118th anniversary of the founding of our church denomination
8 Mar 2015
“That your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there.’” (1 Kings 8:29) In the name …
Today the purple and penitence of Lent gives way to the celebration of the birth of a reforming Catholic church. I say this intentionally in the on-going sense. We’re not only celebrating today the reforms of 1897 and our past. We’re celebrating that we are called to be a reforming church still in the present. It is part of our definition. It’s part of who we are. I remember walking into Independence Hall in Philadelphia and seeing the place where our nation was born. I remember the symbolism that Ben Franklin spoke of when referring to the chair that served as George Washington’s seat at the Constitutional Convention. The chair included a carving of the sun at the horizon. Franklin wondered in the context of the birth of our nation if the sun was rising or setting. All outcomes were possible at that moment of our nation’s birth. I also appreciate the symbolism of place when our church was born on the second Sunday of March 1897. The church-building was in the process of being constructed when our church denomination was born. The people who called Fr. Hodur to that organizational meeting had only completed the church hall. There was no sanctuary above the ceiling. There was only sky. That concrete image of a work still in progress testifies to the reforming nature of our church denomination as a work always in progress.
That’s not an indictment of our church as incomplete. It’s testimony of our faith that Jesus is always calling His people to continue building His church. Progress is a derogatory statement only if we believe that the past was the only perfect and that all we can do is hold on to it to our very last breath. We are not in that camp. Hodur spoke of change “not by revolution, but by evolution.” He taught us that the same authority of the Holy Spirit that guided the church in the past is still with us in the present. Just as in the past the church gathered and deliberated and chose her course so should we today. If we don’t allow for this, then we’re admitting that we are not as much church today as we used to be yesterday, that the Spirit is not as real for us now as it was for generations past. This we cannot accept. And this is why we also are proud to call ourselves a democratic Catholic church. We trust that the Spirit works through all of us in the church to keep God’s voice alive. We believe that it is the authority of the church gathered together that allows for the Spirit to act through all of us to keep building-up the church. The image of the church as a work in progress is the image of a living church. [Selma’s 50th anniversary]
A church as a work in progress also has a special relationship with wisdom. Even as an Assistant Pastor among a congregation of poorly educated immigrants, Hodur organized an educational society for members of that congregation. He saw education as part of the work of church and also as the only way the church could work. He was even the one who offered the lectures on the origin of the universe. He was talking about cosmology when others were still taunting Galileo, when others still today talk about the universe created in seven days some 4,000 years ago. In the early catechisms of the church, he included references to Darwin. He actually said in a 1936 lecture: “We believe that the world was called into being by an act of creation by God, but when and where and by what means it was created and by what means it evolves, belongs not to revelation but only to science.” (God’s Field 3/28/1936, Bp. Hodur’s address at a Forum Lecture, translated by Dr. Joseph. Wieczerzak)
Here was a man who didn’t believe religion had to shrink before any other branch of human wisdom. Today it seems that religions are constantly ridiculing other branches of human knowledge, and that’s helping them to ridicule religion in turn. The separation between religion and the sciences is growing wider and more antagonistic. Religion too often ignores the evidence she disagrees with, and the sciences too often treat religion as only an imagined experience. Hodur, on the other hand, pushed our church to always be ready to see what God was revealing in the new and unexpected.
The Apple Corporation’s logo is nearly universal. It’s such a large part of our economy that it replaced AT&T on the Dow Jones Industrials list this past week. It’s so big that it replaced AT&T on the Dow Jones Industrial this week. I bet you can all see it in your mind’s eye. It’s the apple with a good healthy bite taken out of it. Now think back to your Bible stories. There aren’t many with apples. It’s not actually in the Bible, but the tradition has been that the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden was the apple. That’s the beginning of all our troubles … so we’re often told. The forbidden fruit hung from the Tree of Knowledge. Knowledge got us kicked out of paradise. But take a closer look at the entire story of Genesis, the story of our beginning. It starts with two child-like characters. One way to describe them is innocent. Another is simple. But as the story of Genesis concludes, the main character is Joseph. Genesis starts with the promise that we are created in God’s image, but we are so childlike that God does everything for us. By the end of Genesis, however, Joseph is in charge. He’s the one who acts with wisdom and creativity to protect the people of God just like God had protected them in Eden. Knowledge is what helps us to live up to our calling as created in God’s image to be able to act like God. Every time we see the Apple logo on all those products that people wait in lines to buy, it’s a reminder that wisdom did that, and it’s wisdom that triumphs at the end of Genesis. We have nothing to fear, resent or reflexively reject in the progress of modern society.
And it’s wisdom that this church embraces as God still speaking to us. This is why we alone have the Sacrament of the Word of God. Continuous teaching and learning are essential in a church in progress. And this is what we celebrate today. And this is what we practice today after Mass. We have the privilege of responsibility. This is what gave us birth in 1897 and this is what gives us purpose today. We are helping to build Christ’s church. May God keep His eyes ever watchful over us and may His name always be honoured here in this temple in what we do. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo