Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Living Stones

Sr. Domenica and Sr. Susan map out their market visit
for the next day.
Sister Susan John Kraus and Sister Domenica Sabia have a much-loved gift in our Boston community: They have a knack for getting food donated. About two dozen meat, fish, and produce suppliers generously donate from their warehouses weekly or monthly to help keep body and soul together. In a house of nearly 70 sisters, all of whom are in formation, or work in Pauline Books & Media publishing, or occupy our infirmary, or govern the province of the U.S. and English-speaking Canada, that’s one gift that keeps on giving.

Especially in the dessert department. The two sisters are always ready to bring out the ice cream at the slightest provocation. Like today. It took the community by surprise, since gelato is usually reserved for Sundays and celebrations. “So what’s the occasion?” we asked each other at lunch. “What’s today?” Oh yes, St John Lateran.

Say what? The Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome is one of those few feast days on the Church’s calendar that require some digging before its value is even minimally appreciated. When we do invest the time, the yield is rich. So let’s take out our shovels….

To do that, I’m going to cheat a little. Several of us wrote two-page reflections on the liturgy’s daily Gospel readings, which we published in book form over the past two years as a “Grace” series: Advent Grace, Easter Grace, etc. Following is the excerpt I wrote on today’s feast, from Ordinary Grace: Weeks 18-34, published last year. It takes its inspiration from John 2:13-22, Jesus cleansing the Temple. Since it follows a lectio divina-style format, it’s divided into a meditation, a prayer, and a thought to carry us through the day:
Why on earth do we celebrate a building? Granted, as the pope’s cathedral on Lateran Hill, it’s “the first church in Christendom.” Not even iconic St. Peter’s Basilica claims as much. But it’s still just stone and bronze. Today isn’t even a saint’s day: there is no St. John Lateran. The church is named after John the Baptist, whose feast is June 24.

Not long ago, a language student in Rome managed to make it to St. John Lateran for the evening high Mass on this very day. Afterward, she exited the central door, which had been opened for the occasion. Since the crowd had dissipated, she turned back for a last glance. The lights in the apse had remained on—another rarity. The high altar throbbed with the glow, and the blaze coursed down the nave and spilled out onto the darkened piazza, into the world and its ways.

Suddenly that basilica, like every church, symbolized for her the pulsing life of Christ’s risen body, that John alludes to in today’s Gospel. Jesus stands prophetically in his Father’s purified Temple and dares his challengers, aghast at his affront, to keep him down. Their ripening hatred would only provide the way for God to unleash the Spirit onto the world, and humankind would once again become a living being (cf. Gn. 2:7)—only this time it would be Christ’s body, extended far beyond their wildest dreams.

It is this body, represented by the liturgical assembly, that gives life to a church. The Church, the body of Christ, can exist without buildings, but it can never exist without this assembly. Conceived on the cross and in the empty tomb, it is born in Baptism and takes shape in the Eucharist. “…we were all baptized into one body” (1Cor. 12:13); “…we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1Cor. 10:17). Now that’s something to celebrate.

Jesus, Paul reminds us that your Spirit dwells in us as in a temple (cf. 1Cor. 3:16). Like St. Augustine, who urged us to be what we are, Paul speaks to us not as islands, but as Christians together, your body. Your risen body is glorified. Let that Spirit-filled body be the way for our faith, our conversations, our decisions, and our mutual love and care, as together we make our way to glory. May those who see our “body” see yours, be blessed with your presence, and come to share fully in this unity.

“You are the temple of God” (1Cor. 3:16).
I’ve often heard people say, “I’ve been so hurt by the Church, I don’t want to have anything to do with it anymore.” Hurt is real, and it takes courage and time to journey through the healing process. Anyone who is daily involved in the life of the Church can tell you: The more intimately you live with and work with the rest of the Church, the more you’re going to get wounded by her--and the greater are the chances that you'll wound others. Anyone who’s been in a relationship will tell you that that’s what happens when you love and trust; you get hurt. Whether you stay hurt, that is, whether or not you deliberately nurse that anger and alienation, depends on generosity of heart and the willingness to renew faith and pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Loving the Church doesn’t require warm and fuzzy feelings, but determination to stay with her, support her, and share in her mission in the world. Hopefully the warm-and-fuzzies come often enough to make that commitment a little more tender.

Main door at the Church of the Divine Master, Rome.
It's the church of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master,
one of the ten branches of the Pauline Family.

Whether they recognize it or not, the men and women at “the market” collaborate with us in the same mission—building up the body of Christ. This is the Church; this is the mission of the Church. Each with our different gifts and resources, receives from God and gives back to God, then receives again and again. As St. Peter put it, we are, “living stones” being built up into the temple of God and so, we “taste that the Lord is kind and merciful” (1Peter 2:3ff.). St. Paul experienced that, too. In leaning on the Corinthians’ generosity for a collection, he made a firm declaration of trust when he told them that God, who “supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also provide your seed, cause it to multiply, and increase the yield of your righteousness” (2Cor. 9:10).

We pray daily for our friends, donors, and “benefactors”—those who “do good” to us and with us, which is what benefactor literally means. Who are those people in your life? May they be blessed with even more goodness, a mirror of the Father’s kindness, and taste God’s mercy here and in eternity.

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