I read the letter from your Bishop and in it, a sentence toward the beginning struck me: “if this ruling stands how we carry out God’s mission and the ministries he has given us will dramatically change.” He is right. The loss of buildings in my Diocese of the Upper Midwest has led to a period of intense mission and ministry. Church plants have risen up in previously fallow places. God knows how to turn evil to good.
But right now, there is no sense in being triumphal. Worship belongs in sacred spaces; is elevated by them. The loss of them is nothing but a tragedy. It is right to lament a tragedy. It is right to seek to reverse a tragedy. Houses of worship are rightly part of a diocese’s patrimony and memory. Their altars have been consecrated by generations of worship, their windows have strained the light of a thousand Feast Days. We ought to pray earnestly that these places be kept holy, returned to their rightful owners for their right use. But the hard reality that so many in our province have faced is that God does not always satisfy us in this way.
History shows us that when communities face loss, memory sustains them. The Church’s earliest memories are not of sacred places but secret ones: private houses, catacombs, and others. Today, we’ve come back around and things are not so different. Here in Chicago, restaurants, school buildings, storefronts, living rooms, movie theaters and parks have been our catacombs for a decade. No place is safe from the Holy Spirit, and there are many new wine-skins waiting to be filled.
The People of God do not only have the past to buttress them. Our hope is in the New Jerusalem, the coming City of God. We ought to take special note of our Lord’s architectural design for worship in that place:
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.