The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.
A 2010 visit to St. Joseph Parish in Ridgeway, Ill., reminded me of my own parish of Most Blessed Sacrament in Oshkosh, in particular its St. Mary site church. There I saw the same, intricately carved, wooden high altar, soaring painted arches and authentic stained glass windows. I felt at home.
In February of 2012, that church was demolished by a tornado. Although they have since rebuilt (as St. Kateri Church) the grandeur of the old church could not be recovered or reproduced.
Look around your church. At one time, a group of people got together and said, “We are going to build something beautiful to the glory and honor of God.” Perhaps your gaze will fall upon a hand-carved altar or a hand-chiseled stone statue. You might look upon light streaming through a 100-year-old stained glass window bearing a family name familiar to you. Maybe you will notice holy water trickling into a marble baptismal pool.
As awesome as you find your church building, the Scriptures today remind us that material things are vanity and, like St. Mary church in Ridgeway, can be destroyed in a matter of seconds.
Over the years the word “church” has come to mean the building where we meet. Someone may say, “I’m going to church,” meaning the building. Jesus admonishes us to remember that the church is not the glorious building where we gather for worship, to receive the sacraments or in times of great sorrow or blissful joy. The church is a people, a believing assembly, the body of Christ. When we pass from this life, Jesus will not ask to see a picture of the church we helped build or support, he will ask how we built ourselves into his church.
This Sunday, look at the decorative cover on the Book of Gospels and consider if you treat your own body as a holy place for God’s word. As you listen to the words of Scripture proclaimed from the beautiful ambo, ponder the ways you allow God’s holy word to rest in you.
As the gifts of bread and wine are presented in lovely containers of glass or gold, ask yourself if you desire to be in service to the church. As you gaze upon the altar and listen to the powerful words of the eucharistic prayer proclaimed, look deeply into your own heart. Ask yourself if you are willing to place your own life upon that altar as an offering to God.
Look at the people gathered with you, each one has been called to be part of a strong foundation of faith for your parish. Remember, Christ has called them to this work — even if you do not feel they are worthy of the call. Equally important, remember that Christ has also called you to this work — even if you feel unworthy.
We are the living stones of God, profoundly united to Christ, who is the rock of support. What then, does this mean? Jesus makes us holy. Jesus offers us mercy and forgiveness when we fail that holiness. Jesus molds us into his living stones and empowers us to build up a church that makes a difference in the world.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.