Monday, November 21, 2011


EL GRECO, oil on panel, probably before 1570
"There is no worldly reward for our spiritual efforts. There isn't even a connection. The payoff for turning to God is more God, not more world."
--Hugh Prather

The Gospel reading Friday was Luke's account of the cleansing of the temple: "Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, 'It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.' ” [Luke 19: 45-46].

The Magnificat reflection was from German Dominican priest and mystical theologian Father Tauler (d. 1361):

Who were those who bought and sold in the Temple, and who are they that do so now?  And take notice that I am to speak only of those buyers and sellers in the temple who are good people, and who are nevertheless scourged out of His temple by the Lord; not gross sinners or such as are consciously in a state of mortal sin; and yet they are buyers and sellers. They are souls who, indeed, guard against grievous sins, and would do good works for God's glory; they fast and pray and keep vigils and do other good things. But what is their motive? It is that God would in return do good things to them, bestow on them the favors they wish. They are, therefore, self-seekers; they are merchandisers with God, as anyone can see. They give that they may get. They must traffic with our Lord. 

I wonder what might happen, to that end, if we spent a little less time trying to evangelize everyone else and a little more time trying to evangelize ourselves. I wonder if the abuse of children by priests wouldn't have been quite so widespread if all along we were trying to promote not so much the Church triumphant as the Church humble, poor, and meek.

We are all complicit in the suffering of the world. We are all broken, all fallen, all lonely. That is exactly why Christ came. He didn’t come so we could win. He didn’t come so we could vanquish our enemies. He didn’t come so we could have the flashiest churches, the biggest crowds, the best numbers.

Coming home on the plane last week I sat beside a middle-aged couple on their way to Hawaii: a woman with an injured foot and a guy who'd taken--had sacrificed himself by taking, I’d wager--the middle seat.

The woman spent the first hour fretting and complaining and digging endlessly and noisily into various cellophane bags of snacks and chomping away and carrying on. Then suddenly like a child she leaned over, snaked around her arm around the guy, laid her head against his chest, and fell asleep.

I thought That is John on the breast of Christ at the Last Supper. That is the heart of our faith.



  1. So i'm not the only crazy person on the planet!
    Thanks for making feel half way to normal when so much focus seems to be on the "Wow!" factor of Christianity rather than the transforming, humility of the Christ who lives in the midst of us,- the broken, the flawed, and the needy, - whilst accepting, forgiving and loving us so tenderly.

    I am not a Roman Catholic but the truth of the Risen Christ is surely universal, so I hope you don't mind my chiming in. x x

  2. Hazel--happy to hear from you! Yes, this tender Christ who calls his lost sheep and binds up our wounds is the Christ to whom I have always responded...that my blog would appeal to people of all stripes is just what I would have hoped...

  3. David DeAtkine, Jr., MDNovember 21, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    I love you excessively but I have to disagree! I worship weekly at a wonderful parish with very good priests and am blessed; but our sanctuary could only be described as being late 1970's bathroom architecture....really awful. I feel oppressed sometimes in there .... and at best feel that the poorly conceived design a distraction from worship. Our local Cathedral on the other hand, lifts my spirits...sitting there I am constantly looking up and up...from the altar, to the crucifix, to the stained glass, to the be-starred ceiling/heaven and I feel I am ascending with Dante from the Inferno, through Purgatory, to Heaven. I feel the same in several other great Cathedrals and have felt something similar, though perhaps more warming than exhilarating in beautiful, but smaller and quaint sanctuaries.

    I believe there is a general move to quit building churches that look like Soviet era compounds, and I think that is good. The Churches of the Medieval period were community efforts and those people, it is clear from being inside there works of art for just a moment, loved their Churches and were proud of God's handiwork and their own.

    The wonderful thing about Catholicism is that it is indeed Catholic-- Universal...and some people will find God in a tear, or a kind gesture, and some may find Him in an aching Pieta or in the dappled, electrifying effusion of stained glass.

  4. I think a lot of catholics have been jealous of the mega-churches and their success at drawing people in with fellowship and flash. I admit that when I read about the sale of the Crystal Cathedral I thought "HAH!" with mental high fives all around. Thanks for the reminder that Christ is the opposite of flash.

  5. After John Locke Protestants became more and more utilitarian. Their philosophy was "just give us Jesus and a meeting place. We don't need the beautiful to elevate our minds and hearts to God." I agree with Dr. DeAtkine's description of the devolution of worship spaces into "70's bathroom architecture." I escaped from that into the CC precisely because as Catholics we do not ignore the part of our higher selves that needs beauty as much as truth. I don't think that's what Jesus was cleaning out of the temple.

