Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Soaring hopes

It's been quite a while since we've seen any new "soaring Gothic churches" built, but this is the sketch of the proposed new church for the biggest parish in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville.
Time was, the little church (seats 450) was just fine for the country parish, but now there are 5,000 families, most of whom end up at Sunday Mass in the all-purpose hall and not in the church building.
Predictably, though, there are objections to building a "soaring Gothic church." And, predictably, chief among them is the fact that, yes, the money could be spent on services to the poor. (Although creating jobs at a time like this is also a laudable contribution!)
I am told that Our Lady of the Lake parish is very generous in supporting social services; that's extremely important as a testimony to the "wholeness" of the faith of the people. But social services are not the purpose of a parish. Worship is. And Our Lady of the Lake seems to be offering such abundant worship that they need the bigger church: as it is, the parish maintains a 24/7 perpetual Eucharistic adoration chapel!
Not to mention also that there just might be...people in that very parish who do not have many grand and lovely things to call their own (cf. today's first reading!), but who are equal members, co-heirs, as it were, in the Church with the owners of those lakefront mansions you see as you come to Mandeville from New Orleans. Funny how people speak as if that "the church" (read "the diocese") is the sole user of things like soaring Gothic buildings. The beauty of this building is for all parishioners, no matter how much or little they are able to contribute financially to its construction or upkeep.
I have seen that in Church history, some people come to God through people, and some are led to people through God. Dorothy Day came to God through people; Thomas Merton, in a sense, came to people through God (remember his experience on the street corner in Louisville?). This new (if it sees the light of day) soaring Gothic church could very well inspire new and creative forms of service to God's people, as it brings people, rich and poor, together in prayer.
The One who accepted the extravagant outpouring of perfume (valued at a year's wages) still accepts extravagant signs of reverence. And then sends his people out to recognize him, and to be equally extravagant in serving him, in the vulnerable.

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