Sometimes certain inspirations come in prayer when I am able to find some quiet time alone in the church building. (Actually, I realize that I am never really alone there when I am with Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament.) However, there are occasional times when no people are physically in the building besides me.
While there I thought about exactly what a church building meant to various peoples throughout global and local history. I remembered praying at the Wailing Wall—the remnant of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. I recalled walking through the streets of Warsaw and admiring the restoration of some of the magnificent churches destroyed during World War II. Then I thought about my visiting the church of St. Blaise in Dubrovnik, Croatia which was subsequently shelled and seriously damaged during the Bosnian War. My mind flashed to the little mission church of St. John in Mizpah, NJ that was consumed in a winter night’s fire. Having been to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome a number of times--a structure that symbolizes Catholicism to the world--I knew that the current structure was not the first one actually built on that particular sight.
So what is the common thread linking all of these places? The buildings themselves--all of which having been either damaged, destroyed or rebuilt--are not and will never be everlasting, eternal or indestructible. They are part of this world and as such they are very much destructible and essentially temporary.
Lest we forget, it is the immortal soul of the human person that will outlive any building, can rise intellectually above any skyscraper and can miraculously rebound from the pervasive evils that continually attempt to destroy it.
Let’s apply this to the current situation within the Diocese of Camden where some church buildings might potentially be closed, some parishes be merged and various communities of Catholic people are asked to come together and share resources. What is more important? Retaining the limited turf, rallying around a destructible building or treating the human person with an immortal soul with respect and dignity? Did Christ choose to become a building or a human person? Did Christ die to save a building or to save the human person from sin and death?
Truth be told, I have nothing whatsoever against any church building. No church building has ever screamed at me or attacked me. No church building has ever questioned my integrity. No church building has ever trashed our Bishop, shown him complete disrespect as a Successor of the Apostles, or disregarded his legitimate authority. No church building has ever gossiped. “If only those walls could talk. . . .“ But they never do. In fact, no church building has ever lied, murdered, stolen, committed adultery, aborted its child, etc. etc. No, the church building is no threat to me in any of these ways.
What about the people? In fact, our Catholic Church is made up of people--the People of God. We, as Christians, are members of the Body of Christ. Are we perfect and sinless? Far from it. Are we guilty of hurting one another? Unfortunately, far too often. Yet, Christ chose to become one of us. And to die for us.
And Christ offers us the possibility of eternal life. Even when our human bodies die, St. Paul tells us that God has a place for us in heaven. “For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.” (2Cor 5:1)
And so I sit quietly in this building thinking, praying, and reflecting. Most times it’s much easier to deal with the building. Nothing personal.
Fr. Ed Namiotka