On some Sundays,
I sit at Mass and look around at all the people whom I’ve seen for years, most of whom I know only by sight and not by name. I’ve watched them grow up. Some of them were once children here, annoying people by making noise or by running up and down the side aisles. I’ve seen them become awkward teenagers, pierced or tattooed, over- or under-dressed—mostly the latter. And I’ve seen people age, become ill. Some have died. I’ve been a member of this congregation since 1986. Priests have come and gone. They’ve endured love or criticism from the people. Like partisan politics, the temptation is always to take sides, to define ourselves and each other by which side we take. I abstain.
Sometimes it happens that when I look at all these people I know so well and not at all, I am overcome with love for them. It wells up in me and if I’m not careful, I may start to weep with the intensity of that feeling. Mass is communion and community and therefore public. It’s not a private affair. A degree of self-consciousness is required and appropriate.
I think there is an analogy here. It’s come to mind before. Our church is, in a word, ugly. Built around 1960, I believe, it’s an example of the pseudo-modern architecture of the time. A massive structure of tan-beige brick with black mortar. There was apparently an unfortunate decision to nod to Moorish Spain, and so it has brown-painted metal Moorish arches at its interior sides and that Moorish-shaped terra cotta tile in the vestibule. And everywhere, inside and out, that ugly tan-beige brick. But, directly in front of everyone, and high above us all, is an alabaster-looking, quite traditional Crucifix. And it is very beautiful.
How like both the church and the Church, pierced or tattooed, running up and down in boredom or attention-seeking, competitive, argumentative, or with that well-intentioned hypocrisy that attempts to be antidotal to ugly brick. It may be that we are that brick, with all our good and bad intentions, our deep or shallow motives for being there, our helplessness and confusion, our fears and vain desires. We are there under his steadfast gaze above us. And he is steadfast. He’s always there, through the lives and the deaths, the turnover of priests, the sins, the denial of sins, the confession of sins, the restless longing for truth and goodness and beauty, and above all, for interior peace. He’s always there. He never changes. This crucifix depicts a living Christ. It’s not a post-mortem depiction. And sometimes I know he’s looking down on our ugliness with love so intense that he could weep with it.
I love my church. And all of us in it. Not because I’m different from anyone else there. I’m not. I just look at the Crucifix and I love.