In Your Midst

A CATHEDRAL IN SPAIN SENDS A MESSAGE

Summer 2001

In This Issue:
The following is the homily given by Father Ryan at the beautiful Cathedral of Leon on the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It was Thursday of the Third Week of Lent, March 22, 2001. We offer it here since the metaphor of the Cathedral is one that can speak to the “pilgrim” in each of us.

Today’s readings seem rather stark and sober for such a beautiful place. They speak of listening to and obeying God’s voice (etymologically they are the same since “listen” and “obey” share a common Latin root). They tell us pilgrims who would walk with God that these are the ways to walk with God: by listening and obeying. And they acknowledge, sadly, that we always have the choice to turn from God’s ways and walk in our own ways.

Our “walk” these days of pilgrimage has been something altogether unique, hasn’t it? It was wonderfully summed up in the words of the Responsorial Psalm: “Come, let us bow down in worship. Let us kneel before the God who made us.” In a very real sense we have been walking on our knees these days. That is what pilgrims do. And we have walked in some pretty remarkable places.

This prompts me to say something about these great cathedrals and basilicas in which we are walking and praying these days (Notre Dame in Paris and Chartres, Lourdes, Burgos, Leon, and soon, Santiago de Compostela.) In so many ways they are very apt metaphors for us, for our lives and for our journey.

The great portals and doors of these cathedrals put us in mind of the Communion of Saints and of the God whose embrace is wide — the God who loves and embraces all, saints and sinners alike. But they also serve as reminders that for us, graced by the call to discipleship, the way is narrow and that there is for us only one door — Jesus, who calls himself the Door. And the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The soaring vaults of these cathedrals reflect our highest aspirations. There is really no limit to them as they boldly defy the laws of gravity. Yet the stone and mortar of which they are built remind us of the earth from whence we came. Like these cathedrals, we too have very humble beginnings, and are a most unlikely blend of down-to-earth ordinariness and unparalleled magnificence.

The glorious stained-glass windows speak for themselves but they also speak of our ability to reflect and shine forth the very beauty and brilliance of God. And we do reflect God — each one of us — in a startling spectrum, an amazing array of hues and colors.

The stunning and intricate art and human handiwork in these buildings — hand-hewn stones, carved gargoyles and capitals, inlaid woods, sculpted marbles and polychromed statues — all speak of us who are God’s living handiwork, more precious and beautiful by far than any of these, even the noblest works of human hands.

These marvelous cathedrals stand as perennial images of ourselves and as reminders of the meaning of our human journey. Like these cathedrals, we are meant to reach for God, the unreachable. Like them, we have our origins in the clay of the earth; yet we are meant to pierce the heavens in our search for God. We are to find in the awesome embrace of these great cathedrals — in their grand vaulted naves and in their quiet corners, their dimly-lit chapels and their intimate candle-lit shrines — a renewed sense of the awesomeness and total otherness of God as well as an ever more personal connection with the God who dwells among us and who alone can satisfy our deepest hungers and thirsts.

And I would add just one more thought. These cathedrals will have done their work, served their noble purpose, only if they succeed in forming and shaping us as a people, the people of God, into a living cathedral. We are meant to be living stones in a living temple, we, the holy and trying-to-be-holy people of God!

These days together on pilgrimage are in so many ways a microcosm of our lives with their ups and downs, their highs and lows, their compromises and their triumphs, their challenges and their glories. May these days together, and this celebration of the Eucharist, bring us just a little closer to being and becoming that glorious, living cathedral God is calling us to be!


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