“The Lord keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry.” Psalm 146.
Recently I came across an article in National Geographic magazine about the Barcelona Cathedral. It took some 133 years to bring to completion Antonio Gaudi’s “Sagrada Familia.”
With its imposing towers, the highest of which is 564 feet — it is the tallest religious structure in Europe. Each of the towers has specific names: “Hosanna,” “Excelsis,” and “Sanctus.” One million visitors come to the extravagant edifice. Some come for religious reasons, such as Pope Benedict XVI, who blessed and raised the structure to the status as a basilica. Others like writer George Orwell don’t take to this example of “nouveau surrealism.”
So many years passed as the building was constructed. After the long delays, someone asked the architect why it was taking so long to finish? Gaudi replied, “My client is not in a hurry!”
For his design, Gaudi looked to nature for his inspiration. He said, “If nature is the work of God, and if architectural forms derive from nature, then the best way to honor God is to design buildings based on his work.” It is the largest gothic cathedral to be built since the Middle Ages and will be completed in 2016, precisely 100 years after Gaudi’s death.
Checking the comment section on the National Geographic website, I noticed readers leaving replies like, “Heart of Gaudi.” And “So interesting.” Or, “Spired-some! Thanks, Gaudi.” And “It makes me want to get to Barcelona, asap.”
But also, “Monumental waste of money.”
Yes, the money, the time, and the intention recall the line from Psalm 127, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”
Interestingly, today’s gospel from Mark asks us to go deeper into our religious commitment and go beyond the buildings and artifice of religion. Jesus’s concern for people like the widow forwards his spiritual ideal that our human condition outweighs even the centrality of the temple itself.
Herod’s expensive extravagance of the temple in Jerusalem was in size — two-times more massive than the Roman Forum. And the funds to build it came from the “little people” like the widow in the story.
The Letter to the Hebrews, our second reading, tells us that Christ Jesus is “our priest before God” and the “True Temple.” And here we are reminded that he will appear again to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.
So how should we conduct our lives in the meantime?
Let’s turn to Mark 12, our gospel passage today. Recall, this event takes place only moments before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, to His crucifixion and death. Jesus laments the condition of the temple and the exploitation of the widow in the name of religion.
Consequently, he knows there is an excellent religious practice and wrong. Something like “good politics” and “bad politics.” The good advances most of us, while the bad only advances the few.
In our story, the widow engages in the act of great courage, personal dignity, and profound vocation. Something that Jesus sees in her — is so worthy of salvation and reward.
What’s our response? Is there any prescription here for us today?
I have three Rx’s today.
First, I’m reminded of the statement to those ordained to the diaconate, when these candidates are given the great privilege to read at liturgy from the book of the Gospels.
The bishop tells the ordained, “Receive the Book of the Gospels. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you preach!’ So let us all practice what we preach.
Second, I look at our parish. After a process of discernment, we drafted a mission statement that speaks to our future, “Shaping the future at a table of profound gratitude and boundless generosity.” Let’s celebrate an attitude of gratitude with one another, especially as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.
Lastly, let’s take advantage of our invitation from Pope Francis to open wide the “doors of mercy” — for the coming 2016 Jubilee Year. Each must account for our past mistakes or misconduct — both as individuals and as institutions.
Most of all, welcome those on the edges of life — like the widow, the poor, the disabled veteran, and immigrant children with great personal gentleness and generosity of heart.
In this light, please read Pope Francis’s tender remarks of September 27th — to the survivors of priest sex abuse at the time of his visit to Philadelphia. Let us open wide the “doors of mercy,” not only to our great churches and cathedrals but, most of all, open our hearts.
San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, CA.