“Because zeal for your house has consumed me, I am scorned by those who scorn you” (Ps 69:10).
Of course, we probably recognize this psalm more from its use in John’s Gospel (2:13-22) when Jesus overturns the tables of the money-changers. But it raises a question for us: How much zeal do you have for God’s house?
I admit that, this past Sunday, I lacked enough zeal to stay and help take down the Christmas decorations after the last Mass. After all, there was a playoff game. (I hope that there were enough with the zeal to get all those wreaths and ribbons put away easily.)
That does raise a question: What level of zeal does each of us have for keeping the house of God looking its best?
I know someone working in a parish who bemoans how people seem to have no respect for the building. He is often cleaning spilled milk from pew cushions, ground cereal from the carpet and footmarks off the backs of pews. The height of it — or depth — came after Christmas Eve Mass; he found a dirty diaper stuffed under a back pew.
Phew is right.
Most of us would never have that little regard for our churches. After all, most of us feel just as the U.S. bishops did when they issued, “Built of Living Stones,” Art, Architecture and Worship” in 2000.
“Just as the term ‘church’ refers to the living temple, God’s people, the term ‘church’ also has been used to describe ‘the building in which the Christian community gathers to hear the word of God,’” the bishops wrote, “to pray together, to receive the sacraments, and celebrate the Eucharist.
“That building is both the house of God on earth (domus Dei) and a house fit for the prayers of the saints (domus ecclesiae).”
We may not always think of ourselves as saints, but the bishops want us to remember that, in God’s house, we are called to act as saints. That includes acting as custodians of the physical church.
Most of us contribute regularly to the upkeep of our churches. Many of us serve on cleaning committees, vacuuming carpets or polishing pews. Others are part of the environment committees that decorate for the liturgical seasons. And, after the final Mass each Sunday, there are always people who check each pew for any misplaced missals or leftover prayer papers.
There is always something we can do, no matter how small.
First of all, we shouldn’t expect the staff to clean up our messes. We all know that things happen, especially with small children. We just need to do for the church whatever we would do if that mess happened in our own houses — or say at our in-laws’ house.
Next, when you’re in church, ask yourself what you can do to make it a more beautiful place and make being in it a more peaceful worship experience. Priests and staff shouldn’t need to remind us and bulletin notes shouldn’t be necessary. If you bring a guest, set an example. If a child is with you, keep an eye on things. If a visitor needs help cleaning up something, step forward.
Caring for God’s house can mean something as small as wiping our feet of snow and ice as we come inside, or not putting handprints on glass doors as we leave. It could mean joining a building and grounds committee, or volunteering to clean the church once a month. It might mean donating a little extra each week — just a dollar or two — for cleaning supplies.
After all, we are the living stones that build our local churches — saints in the temple of God.