29th Wednesday of Ordinary Time
Solemnity of the Anniversary of the Dedication of Our Church
1Kgs 8:22-23, 27-30; 1Pt 2:4-9; Lk 19:1-10
Today we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of our church. This structure was made up of many different types of building materials. Each one of those materials had its strengths and its weaknesses. Each one was chosen to fulfill a particular task because it was good at it. Elsewhere in the building another substance was used because it had natural qualities that were just right for that requirement. Together, all the different substances and materials contributed their strengths and advantages to form a very solid and durable structure.
When we look up at the underside of the roof, those boards are cedar. Cedar wood is soft, but if it gets wet it will last longer before decaying. The boards that make up the choir stalls and pews are red oak. Red oak is a hardwood and easy to work with when shaping it for furniture and flooring. However, when it is exposed to moisture it decays much faster than white oak, cedar, or locust. Since the shingles leak sometimes over a span of decades or even centuries, cedar was a good wood to use for roofing, but it would not have been good for flooring. Likewise, red oak would not have been a good choice for roofing.
Along our walls today we see twelve candles. Today is the only day of the year they appear. We also have four candles up by the railing. The walls of our church are made up of impressive stones. Those stones are not good for burning and providing fuel, but they are good at forming a wall. Likewise, wax is a good substance for fuel. It allows itself to be consumed in order to provide tongues of fire that add to the mood of our celebration. But its natural qualities are not good for holding up a roof.
This church is a reflection of our monastic community. Each one of us monks has his strengths and weaknesses. Some things we’re good at; some things we’re not. But just as the builders of this church chose the various materials to contribute their strengths in order to build up the whole, so each one of us has something unique to contribute in the building up of our community. We mustn’t compare ourselves or envy the gifts of others. In God’s eyes we’re all precious and have a special role to play. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Now the body is not a single part but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” . . . God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (1Cor 12:12-26)
Our stained glass windows are very rich in diversity. There are many shades of colors and thousands of unique shapes of chipped glass. If the windows were all one shape and color it would take away from the vibrancy of the whole structure. Likewise, each one of us brings our uniqueness to the whole in order to make our monastic community more interesting.
As we look at our stained glass windows right now we see the sunlight streaming through them. The variety is beautiful. Think of the sunlight as God’s love and life streaming into the world, which is represented by the inside of our church. All of us are the bits of broken glass that make up the windows. Because we are all unique, God’s love is refracted through us to the world in a different, irreplaceable way. Each one of us is a unique reflection of God to others, and all of us have a special role to play in the masterpiece that God has created. In God’s mind, the masterpiece would somehow be impoverished without us.
And so, my brothers, as we celebrate the 44 years of existence of this material structure, let us also celebrate the spiritual structure that is our monastic community. There is complementarity in our diversity. Each one of us brings gifts that build up the whole.