NINETEENTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019
So what about the treasures that we store up? It seems that we put much effort into maintaining those things that will not long-lasting in the history of humankind. We struggle to keep intact well-recognized world treasures somehow thinking that we will have the pyramids, the Four Faces on Mount Rushmore, or the Mona Lisa forever. However, natural things, like Chimney Rock, eventually erode and disappear. Therefore, it is unrealistic to believe that we can preserve human creations forever. Fires, wars, robberies, terrorist activities, and even age causes the decimation of these most precious of our worldly treasures. The eight hundred year Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris that was severely damaged due to a fire earlier this year shows how faulty our beliefs are about the longevity of human treasures.
As humans, we take pride in the expressions of beauty that are on display in our world, both natural and human. We make every effort to preserve these majestic sights for either they are formed by the hand of God or are inspired by the grace of God. Therefore one of the common efforts on the part of Catholics is to preserve beautiful churches that represent glorious monuments to God using products of the natural world and shaped into forms to praise and honor him.
One of the challenges in the American Catholic Church today is the consolidation of parishes with the corresponding loss of the religious art associated with many of these churches. These ongoing reorganizations are occurring for several reasons. One is that there are in some rural and urban areas a Catholic Church every five miles or so. The relative closeness of these parishes was necessary at a time when transportation was limited to walking or by horse. Now, instead of sharing resources, the independent attitude of parishes results in the unnecessary replication of many ministries. Certainly, the decrease in the number of active priests requiring the sharing of priests between parishes is a reason to reduce the number of churches. Another significant consideration in the consolidation of churches is the decline in the number of parishioners in each one of these parishes. With these reasons and others, finances have become a driving factor for dioceses in deciding how many parishes to keep open.
The closing a parish or consolidation with another parish is especially hard on families who have attended a specific church for generations. The ancestors of a current family’s ancestors often scraped together money over time, to build a church by hand in reverence for their Lord and Savior. It is in this church where families received their Sacraments starting with Baptism. This is the church where a family member’s funeral Mass was held and is buried in the adjacent cemetery. It is within the four walls of the church where one’s family and religious history resides. Therefore, the resistance to altering the sacred part of a family past is often not well received. As an example of the importance in the connections that people place on churches, one woman that I met in my travels refuses to attend Mass since her childhood church was torn down.
If one stops to consider this extreme response to a building, this seems somewhat confusing. The faithful of Paris did not stop attending Mass because they could not go to Notre Dame. If the Vatican were to suddenly destroyed, we would mourn the loss of the central church of Catholics, but our faith would continue. It is not an individual building that determines our Catholic faith. When we place earthly things, even a church, as being equal to Jesus, it is time to re-evaluate our priorities. It is ultimately the belief in the Words and the Sacraments of Jesus that are our treasures.
Yes, the grandeur of a church provides us with a space to worship and recognize that all we have belongs to God. However, remember that nothing in a church, except the small pieces of concentrated bread that have become the body of Christ truly is God. All else are only representations of the Trinity and the Saints to assist us in our prayers to the Creator. We should not fret so much on these worldly interpretations lest these stones, wood, metal, and paint become a replacement for Jesus.
The things of this earthly life that we place value on will eventually come to an end. To live, as if they won’t are leanings towards idolatry-false gods that offer nothing lasting for us. It is the building up of the Church, made of his faithful people; this is our real wealth.
It is the treasures of heaven that are our lifeblood of faith. Jesus wants us to focus on the riches that last forever. Let us, therefore, be diligent, assuring that we do not substitute any imitations for our lasting relationship with the Lord.
Deacon Dan Gilbert