9 Mar 2014
“‘May your eyes [O Lord] watch night and day over this temple, the place where you have decreed you shall be honoured.’” (1 Kings 8:29a) In the name …
Today our church celebrates the 117th anniversary of our founding. On the second Sunday of March 1897, Fr. Francis Hodur accepted the invitation of the people of St. Stanislaus Church in Scranton, PA to come and attend one of their organizational meetings. They met in the basement of the church because the building was not yet completed above them. I love that image of the unfinished church. The church should never think of herself as a completed edifice. She should always think of herself as a building project. How else could it be, if we really believe that the church of today is led by Christ, and that her community is inspired by the Holy Spirit? Isn’t God still among us? Aren’t we still a Pentecost church led by the Holy Spirit? I hope we don’t believe that Jesus was more powerfully present in the church in the year 1014 than He is today in 2014. That is not at all an inspiring thought. What I do find exciting, however, is the idea that we continue to build the church through our shared efforts yesterday, today and tomorrow because as the glorified Jesus of heaven revealed on the last pages of the Bible: “‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Rev. 21:5)
I’ve seen a couple of episodes on PBS about some of the world’s tallest buildings. When you start touching the sky with these things, it’s only possible to continue building by standing on what you’ve already built. If the rectory fell down tomorrow, we would start rebuilding it by putting up the entire frame first. But with skyscrapers, building each step higher is the only possible way to go the next higher step. The church is not a squat little building whose frame was completed on Pentecost Sunday 2,000 years ago. The church’s foundation was laid on Pentecost Sunday and each generation of the church has built her higher and higher ever since. We build on what came before us, and we carry higher the tools that future generations will use to continue to build the church. It’s a work always in progress, and that makes church dynamic and exciting, and our work important and even creative.
As church, our job is not to preserve the Jesus of the past. Our job is to reveal Jesus in the present. Since we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Confession of Faith this year, we have been asked to recite it at Mass today. The Confession of Faith is a creed; that’s why each statement begins with the phrase “I believe.” And when the Confession of Faith speaks about the church, it concludes by saying that the church is “the light in our temporal pilgrimage to God and salvation.” Pilgrimage means journey. The Confession of Faith sees church as anything but static. Our church by definition is progressive. Our church is seeking how to progress, how to continue moving forward. And part of the way that we do that is through our democracy. Baptized people who have committed themselves to the work of the church become the vehicles for the Holy Spirit to move the church forward. Baptism means that we are marked as God’s people, and baptism shares with us the grace of belonging to the church. These are not just clichés. We, together, as church, manifest the inspiration of Jesus. As church, we together have a sense of the faith that allows the church to change and progress. We, together, are the church.
There’s an old tired argument against church democracy that it would allow for stupid and unchristian things to be done. I’ve personally heard the charge, for example, that people can’t vote to change the Ten Commandments. Well, there are a couple of problems with that statement if that’s the sort of example they come up with. Let me start with the easiest one. The Ten Commandments have already been changed. Moses commanded that we keep holy the Sabbath day. He goes out of his way to explain that the Sabbath is Saturday, and that we honour it by resting. We’ve changed the Sabbath to Sunday and we honour it by going to Mass. Moses’ Law also says all in one continuous statement that we shall not covet our neighbour’s wife, but that’s not the end of the commandment. Nor, says Moses, shall we covet his house, field, slave, ox or donkey. Do you know what that says? The wife is a possession in exactly the same way as the man owns a house, a slave or an animal. Yeah, I’m going to walk around my house preaching that message to Sharon, and God forbid some yahoo comes along and tries to preach that to my daughters. Good luck to him. We have changed the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath change may well have been a theological one that came from the top down. The covet change was a common sense one that emerged from the bottom up.
The second problem with that stale argument against church democracy is where is the evidence that the people of God would work with sinister intent to destroy the church of God. After the abuses of power that have so weakened the church in recent times, I know that I trust the Spirit’s guidance through all of the church’s members rather than only a few. This is why we follow Mass this morning with our Congregational Meeting. We’re going to practice what we preach. I hope you will accept the honour of being a member of a church that counts your voice as part of the people of God, as part of the church of God. As Jesus has blessed us for 117 years, may He continue to bless and guide our church today and on into the future. For this we pray in His most holy of names. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo