Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica — the pope’s cathedral — this week (Nov. 9). Interestingly, the Church’s theological reflection for the day focuses on the building as an allegory for the people: “Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this building to be … Just as you enter this church building, so God wishes to enter into your soul, for He promised: I shall live in them, and I shall walk the corridors of their hearts.”
I think it’s fair to ponder our beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis along the same lines. Each of the mosaic tiles in the cathedral is made individually and placed individually, just as each of us is made individually by God, and placed individually by God in history. No one tile tells the whole story but, all together, they draw people into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Likewise, one word and one action at a time, each of us can tell people about Jesus, and draw others into His life. If we miss the connection between the building and the person, we miss one of the reasons the cathedral was built.
The readings for the feast day all focus on the Temple. But there’s a transformation in how the Temple is considered. And that transformation has particular importance for us today.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Temple was a particular building: the center of Jewish worship, and the place where God dwelt in a special way. In the Gospels, Jesus is the new Temple — the new center of worship, and the new place where God dwells in a special way. After the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, every baptized Christian becomes a living temple of God. That’s why St. Paul can say: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” And that’s why St. Peter says: “Come to Him, a living stone … and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”
At each stage of salvation history God builds a “temple” in a way that’s appropriate to that stage, and that draws the people deeper into His life. The question becomes: what is God trying to build in our time, to draw people deeper into His life, and how do we cooperate with that project?
That is exactly the question we’re asking in our pastoral planning process.
There can be a tendency to look back and disparage the past and want to throw it out. There can also be a tendency to idolize the past and want to return to it. I think both are mistakes. Instead, we should learn from the past, and apply its lessons moving forward.
From the 1920s to the 1950s we built a lot of buildings and opened a lot of new parishes and schools. And that was appropriate to the needs of the time! The needs of our time are different. I hope we can bring just as much zeal to meeting the needs of our day as our forebears did to meeting the needs of their day. They left behind something beautiful for us. Can we sense the transformation that God is working now, and help to build a new kind of beauty?