It’s no secret that today a good number of people don’t go to church to get married, get their children baptized, bury their dead, or to pray. Part of it may be the Covid pandemic, but the trend was there before Covid. Many of our churches are failing because people don’t come to them.
Today’s Feast of the Lateran Basilica in Rome is a good time to think about our churches. That ancient church was often in danger of falling down over the centuries because of its location in the city and the fortunes of the city itself.
One critical occasion was when Innocent III was pope in the 12th century. St. Francis of Assisi and 12 companions came to the pope, whose church in Rome then was the Lateran Basilica, to ask his permission to begin a new order for reforming the church.
The pope, they say, had a dream the basilica was falling down and Francis had come to build it up. He gave Francis permission and a great movement for church renewal began.
I wonder if today Pope Francis has that same sense that the church is falling down and needs renewal and reform? I wonder if that isn’t his goal for the present Synod he’s called.
The liturgy we celebrate today for the Dedication of a Church offers some beautiful insights into what a church should be. “Zacchaeus, hurry down, I mean to stay with you today.” So beautifully personal. Jesus call to the tax-collector from Jericho is a reminder the church is for people, even outsiders like Zacchaeus, not just for regular parishioners.
The church is a house of prayer Jesus reminds us when the cleanses the temple. It’s a place never finished, always being built. It’s for living stones, each having a place in the building.
It’s easy to blame the people who don’t come when a church is falling down. Better to look at those still in it.