Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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It’s Just a Building

September 30th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

“How lovely are your tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! 3 My soul longs and faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. 4 For the sparrow has found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God. 5 Blessed are they that dwell in your house, O Lord: they shall praise you for ever and ever. 6 Blessed is the man whose help is from you: in his heart he has disposed to ascend by steps, 7 in the vale of tears, in the place which he has set. 8 For the lawgiver shall give a blessing, they shall go from virtue to virtue: the God of gods shall be seen in Sion. 9 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. 10 Behold, O God our protector: and look on the face of your Christ. 11 For better is one day in your courts above thousands. I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners. 12 For God loves mercy and truth: the Lord will give grace and glory. 13 He will not deprive of good things them that walk in innocence: O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusts in you.” (Psalm 84)

This is, without a doubt, my favorite of all the psalms. Whenever I read it, whenever it appears in the Mass or the Divine Office, even when it is referenced in passing on the internet or in my other reading, I always feel profoundly touched by it. I can’t help but think, “This is my prayer.”

And then my thoughts expand, and I come to realize that it is the prayer of so many of my friends, my acquaintances, my fellow Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester. Of course, all Catholics, and probably all Orthodox Christians, too, find this psalm particularly beautiful. We have maintained in our worship a sense of the sacrifice of old. When we go to Mass, we see the unbloody re-enactment of Calvary and then receive our risen Lord in Holy Communion. Upon the altar of sacrifice, our King deigns to come down to dwell with us. It is in our churches, be they grand or not, modern or old, beautiful or ugly, we see the sacrifice of that Worthiest of Lambs, and not for His own gain, but for ours.

It is for this reason that churches are sacred, for they become our Calvaries, they become the tomb, they become the tabernacles of the Most High. We spend our Sundays, not in our pew or in our seats, but at the foot of the Cross, keeping vigil with Our Lady. When we return from Communion, we are retracing the steps of St. Mary Magdalene, with the news “He lives!” in our hearts. When we leave the church and head to the parking lot, we become like so many disciples who traveled to the ends of the earth to spread the Gospel, inspired and emboldened by that Miracle of Miracles, the Holy Mass.

Why, then, are we told that when our church closes, when it succumbs to schism and dissent, that we mustn’t worry? “It’s just a building.” Yes, it is “just a building,” and Our Lord is present in the tabernacle down the street, but the church serves a purpose more Godly than merely existing to give shelter to the faith community. When we move, there is a sense of loss, be it great or minor, but it’s there nonetheless. The memories of the old house, the musty apartment, the basement “pad” suddenly seem like a precious commodity, something that is special and cherished, not so much because the recollections are so great, but because they can never be augmented. They are the only things linking us to what we have experienced for the past five, ten, twenty, or forty years.

The same is true of our churches. Rationally, yes, we can start worshiping in another building. It’s the same Mass, the same Lord, the same Faith – just a different building. But there is something more profound about losing a church than, say, moving across the city or relocating to a different state. “It’s just a building,” that beloved phrase of our pastoral planning committees, dismisses the richness of our experiences that we had at our spiritual homes. It is offensive that these people think that summarizing such a complex situation into such a trite phrase might actually heal our wounds. When we experience spiritual pain, when our churches are ripped from us, when our parishes become havens of heresy, the pain we experience is profound. Just as our Lord cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My soul is sorrowful unto death. Is there any pain like unto my pain?” so too do our souls cry out in bitter anguish.

And we are not pierced by sorrow for the loss of a building – we are crushed because our nest has been thrown down and trampled upon, our tabernacles ransacked. “The sparrow has found herself a house,” but we find ourselves exiles. When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, do you think that the scribes and pharisees said, “It’s just a building”? No – they saw it as sacrilege, that the House of God should be thus treated by vandals and enemies of Faith. They didn’t fall back upon cheap platitudes like, “God’s everywhere, just look around.” No. They wept. They mourned. They were scattered.

For some of us, this might seem overly dramatic. Others, though, will understand. When you give your heart to God, you must know that in doing so, you take your place beside Our Lady, looking upon her suffering Son. And no two of these personal Calvaries are the same. It doesn’t matter where you experience it, for it is certain that at some point, sooner or later, you will. When you love the Church, you must be ready to have your own heart pierced like Our Lady. You must be ready to embrace the cross wherever it is given to you, and to accept every splinter that enters you.   “Blessed is the man whose help is from you: in his heart he has disposed to ascend by steps, in the vale of tears, in the place which he has set.”

