dedication

In the days leading up to the dedication celebration of our parish’s new church building in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, I found myself praying with lovely little story in a book by Margaret Silf:

I remember well the morning when, after listening to all my outpourings regarding the chaos running riot in my life at that time, my long-suffering and very wise friend commented simply, ‘Just let the Spirit hover over the chaos.’

Silf goes on to connect chaos with creation – with God utilizing raw material to make something new, and God declaring that it is good. She explains, “Chaos is a sacred reality, the very thing that is needed for a new creation to begin. Chaos is a gift, overflowing with potential.”

I’m sure that those who worked on the project of building a new church for the people of St Joseph’s parish would agree that chaos was at least a small part of the picture. Whether it be the abundant rains that fell during the building of the foundation, or the many tradesmen working simultaneously on the floor, the ceiling, and everything in between, or the logistics of the parking lot (aka construction site) on Sunday mornings, chaos is a reality with projects such as these.

Organized chaos. That’s how I would describe the very moment that the doors were opened and the parishioners started streaming into the finished building, the majority of people seeing the beauty of this creation for the first time. No amount of planning or forethought could predict exactly how this would go. And the spirit hovered over it, showering everyone with grace.

The archbishop helped us to breathe life into this building on Saturday. The altar was ceremoniously and beautifully anointed with sacred chrism, the walls and the people blessed with holy water, and our prayers and intentions for the future of this space carried to God as incense filled the air. The Dedication Rite, beautifully orchestrated with a reverence befitting of the occasion, is something that few people are privileged to experience in one lifetime. It is a moment saved for all eternity in the life of this parish family.

During his homily, Archbishop Chaput likened this dedication to the dedication of ourself to God, in baptism and confirmation. And every time we receive Eucharist, or participate in the celebration of any sacrament, the Holy Spirit, which hovers over the chaos of our lives, showers us with grace. At the same time, the significance of this particular dedication for each of us is enormous. It is a new beginning, for the church in Downingtown, but also for each of us. A Holy moment of conversion. Grace abounds more and more.

During the chaos we have experienced as a parish family these past months and recent years, the spirit has hovered over us, blessed us, and called to us. May we continue to learn how to answer.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

-Ephesians 3:14-17

communion

This week, by some mysterious movement of God’s grace, I participated in a holy hour at my church. As a community, we celebrated our strong faith, prayed together, and voiced our pain, concern, and love for one another. The church was packed in this visible sign of our communion with one another. No angry outbursts were made, no demands for justice nor cries of outrage. This was a profound, beautiful, act of unity and faith.

For those of you that don’t know, my parish has been a focus of media attention during the recent grand jury reports in Philadelphia. Our pastor is the “first member of church hierarchy” to be named.

It struck me, as I knelt in the pew reflecting on the joyful mysteries during our communal rosary, that this beautiful bond of community was made stronger simply in the ways in which all of our senses were made holy and tangible.

The visible sign of grief, mourning, and penance in the black robes of our priests. The breathtakingly beautiful monstrance on the altar.

The smell of the incense as the altar was blessed.

The hopeful, lovely sounds of the cantor who led us in song. The voices reading scripture, leading a reflection, offering intentions. The believers joined in the words, “Lord, hear our prayer.” The sound of the men’s voices as they led the rosary for us all.

The touch of the rosary beads as we joined our voices saying the Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s, and Glory Be’s.

These are difficult times for our parish, and really, the entire church. As in any crisis, I think it is easy, sometimes, to forget the things that ground us in our faith. In her wisdom, our church has hundreds of years of tradition, and thousands of pages of explanation, and dozens of experts to describe the “proper” way to celebrate, mourn, pray, recite, listen, participate, gather.

Having been a participant in this holy hour, I can confidently say that all of these years, pages, and experts were not necessary. Two or more were gathered. And Jesus was with us. And it was very, very good.