The burning of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 2019 was a disaster for Paris, for art and for history. But it wasn’t a disaster for our faith. No building matters to us like the Temple of Jerusalem mattered for the Jews of Jesus’ day. The Temple stood at the center of their world. The Lord God of Israel Himself selected it as the site to meet Him. Only in the Temple could they present the year’s holiest sacrifices to the Lord.
The Temple had a size and beauty suited to its importance. Costly stones and precious metals adorned it. Even its landscaping was monumental. Its retaining wall used the fourth-largest stone block that human beings have ever cut and moved — 45 feet long, 570 tons. Near the end of His life, Jesus told people marveling at the Temple, “All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” The Temple’s duration, which seemed so certain, was uncertain.
What can we count on in a world with so much uncertainty?
Here’s one basic thing that is certain: The Lord is faithful. And here’s another thing that’s certain: Your faithfulness matters.
A mom and dad came to my parish years back when their parish church closed. Their children and grandchildren often pray near them. If that mom and dad had stopped going to Mass when their church closed, would their grandchildren be learning how to pray at Mass? Probably not. Jesus warned us that times would come that would test our faith. “It will lead to you giving testimony,” He said (Luke 21:13).
As we stay faithful to Jesus when our faith is tested, He fills us with the power of the Holy Spirit to tell others who God is and how He is faithful. Your faithfulness matters to others.
When St. Thomas More was in trouble, a friend urged him to do what so many respectable people do — just give the king what he wanted. As portrayed by the movie, “A Man For All Seasons,” St. Thomas More replied, “And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?” Jesus told His disciples, “By your perseverance, you will save your lives” (Luke 21:19). He was talking about perseverance in the faith and eternal life. The Lord is faithful, and here on earth my faithfulness to the Lord matters for whether I go to heaven or whether I go to hell. Here’s a second way your faithfulness matters: It matters for you.
At the end of Luke’s Gospel, there’s a story from the last hours of Jesus’ life. A dying thief, speaking from his cross where he was crucified next to Jesus, said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:41).
Jesus replied, “This day you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42).
I think about the story of the Prodigal Son, and how the father ran to meet his lost son. I think about how God wants to be our friend — not just a distant relative sending us Christmas cards or an acquaintance helping via Venmo, but our friend, who is with us in our joy and sorrow.
I wonder if the precise when, where and how Jesus’ life ended was so that the thief — that one man — could meet God and become His friend and get to heaven. God loves you like that; you matter to Him. And your choices matter to Him.
God loves everybody — that thief, you and me — unconditionally. He loves us whether or not we are faithful. He wants good for us, and the greatest good is to have God as our friend. Friendship is a two-way street. It grows from faithfulness on both sides. Your faithfulness matters to God because you matter to God.
Think of a humble church in St. Louis you love. Fifteen years ago, that church building’s future seemed certain: It would always be here. Perhaps today, having heard some of the draft plans for the All Things New planning process, you know your church building’s future is uncertain. That’s how things are where I go to church. In 15 years, maybe our church building will be there. And maybe not.
The walls of our churches hold so much history. For some of you, these are the places where you grieved your greatest losses or celebrated your greatest joys. Even if you, like me, have been at your current church building for just a little while, that building is where Jesus dwells, where week in and week out we meet Jesus. It’s unsettling and disconcerting for the future of the buildings to be uncertain.
If our time there ended, we would grieve. It would be right to grieve, because of the people the walls recall for us and how those people helped us. We wouldn’t have to hide, deny or fear our grief, because grief can be holy — if we let Jesus come into our grief to be with us.
Maybe that grief will come, or maybe you and I will be the ones welcoming new people who come grieving the loss of a place, history and community they loved. All that is uncertain. But here is something that is certain: No building matters to Christians like the Temple mattered to Judaism of Jesus’ day.
A parishioner once told me that to be with Jesus, we don’t even need a building. We could celebrate Mass on a table under a tree. Whatever happens to our buildings will not be a disaster for our faith.
What would be a disaster for our faith is if people stop going to Mass. So I invite you to make a resolution today, for the sake of victory, faith and perseverance. Tell Jesus that whatever the future brings, you will worship at Mass each week, as His faithful friend.
Father Aaron Nord is pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in St. Louis and Adjutant Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.