Sunday, July 17, 2011

Joy in His Strength

Solemn Re-dedication
of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Saturday, 16 July 2011,
St. George’s, Grenada
Nehemiah 8:1-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Ephesians 2:19-22
Matthew 16:13-19

Rededicating today this Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is in a sense almost as dramatic as the events we heard about in our first reading from the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah, recounting what happened when the forgotten/neglected book of the law was discovered by a younger and more impressionable generation of leaders and taken out and read to all the people. Thanks to this discovery, to good leadership and to their openness, a people once again came to appreciate their having been chosen by God as His very own people. They came to know of their treasured relationship with the living God which had been rejected or neglected by their parents. You might say that youth and good will together found their way back to obedience to the law and thereby to the God Who had never stopped loving His people. Please, God, that this rededication today would have a positive and invigorating effect on the faith life of all in the diocese of St. George’s in Grenada!
“(F)or this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
It has been almost 7 years since hurricane Ivan blew through town. While 7 years might not be much to some, it does mean that a lot of Grenada’s children and youth never experienced the “before” of this Cathedral as compared to our joyful “after” of today. Granted, this rebuilding or restoration after the storm can’t be compared to that eventful day described by Nehemiah. Other than the building itself, things haven’t fallen apart here in Grenada for lack of a church building; nobody here has forgotten God’s law or grown up ignorant of their Catholic faith because the Cathedral was in ruins. We can say, however, that having this house of worship, this house of prayer back again gives to you all a special point of reference for your life and identity as Catholic Christians, as a diocese, as a local Church. This church can serve as a point of reference for understanding who we are in the only world which counts: in God’s world. Thanks be to God! Thanks to all who worked so hard! Thank you to all of the donors and benefactors who contributed to the reconstruction!

What indeed does it mean to be back on Church Street and in this building? We know that the word “cathedral” comes from the word “cathedra” which is the proper term for the bishop’s chair here in this church. Before the Babylonian exile in the Temple at Jerusalem the only chair or seat was the so-called “mercy seat” or propitiatory within the Holy of Holies where once a year the high priest entered alone to sprinkle the blood of sacrificed animals in expiation for the sins of the people. Outside the Temple building proper, which was preserved as space for God alone, however, there was a column where the king stood and which was a point of reference for the people and for the king before God Almighty for Whom the Temple was so to speak His footstool and heaven His throne.

The bishop’s chair, the cathedra, is for us in the New Testament a unique point of reference, focusing the people’s gaze and with authority drawing us to Christ, the Shepherd of our souls and our Redeemer. Anywhere, not just in church, not just in this cathedral and not just from his cathedra, your bishop can teach and through teaching the faith which comes to us from the apostles, he can bind you as one to the confession of St. Peter as we heard it proclaimed from Matthew’s Gospel: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” While it may be true that we don’t necessarily need the brick and mortar or the roof over our heads for worshiping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, still in many ways it is so much better to have this place. Different from the old Temple days, besides Mass times, you can come in to this house of prayer anytime and without the mediation of the high priest, you can place yourself directly before the mercy seat, not the footstool of the Almighty but the Tabernacle housing the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus, True God and True Man, here present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, Jesus, the only mediator between God and men, Jesus perfectly present for us, whole and undivided under the form of Bread.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked His disciples and after Peter responded with his confession of the true faith, the Lord declared that not flesh and blood but God the Father Himself had revealed to Peter, in the midst of the other disciples, the presence among them of His only begotten Son. In this place and in a very special way, we stand in continuity, we stand at one with St. Peter. Here with all due solemnity you/we profess our faith together with the bishop. Normally, unless we live close by, we worship in our parish churches and Father mentions the bishop’s name along with that of the Holy Father as he prays for us the Eucharistic Prayer. Here we see the bishop and are reminded of the Shepherd Who sits at the right hand of the Father and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Seeing the kind of destruction which Ivan brought in September of 2004, no one here has any illusions about the permanency of structures built with human hands, but our faith is not really in the building itself. The building is a reminder of the teaching outlined by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
“(Y)ou are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
This Cathedral then is a visual aid, a constant reminder that it is we, living stones anchored on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, steadied and made secure forever by Christ Jesus Himself, we are as one God’s Holy Temple, His dwelling place among men.

On my first visit to St. George’s six years ago, the clean-up had been done, but all that was left standing really was the tower and the apse with the Crucifix. I remember clearly that people were still debating about the whether, the where and the how of rebuilding. There were all kinds of considerations and priorities to be kept in mind, as everyone agreed that the Catholic Church in Grenada should set a proper example by meeting the urgent and basic needs of the people first and foremost. All things come in their own good time and I assure you, I am glad you did decide, that you rebuilt this church as a house of prayer, as your cathedral and not just as a memorial to an older generation that long before you had sacrificed to build on this spot. Praise God! You have your cathedral back and on Church Street!

Having this house of worship, this house of prayer back again gives you a special point of reference as I say: a point of reference for understanding who we are in the only world which counts: in God’s world. Can I configure/set myself up like a computer or some kind of super-phone as I see fit, choose for myself how I will be Catholic, about whether Sunday Mass will be part of my life, about whether and how and which of the Commandments I’ll obey, about the importance of the Sacrament of Penance in my life for the worthy reception of Holy Communion? Is my will and how I see my life necessarily God’s Will? Not hardly! That’s why Ezra the scribe read the book of the law of Moses to the people; that is why they began to cry and had to be encouraged to celebrate, now that they had opened their ears and their hearts to God’s law.
“(F)or this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Join me today not only in rejoicing but also in begging the Lord to forgive those, to open the ears of those, to touch the hearts of those who stubbornly set their own rules and prefer a natural sunset to the Dawn who visits us from on high, Christ the Lord! Turn to the Lord with your bishop, let his chair, his cathedra in his cathedral church remind you of the Lord Jesus here among us, who one day will sit in judgment over us all. Be reminded always, both at Liturgy and when you come to visit this house, not only just of the loving God Who gave the law, but of God’s only Son, who gave His life for us upon the Cross! Buildings come and go; they are not absolutely essential, but they can certainly inspire us and direct us on our path to God.

St. George’s has its Cathedral back! Thanks be to God!

1 comment:


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