The Living Stones of the Church

The Living Stones of the Church

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”                                                     John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

As I write this, it is late at night on Monday of Holy Week. I had in mind a different sort of greeting for this newsletter in Holy Week, before the news broke earlier today that the Cathedral of Notre Dame was on fire. I have spent much of today taking in updates on CNN, watching news footage as the fire burned through oak timbers in the roof that are – were — 800 years old. They are gone. The Spire is gone. Much of the nave and the interior of the cathedral are gone. Fire officials are still assessing the damage. Thousands gathered in the streets of Paris today to watch. To pray. To weep. I’ve never been to Notre Dame or Paris, and neither have a lot of other people, but the world tonight is somehow aware of the magnitude of this loss.

In this synod, we know the devastating, deadly effect of fires. In 1995, one of our oldest churches – St. Paulus in San Francisco – burned to the ground early on a Sunday morning. Its spires fell that day and many long-time members and people from the community felt a great sense of loss. I imagine, on a different scale, the people of Paris understand today how the people of San Francisco felt then. In the past few years, fires have raged through communities in Calaveras and Amador and Lake and Mendocino Counties, and the cities of Sonoma and Napa and Redding and Paradise. It seems each time a new fire erupts, more damage is done than in the last fire. A “new normal” they call it.

In each of the places where these fires have burned, something happens soon after the flames have been extinguished. In the midst of ashes, you can see resolve. St. Paulus has long resolved to rebuild and recently held a groundbreaking ceremony where their congregation formerly stood. You hear stories of people finding treasures as they sift through the rubble of their home that they thought were lost, and the joy and celebration that comes with such a find. You see resolve in people who are rebuilding their lives, their homes and their community. You see resolve in people who give generously to help those who have lost everything find hope and recovery.  Even nature seems to show its resolve, as Daffodils bloom amid the ashes.

Yesterday, Palm Sunday services and an evening Mass were held in a sanctuary that is now unrecognizable. In the hours after Notre Dame burned, as embers were still smoldering, you could hear resolve from the people of Paris. Late this afternoon, through the smoke and ashes, a cross that hangs over the altar could be seen reflecting light that was shining through the burned-out roof of the cathedral. Beneath that cross, a Pieta still stands, beckoning us to embrace in this Holy Week the resolve of God’s love for us as Mary, her heart pierced through, cradles her crucified son.

The Catholic Church of France has called upon Catholics to be “the living stones of the Church” as they celebrate the events of Holy Week.  We too have been called to be living stones, testifying to God’s saving Grace with resolve, hope, trust and faith.  We gather this week with our siblings in faith throughout the world to stand with the faithful who will likely be worshiping on the steps of Notre Dame on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday, and the Resurrection of Our Lord on Easter Sunday.  We gather to stand with the members of the three African American congregations in Louisiana whose churches were destroyed by arson.  We gather to see the power of the cross through the challenges, distractions and disappointments, through the smoke and the ashes of the world.  We gather trusting that God, who spoke the first word of creation, will have the last word through the resurrection of Christ.  And in this Good News, we have been given all the resolve we will ever need.

Blessings in Holy Week,
Bp. Mark