the message is redundant."

So many questions come to mind when I think of what Jesus is saying in  the gospels.

Is our church too earthly-minded or too heavenly-minded?

Does it  invest too heavily in the future eternity to come, or too little in the here and now? 
Is it so fearful of change that it is reverting to entrenchment in antiquated outworn practices?

Are we its members enthralled with the temporary versus the permanent or vice versa?

We are not on earth to guard a  museum,
but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

- Pope John XXIII

Jesus uses the house built on sand and the rock to show how the things we deem most important are only temporary.

The Vatican City, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church,  is the world's smallest country but in numbers has significantly more followers than all other Christian denominations  combined.
"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot  lose.” 
Every piece of you and me is forged in the fire of God;s love and we need to build his house wherever it is.

When St Francis heard the word Francis rebuild my church
he took it literally.
This is a fine reflection on what that means for us today titled "Christ's words to St. Francis, `Repair my Church,' apropos for today."
This article on modern church architecture is well worth a read too.
 I posted this video a while back ( an all time favourite of mine) but I know quite a few others liked it too and as it fits this gospel theme today I'm posting it again !

This time however I'm indulging you with FOUR video excerpts  from Zefirelli's Brother Sun and Sister Moon ; before and after his little church in Assisi is built and the scenes where Francis visits Pope Innocent III in the grander environs of The Vatican.
I always end up grappling with these two visions of the church. 
My Franciscan heart tells me take nothing for the journey, keep it small and beautiful. 
But the challenges of the world we live in require complex solutions. Part of me loves the fact that the Catholic church can accommodate the vision of St Francis within it's vast domes . 
I don't know what the future of the church will be but I hope for change and renewal.

"If you want your dream to be, build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings greater ends,
heartfelt work grows purely. 
If you want to live life free take your time, go slowly. 
Do few things but do them well; single joys are holy.
Day by day, stone by stone, build your secret slowly.
Day by day, you'll grow too.
You'll know heaven's glory."

 Part One

 Part Two

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