  6. Hi dear David and Anonymous: Maybe I didn't make sufficiently clear that I'm not talking about church architecture--of course we are all for beauty. Of course a beautiful church helps raise our minds and hearts to God.

    That I don't happen to find the Crystal Cathedral beautiful is neither here nor there: if someone else does, wonderful. If someone is moved to compassion, humility, generosity and love for the least of these in the Crystal Cathedral, great. If I ever attend Mass there, I hope I am moved to compassion, humility, generosity, and love for the least of these. Because that's what a church is for.

    I care absolutely about the Church itself. What I don't care about is “There is a gigantic sparkly church [or any church] that the the Roman Catholic church now OWNS.”I care what a church looks like and at the same time I understand that the mystery of Mass is not dependent on what the Church looks like. I love a beautiful church but at the end of the day, I'm happy to attend Mass in a beautiful cathedral, I'm happy to attend Mass in a New Mexican capilla, I'm happy to attend Mass at a nondescript '70's suburban ranch house church. What I'm not happy to do is believe that the operative point of a Catholic church is that we OWN it, rather than what goes on in it.

    The kingdom of God is like yeast all through the loaf: it can reveal itself in poverty and it can reveal itself in wealth. All I'm saying--and I'm pretty sure we'd agree--is that it’s not the church building that matters. It’s the hearts that come to and are transformed on its altar…

  7. I totally agree with that tooting the ownership horn smacks too much of ill-placed pride and acquisition victory (which is the opposite of uplifting as you point out). Yet these passionate responses have me considering that perhaps we want to give the Church the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the Catholic Church is REDEEMing the crystal thing. Would that be worth celebrating?

  8. Hi Carie, oh I think we ALWAYS give the Church--of which, as anyone who regularly reads my blog knows, I am a passionate, faithful member--the benefit of the doubt.

    I hope that's not antithetical to occasionally observing that what we hear and observe in church seems sometimes very far away from the poverty and humility of Christ, from his message "Greater love hath no man, than that he lay down his life for his friends" rather than kill someone else, from the fact that the heart of Christianity is that our sins are forgiven, which heals us from the psychic/emotional/spiritual wounds that block us from full joy, full love for ourselves and our neighbors...

    Any Mass, celebrated anywhere, is always the Sacrament of Sacraments. The Crystal Cathedral doesn't need or want redeeming, though--we do...

  9. I see the acquistion this way:
    there are many evangelical Christian mega-churches which are filled to capacity. They are drawing in those in need.

    The Catholic Church, whether fancy, middling or poor is not drawing the same capacity.

    If, the Crystal Cathedral draws in more Catholics, I say go for it.

  10. I don't find the Crystal Cathedral particularly beautiful. I understand that the lowest notes on its pipe organ are generated electronically and play through giant loudspeakers: that's always seemed to capture for me its essential wrongness. It's rather fun that in three years it will actually be a cathedral (have they decided on a name yet?), but I'm none too enthusiastic: it can't be cheap to maintain.

  11. I agree that the novelty of the building shouldn't be the draw. The compassion of the people, their willingness to get in the trenches with others who are suffering in mind, body, and/or spirit, and the perfect love expressed through the Eucharist are truly what we want others to think about and associate with the Roman Catholic Church, and those of us who are members. If we're more concerned about external or physical appearance, then we've really missed the point. As Blessed Mother Teresa made clear, there are many times when we are to serve Christ in his “distressing disguise” of the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the afflicted, the incarcerated…
    You’re absolutely right that the small things we do with great love for our neighbors, for those around us in need, is more likely to change hearts and minds than an impressive building or expensive decorations. If we don’t recognize that each person is a living tabernacle of the Lord and treat them as such, then we are not allowing ourselves to be consumed by the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

  12. Thanks, Trisha, exactly--if the Crystal Cathedral calls people to fast, pray, and give alms--and it may, as God works in mysterious ways--so much the better! As it is, to take bragging rights over a giant glittery church BUILDING (especially in wealthy, known nationwide-for-its-conspicuous-consumption Orange County), is not exactly the spirit of humility and doing unto the least of these that Christ was perhaps trying to impart...

    On the other hand the priest who gave the homily works in a more or less inner city, more or less poor parish and like most priests, I'm sure toils away like a slave. I went to another of his Masses last week at which he spoke of having gone to the bedside of a dying man that afternoon and asking us to pray for the guy. And then at the front of the Communion line I looked at the priest's dear human face and realized one more time we are all trying to do the best we can and that if I am so intent on doing to the least of these, maybe I could concentrate on doing more of that myself...We get to be proud of Christ, humble about ourselves...

    So glad you checked in--thanks again...


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