'The church is a living organism, the living body of Our Risen Lord...' -- homily by Father Joseph Campbell
There was once a company interviewing potential employees and the interviewer asked this young man, “What’s your greatest weakness?”
And the young man replied:
“Well, sometimes I have trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy.”
“Well, what do you consider your greatest strength?” asked the interviewer. To which the young man replied: “I’m Batman.”
You know, it’s hard to believe this is all happening this week, it doesn’t seem real. I think we're all waiting for Auntie Em to wake us up and to tell us this is just a dream. It's been a difficult transition for all of us.
There are two brothers over in Greenville that drive to work together every day, and the one went to pick up his brother one day. He was sitting in front of the house in his pickup truck, and he saw his sister-in-law on the front porch, bending over, picking up the newspaper. She was all disheveled. She looked like a clown after a kindergarten party and an empty bottle of vodka. Her hair was a mess, her makeup was still on from the night before. And then her husband came out and gave her a big kiss goodbye. Well, feeling insecure about her appearance, she turned to her brother-in-law sitting in the pickup truck and said,
“Don’t you wish you could kiss this goodbye every day?”
Without missing a beat, her brother-in-law replied, “
“Honey, I’d look forward to kissing that goodbye every day!”
Sometimes it’s easy to say goodbye. But at other times, at times like this, with people such as yourselves—whom I’ve grown to love and whom I’m sure, you’ve grown to love—it’s much more difficult. But it goes to show you, that the Church is much more than a building made of stone, and that it’s even much more than a community, the sum of its individual members. Some of whom, perhaps, you didn’t always get along with or see eye-to-eye with over the years. It’s a covenant, a communion, a union with.
You see, behind the human exterior of the Church, stands the mystery of a more than human reality. The Church has its origin in the Trinity. It’s not a man-made institution which we can reorganize according to our own wants and whims; where we can take it or leave it and act as though we don’t really need it. It was prepared by the Father when He called together His chosen people. It was inaugurated by the Son when He formed His community of disciples and chose 12 among them to be Apostles. And it continues to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
And so, contrary to contemporary thinking, the Church is not a human construction, the product of our own efforts. The Church of Jesus Christ isn’t a political party, an association, or a club. It’s not an organization, but an organism—the living extension, the living body of Our Risen Lord.
“We are one body in union with Christ,” writes the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans 12:5 and the Colossians 1:18. “He is the head of his body, the Church; He is the source of the body’s life. He is the first-born Son, who was raised from death.” You see, behind the human exterior stands the mystery of a more than human reality, rooted in God Himself, a God who is Love, as He has revealed to us in revealing himself as the Holy Trinity.
Back in the 80’s, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, warned that this “authentically Catholic understanding of Church” was “tacitly disappearing.” He warned that we were forgetting this mystery, and in forgetting, failing to appreciate, to value and to treasure the gift that we have been given to share in, and perhaps that’s why we see it tacitly disappearing and fading.
I remember hearing, long ago, about a legend concerning a certain mountain out west that looked like Geronimo, the great Indian leader. A group of adventurers decided to try to find this mountain that very few had ever seen. The adventurers spent many months searching for Geronimo’s face, but had no luck. Finally, they came across a group of Indians and asked if they knew of such a mountain that had the face of Geronimo. The Indians said they did, and they led the adventurers on a 10-mile trek, after which they instructed the adventurers to turn around and look back in the direction from which they had just come. There it was, the face of Geronimo, right where they had been encamped. They had been too close to the face of the mountain to see it. They had to get back far enough to recognize it. They had to step back to appreciate it.
You know, I once heard the comment that we “human beings are like flies crawling across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We fail to see the work of art, what angels and gods lie underneath the threshold of our perceptions.” And it’s true! Oftentimes we take for granted and fail to appreciate those closest to us. Yes, we may acknowledge from time to time that they are a piece of work—especially when they aggravate/agitate us. But too often, we fail to see and recognize the gift they are to us. And perhaps this is what this moment in our history calls us to. Perhaps it's affording us an opportunity to step back and to rediscover what it means to be church, to appreciate the gift God has given us.
Over the past several days, in reflecting upon this occasion, talking to the parishioners and rereading the rich history of our parish, I could not help but marvel at our parishioners’ ability to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of so many trials and tribulations, challenges and difficulties throughout the years. All three of our parishes were destroyed by fire during their history, and all three were resurrected because of the faith and devotion, the dedication and commitment of our parishioners. Their resiliency and faith have been nothing less than remarkable.
It reminded me of a story I heard when visiting England as a seminarian, about the great fire that consumed the city of London in 1666. Some 430 acres, as much as 80 percent of the city proper was destroyed, including 13,000 houses, 89 churches, and 52 guild halls. Thousands of citizens found themselves homeless and financially ruined.
But from the midst of these ashes arose a brilliant young architect/engineer by the name of Sir Christopher Wren. He was commissioned to design and oversee the construction of over 70 building projects throughout London, including nearly 50 churches, not the least of which was a new St. Paul's Cathedral, considered to be his crowning accomplishment.
Today, Sir Christopher Wren’s tomb resides in the crypt of that cathedral. Wren’s son, Christopher wrote the epitaph that appears over his father’s tomb. It is written in Latin, but translates: “Beneath lies buried the founder of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived more than 90 years, not for himself, but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”
Well, in a manner of speaking, the same can be said of St. Stan’s-Holy Trinity/St. Adalbert/St Anthony Parish, who has lived 100 years, not for herself, but for the public good and the salvation of souls. If you seek her memorial, you simply need to look around you. Look around at the many men and women who perpetuate our parish mission. Look around at the ongoing good that you provide to our Church and local community, through your charitable outreach and lives of service.
Whether you realize it or not, your lives stand as a perpetual memorial to our parish, a memorial that speaks more powerfully and more eloquently than mere words can express. A memorial not built of brick, steel and mortar, but built upon values that will far outlast the test of time, values such as charity, justice and faith in Almighty God.
You see, our forefathers’ work was not a work of building bricks and mortar, but a work of instilling virtue and developing character, building a civilization of love, a culture of life that seeks to promote and enhance the true welfare and joy of all of its members.
And so, the best way that we can memorialize the remembrance of our parish, is by holding firm to the traditions handed on to us, the teaching of the Apostles, the breaking of the bread, the communal life and prayer. Living lives of virtue, striving for that unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17, and living lives of charity as Jesus commanded us when he said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” with a passion. We do so by being men and women of integrity, whose outward actions correspond with our inner convictions, and whose inner convictions are always mirrored and reflected in our outward actions. And we do so by working tirelessly to accomplish God’s will, to establish God’s kingdom, His reign, His Lordship, in everything we say, think and do.
Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill.” May God then, who has begun this great work in us, bring it to completion. May He bless and keep each of you that we may abide in His peace, be assured of His infinite love, and live always with His joy of heart.
My Scots-Irish grandmother used to say, “Never say goodbye, but until we meet again.” I love you, and I pray for you each and every day, and I hope and trust that God will continue to bless you with priests and pastors who love you as much as Jesus Loves you.