Some people who are intimately acquainted with such things are forced to be out of necessity – the church is closed, either legitimately or because of some imagined debt, ecclesial or financial. Other people are given a altogether different experience, wherein the building itself remains, but becomes a den of sacrilege. But like the psalm says, one day in the courts of the Lord is, indeed, better than a thousand elsewhere. I speak only for myself when I say that I cannot endure the willful dissent of people who profess to defend the Church, but whose actions betray a sinister agenda. Administrations come and go, churches are closed and built, but disobedience has always existed and will always exist. And it will exist everywhere, be it in Rochester, New York, Billings, Montana, Miami, Florida, or even Columbia, South Carolina. If one were to leave one city for another, it isn’t to escape the cross, but it ought to be realize that it is in order that he might pursue it. Likewise, when people leave a parish whose building is intact but the administration has changed, they leave because they cannot stand the pain of seeing the lance thrust into Our Lord’s side. They leave because, like Our Lord, their souls are “sorrowful unto death,” wounded through love of Him who loves us so much.

Do not condemn those who flee as cowards. Do not see their departures as abandonments. All they are doing is responding to their call as best as they know how. We are not all called to suffer in this way, but for those who have apparently been called to do so, we must realize that we “have chosen to be abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners.” It isn’t about playing the part of the martyr, or following the easy path. Nor is it about going where things are prettier, or hearing Mass where it looks nicer. What it is about is responding to that constant urging in your heart to follow Him. When Catholics leave a parish, a city, a diocese, they leave their spiritual home. For some, their vocations may have been nurtured on the steps of their parish church, or roused to liveliness in the pews. To leave that home is not an easy thing, nor is it desirable, but it is often necessary in order to answer what God desires, and put the desires of our fellows in their appropriate places.

And so, when we are told that we shouldn’t weep, that we shouldn’t protest, that we shouldn’t complain when things don’t go our way because, “it’s just a building,” know that we are right. We aren’t so stupid as to think that the Faith is restricted to a building or a diocese. We do know that the Faith is restricted to those who observe it. Faith is dead when individuals proceed to alter it for their own satisfaction, and churches die when this mentality reigns. We know it’s not about the building – it’s about Him whom the building exists to serve.

For God loves mercy and truth: the Lord will give grace and glory. He will not deprive of good things them that walk in innocence: O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusts in you.”

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4 Responses to “It’s Just a Building”

  1. avatar brother of penance says:

    Gen, thank you so very much for depicting the beauty of a human heart filled by grace with the most wondrous, majestic, and indescribable Beauty of the Eternal God for whom edifices of Catholic worship are built.

    Your own devotion to Our Great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is so very evident.

    Please know that your words stir my heart to remember.

    I will remember this entry’s words when in Church at Holy Mass. I will remember their inspirations when in Church for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Your entry will further help me remember the Holy God our Churches house each time I drive by them whether in my car or RTS bus.

    As I prepare to post my comment, Gen, I promise to remember always our beloved Saint Andrew Church on Portland Avenue.

    The next time anyone utters to me IT’S JUST A BUILDING, that person will have a very difficult time forgetting it!

  2. avatar Susan of Corning says:

    Very beautiful, Gen. Although the church of my youth still stands, barely, it is lost. It is a complicated pain.

  3. avatar Gretchen says:

    Gen, thank you for this post. To those in my parish who are still mourning the loss of St. Patrick’s, and to those who are fighting to save two of our remaining three churches, your words are a poignant illustration of the struggle with which Catholics are engaged in the DOR.

    Gretchen from SOP

  4. avatar Dan Riley says:

    The worst thing that a bishop can do to his diocese is close a parish or school against the will of the parishioners. Bishop Clark closed 50 schools and about 35 parishes against the will of the parishioners. You just didn’t hear the outrage and crying that took place. You didn’t see the successful ministries that were dismantled. You didn’t see the beautiful statues and crucifixes that were put in the dumpster.

    The new bishop has to stop the parish and school closings in order to stabilize the diocese.

    About 7 years ago, an African Priest was quoted in the Catholic Courier Newspaper stating that it was very easy for him to say only 3 Masses on the weekend in the Diocese of Rochester. He said that he would say 10 Masses on Sunday in Africa and that included traveling to many villages.

    It was also stated in the Courier that the bishop receives calls and letters from priests around the world, who would love to come to the Diocese of Rochester.

    I have written in the past that our new bishop should call back all of our retired priests and ask them to start saying Masses. Bishop Clark chased away many of our senior priests.

    It will be a great day in the Diocese of Rochester, when the Cleansing Fire web site will be able to focus on helping our new bishop with evangelization and bringing home our parishioners, who have fallen away from the Church.


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