Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock

When I was a boy, my grandmother took me on a walk through her small town. (Sorry for all the "walking" posts; I shall try to include some about driving or flying as well.;)) Along the way, we stopped at its most magnificent structure--the local parish church, known once upon a time by the nickname "cathedral of McSherrystown." The cornerstone was laid in 1900, and it is one of the most beautiful and impressive buildings in the whole Diocese of Harrisburg.

In we went, up to the altar rail, where we knelt, and my grandmother lit a votive candle. I had never seen such a custom before, nor had I ever been in such a wonderful building. On that day, I was introduced to a side of Catholicism that I, having attended the suburban spaceship church, had never seen before, and it was all thanks to the holiness of an elder.

One of the things that struck me on that day was that you could just walk into church to pray. Who had ever heard of such a thing? Didn't they lock the doors?

To be sure, this was in a different time and in a different place, but I sincerely regret that at 2:30pm in broad daylight there is not one church within a twenty minute walk of my apartment that I am aware of that is open for prayer. I do not mean to unjustly criticize pastors for doing what they think is prudent. There are, to be sure, grave situations to consider when deciding to keep a church open during the daytime, the most important of which is the protection of the Blessed Sacrament. This would seem to require the presence in the building of at least one trustworthy person at all times.

Permit me, however, to indulge in some wondering aloud: Have we allowed the pragmatic challenges to overshadow the possibilities of Divine grace? Would a greater accessibility to prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament serve as a source of life for our neighborhoods and our congregations? Scheduled times of prayer and adoration are a good thing, something for which I am grateful, but what about those times when the Holy Spirit taps you on the shoulder? That doesn't always conform to parish schedules. To be sure, our neighborhoods are not what they once were--not even in "middle America" where it is said that everyone knows everyone. The only way to bring peace, however, is through Christ, and that is hard to do when the church is shut tight.

Let's not forget, either, about the beauty of our churches and the ability of such splendor to convert souls. Fr. Jay Scott Newman once told the story of his conversion on EWTN. As a student at Princeton, he would go into the college chapel and admire the beauty and the architecture. One day Newman, then an atheist, caught himself saying, "I know You're not there." In the realization of the irony of this statement, Fr. Newman's conversion began.

Please know that I am not unaware of the potential troubles involved in keeping churches open throughout the day. I once worked at a metropolitan cathedral that was located in not exactly the most ideal place. Truly, I could tell you some colorful stories. But all that frustration was worth it, if only to allow Christ into one more heart each day through the open doors of the church.

Today, as I returned from a most frustrating search for an open church, I couldn't help but grumble to myself that Bl. John XXIII opened the windows, and we have locked the doors.

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