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Give thanks to the Lord, for He is Good!
Dear Fr. Zagloba,
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a nice trip home to visit your family. We’re going to have a house full… maybe 30 people. 15 or so children. Delightful mayhem.
I’ve been giving some thought to the question that you raised during the Pastoral Council Meeting. Where should we be investing our money as a parish? What ministries should we be focusing on, and which ones would benefit from some additional funding?
The purpose of a church
What is the central purpose of our church? Not the Church in general – that’s a much bigger question. I’m talking about our church, the building that we call St. Catherine’s. Why does it exist and why does that factor into the financial decisions that you as the pastor have to make?
This should be an easy question. The purpose of the building is to serve as a house of worship. It’s a spiritual hub where the most important events of life are celebrated. The Holy Mass. Baptisms. Confirmations. Weddings. Funerals. The return of prodigal sons. The Mass in and of itself is the most important thing that happens anywhere on earth at any time. Heaven is wedded to earth. To be used in the worship of God is the highest purpose for any material thing. That’s the reason that the utensils used during the celebration of the Mass can never again be used for any other thing. You know all of this.
So it makes sense to invest in the church and make sure that it is a beautiful place for all of these events. Not because human beings deserve a nice place to celebrate, but because God is worthy of the very best that we have to offer. The parishioners get to enjoy the benefits of our desire to honor God.
An example of lavish love
This past summer, I went to visit the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Alabama. Mother Angelica built it to honor Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. She spared no expense. The entire altar piece is literally covered in gold. I believe the monstrance is encrusted with gems. It may be the most beautiful church I have ever set foot in. I’ve heard that people got upset that she spent so much on it, but she shut them down by saying that Jesus deserves the very best.
When folks get upset about making a church beautiful and say it’s a waste of money, it makes me think of the passage in the Gospel where Mary Magdalene pours the jar of expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet. Judas Iscariot protests that the valuable ointment could have been sold and given to the poor. Jesus rebukes Judas and praises Mary’s action. While serving the poor will always be a priority, giving our best efforts and resources to worship is always more important.
Directing our hearts and minds to God
A few weeks ago you mentioned an idea that you’ve had in the back of your mind since you arrived. I don’t know if you remember, but you were talking about replacing the old tabernacle with one that is more beautiful and designed to match the rest of the aesthetics of the Church.
I think it’s a wonderful idea. The old tabernacle looks like it was designed in the 60’s or 70’s and seems out of place. You can ask around, but I don’t think that anyone is particularly attached to it. It’s too plain and abstract. The tabernacle should draw every person’s eyes to it and direct their hearts to the supernatural realities that it’s created to contain. It’s nothing less than the Holy of Holies. The dwelling place of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament! The beauty of the tabernacle should silently evangelize anyone who sees it.
I think the expense will not be an obstacle whatsoever. We just need to get an estimate for what you want built and then let people know that this is something you’d like to do. I guarantee that people will respond. You might even have someone step up with a $10,000 or $20,000 gift to cover the whole cost. Our parishioners WANT our church to be beautiful. They will be honored to provide a new tabernacle that is worthy of our Lord.
There’s a great passage in the Old Testament that shares an inspiring story. God gives Moses a vision for the tabernacle that He wants to house the Ark of the Covenant. God describes in minute detail the materials needed and the plan of construction. Moses tells the people and they respond with extraordinary generosity. In fact, at some point, Moses tells the Israelites to stop giving because they have more than enough. Every fundraiser dreams of having that kind of problem.
More than a Restoration
You’re called to do more at St. Catherine’s than replace the furnace and put a new roof on the church. That is just maintenance. Your mission is to enhance it, to elevate it as a place of worship and house of prayer. When a visitor enters, they should be overwhelmed with the reality that they are stepping on holy ground. It’s not a community center, it’s a Catholic Church! It doesn’t need to be fancy or ornate… some of the most holy places I’ve ever visited are very simple. But it must be reverent. Well fitted for its divine purpose.
Our church can be like an alabaster jar of perfumed oil poured on our Lord’s feet by a grateful sinner. An outpouring of extravagant love made concrete. Using our gifts, our resources, to make that happen is a way of giving thanks to God for His great love for us.
P.S. If anyone does give you any push back on commissioning a new tabernacle, tell them to talk to Mrs. Sanderson. Our new food pantry can certainly use more supporters. It’s not an either/or proposition.
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Image courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith, via Public Domain, no rights reserved.