Dedication of the Church
Today’s feast of the dedication of the church of John Lateran in Rome
in 324 gives us, the church of St Mary of the Angels in Roxbury Massachusetts in 2008 the opportunity to remember our past,
celebrate our present and open ourselves to the future. That sounds a lot like this past week: remembering the past struggles
of the many who dedicated themselves to civil rights and voting rights and put their lives on the line, dreaming the impossible
dream, celebrating a dream come true with the election of the first African-American president this past week and opening
ourselves to a future that claims that all men and women are created equal.
Remembering our past, celebrating our present and opening ourselves to the
Since I’ve been here at SMA I’ve been doing some reading about
the history of this church building. Thanks to your 100th anniversary celebration it’s an easy read to get the highlights
of a history that begins with the dedication of this church in 1906. One of the things I found that was so interesting for
me personally was that the reason for the foundation of the church was the needs of Irish domestics in the neighborhood, the
poor immigrant working in the homes of the wealthy. This is the same reason that St Ignatius was begun: to respond to the
needs of Irish domestics, immigrants in need of pastoral care. And of course the interesting part of the building of this
church is the question “why didn’t anyone finish the work that had begun”? You know the history, the pastor
deciding that the demographic change with the influx of the Jewish community was reason to “move on out”. Leave
the work unfinished.
Good thing or not so good thing? Not so good thing in that the man lacked
vision. He was myopic, shortsighted. He must never have shared the vision of the prophet Ezekiel of water flowing from the
source of this temple, producing beautiful fruit in the neighborhood, being a source of comfort and solace, being an anchor
in the community that would celebrate and suffer much. (Speaking of Ezekiel’s vision of water flowing out from the temple,
all I’ve ever seen in the churches I’ve worked in is water flowing in and not out, flooded basements etc.)
Not such a good thing. Not such
a good thing in that his lack of vision reflected the Church’s own prejudice against our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Not such a good thing.
A good thing? God works in wonderful ways? It’s pretty clear to me
that those who have dedicated themselves to the life of the parish, who have prayed, celebrated, laughed and wept in this
Holy space, know that they are the church. As St Paul says. You are God’s building. You the people of God, brothers
and sisters in Christ, built on the foundation of Christ. You’ve got to dedicate yourselves to the building up of the
church because that is who you are. This may be a building where the water flows
in but it’s a people of God where the spirit flows out because we are all called to be who we are, God’s holy
What we celebrate today in our present is not only a building of bricks and
mortar, a sacred place of encounter with God and each other but also the living stones of flesh and blood people who are called
to be church and dedicate their lives to it. What we hear today is that the church is not just a building, it is not the Institution
but it is the people of God.
But there is a caveat, a "be careful", don’t get too comfortable or
too self congratulatory. Or Jesus might come and turn the tables on us. In the gospel Jesus challenges the institution that
has been constructed in the temple, the market, the money-changing, the buying and selling for God’s sake. Jesus challenges
the authorities to be faithful to the command of loving God and neighbor. “My house is a house of prayer and you have
made it a den of thieves.”
So what’s the danger for us? There are no money-changers (only money
counters)here. There are no sheep
and oxen, except the larger than life nativity figures stored in the back hallway, and maybe a few mules, (I include myself)
The danger is that we make an institution of ourselves. This is the way things
are. This is the way things have always been. This is the way things will always be. If you want to be part of us, you have
to remake yourselves in our image. This is always a danger for human beings, carving things in stone. Thanks be to God for
God’s holy spirit that is always moving, challenging us to become more, to see more, to expand our vision.
November 9, 2008