Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

This would be a great time to talk about the Lateran Basilica if I had ever been to Rome. But I have been to our two churches and I love them.  It is a good week to talk about churches as we honor the Mother Church of all Christendom.

The actual church building is obviously not as important as what they contain. The Church is the People of God and nothing is more important than the community that grows within it.  But churches are important.  You taught me that.  I know that from our merger process a couple of years ago.  When we had our town meetings the first question would be “Which Church are you going to close?”  I would say, “We are not going to close either Church.”  Then the second question would be, “Well, in five years which Church are you going to close?”  I would answer, “We are not going to close either Church?”  Then after the meeting, someone would come up to me, put their arm around me and whisper, “Seriously, which Church are you going to close?”  I would put my arm around them and, “We are not going to close either Church.”

The buildings matter because they are a home to us unlike any other. They matter because we associate them so closely with the most important moments of our life.  Nothing is quite like a church.  We can be more defensive of our church than our own homes.   One time, I won’t say at which church, someone drove slowly toward me and lowered the passenger side window as you would to say hello to a friend.  I came over all smiley-pastor like and the driver yelled out, “That is the ugliest church I have ever seen!”  I almost jumped through the window.

That said, I have certainly made aesthetic judgments about certain architectural choices. There is nothing snobbier than a priest walking into a church the first time.  But whatever a church looks like, the people of that parish love it.

Yes, we love our churches, but I would suggest that we love them for what has happened in them. As beautiful as the stained glass, baptismal font or vaulted ceiling may be, what we truly love is that this is the place where grace flowed into our lives.  We love them for what they stand for and as nothing beautiful escapes our attention in someone we love, so we see beauty in our churches.

We love or churches because at this font our child was baptized. We love them because we remember or look forward to that day when we stand around this altar ready to receive their first communion.  We remember at the foot of the sanctuary we said our vows to each other from this day forward.  In the front row we held hands during the Our Father at our loved one’s funeral.  Or that sacred space where someone tentatively comes into Church for the first time in years, waiting to hear a word as they wonder if it will still resonate.  These memories are so profound, they run so deeply, they melt into the walls and speak as eloquently of its beauty as anything designed or built.

But it is not enough for these walls to hold our prayers and memories and blessings. These walls must sing.  They must sing of the justice we intend to bring.  They must sing of the joy we share.  They must sing of the peace we are flooded by.  These walls must sing and radiate so that the power of what occurs in here and all this place represents shakes our neighborhood and the world.  Here is the place where we hear God’s word, let us make it a reality out there.  Here is the place where we receive the body and blood of Christ; let us be the body of Christ out there.  Here is the place where we feel the warmth and protection of community; shouldn’t we strive to make all feel that way?

Then all will see our church as beautiful for as they pass by they will say that is where my friend was comforted, and that is where they come from to feed the needy and that is where we were welcomed and made to feel special. That is what makes our churches beautiful.  That is how they sing.  That is why they matter.