Christmas Sanctuary of St. Peter Church, Cloverdale, California
Readings for Mass: I: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Responsorial: Psalm 66; II:I Peter 3:15-18; Gospel: 14:15-21
The Extraordinary Easter season of 2020 is drawing to a close. Next Sunday we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of our Lord followed by Pentecost Sunday a week later. This may cause some to wonder why I begin this reflection with a picture of the sanctuary of my parish church, St. Peter’s. at Christmas. Has the deacon messed up his calendar …again?
I share the image purposefully. While it may seem ages ago our last holiday Masses were for Christmas. Together we sang, celebrated and probably took for granted the holy joy and privilege of gathering to worship our Lord Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us. It would also seem quite long since we last gathered in our churches as the season of Lent was starting. Little did we realize what we all would be called to give up for Lent, and longer. Our ability to gather, to worship, to celebrate our Liturgies. our “public celebrations of prayer and worship”, our celebration of the Sacraments, of the humble communities of faith we were, and are having all been locked away. To gather, worship, pray with our eyes, ears, hearts focused to the Sanctuary to enter into the fullness of graces, the Real Presence of Christ, our God, in that holy place, all has been denied us.
Or has it?
It is very clear that the norm of gathering for our worship and celebration of the Sacraments has been curtailed for a season. We share with all people this need of sacrifice for the healing of our land from the afflictions of the Covid virus. We take encouragement that some of the many restrictions are being lifted. But we also share the great unknown as to what may occur with the virus and our lives as the changes are realized. Within all this uncertainty we may struggle trying to understand and practice our faith so rooted in our holy places of worship and prayer.
We long for the beauty and peace of God’s sanctuary. We long to gather in prayer literally entering into the Church, beholding His sanctuary, knowing the Real Presence of Jesus is in His Tabernacle. It is difficult as it could seem Jesus is..locked away.
Or is He?
This 6th Sunday of Easter we start to see the holy wind of the Spirit of God shift from the glories of Easter to the promise and power of the coming of the Comforter, the Paraclete, The Holy Spirit of God on Pentecost. As we let God’s Spirit whisper to our hearts this Sunday we hear, in our Bible readings, that God is not locked away, God would be with us. We would hear that while our great gift of the liturgy and sacraments is locked away, for a season, God is not. God has chosen and powerfully chosen to manifest his graces, His Presence in those holy works of God’s people gathered together. But God has also chosen to be with us in other ways as well.
God would indeed dwell within the sanctuary…of our hearts, as we but seek, allow, trust Jesus at His holy Word.
The first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Acts. It shares a story of almost scandalous magnitude. It is but a very short time after the passion and resurrection of Jesus. Up to this point in the history and culture of the holy land the Jews and the Samaritans shared only three things of significance. They shared a mixed heritage to Abraham, they shared the land of Palestine, and they shared an intense and ancient animosity and distrust of each other. But the events shared form the Book of Acts proclaim events that defied all understanding and expectations of the Jews and of the early Church. God was welcoming those Samaritans!!!! To the astonishment and joy of the Apostles not only had the Samaritans received the Gospel but upon their visit to that place long forbidden, they saw that God’s Holy Spirit was freely given to them. God was Present and working well outside the sanctuary in Jerusalem and well outside the hearts and minds of the early faithful.
It is in the Gospel, as Jesus shares prior to His passion, that we learn He has made all the arrangements needed for His people. ALL of HIS people. Christ affirms and explains the coming of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit for His Church. The Paraclete would be given to guide, to empower, to enflame with fire of His Holy Love ALL the people God calls to follow Him. God has not been surprised by the events of the world in 2020. Just as our Heavenly Father was not deterred by the passion and death of His Son, the testings and persecutions of the Church throughout the ages. Sadly, many the times and places where God’s people were not free to gather, to worship as they would choose. Yet God’s Presence has never failed to be with the faithful of the past or with us now. It is in these peculiar times we are especially called by God to individually and together build the beauty of God’s sanctuary in our hearts.
St. Peter writes to all the faithful (in a time of tribulation): “Beloved: Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts…” (I Pet. 3:15). It is during Mass at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, that the gifts of bread and wine are sanctified, consecrated, with the faithful, to God. This occurs at the altar, in the sanctuary of the church. Today, everyday, we are called and given the opportunity to consecrate and sanctify, to set apart, for God our hearts. Every day we live, whether we are at Mass, perhaps in the Holy Land, walking along the beach, or cloistered in our homes, with our families under the requirements of sheltering in place, or even in a hospital bed, we are called to give, make beautiful for Jesus, our hearts. We must allow the graces of His mercy to cleanse and forgive us, to guide and empower us…for His Holy Love and mercy. And it is essential to note that the Holy Spirit, speaking through St. Peter, speaks to “sanctify your hearts”, plural, our individual hearts, TOGETHER, for God!
This Sunday as the Easter dawn grows to fuller light we anticipate and remember the promise and power of the Holy Spirit. May we renew or efforts to have Christ dwell within each our hearts and help us know…He is with us always, even unto the end of the age. Jesus seeks to dwell in the sanctuary of our hearts.