In Your Midst

Celebrating the Human Part of this Great Place

November 2004

As I thought about what I would say to introduce this Centennial issue of In Your Midst, I went back in the archives to see what had been said at earlier milestone anniversaries of our parish. I found it interesting that only the 25th anniversary of the parish (1929) was celebrated and marked with a commemorative booklet. Neither the 50th (1954) nor the 75th (1979) anniversaries of the parish are even mentioned in the archives although in both cases the cathedral’s anniversaries were appropriately observed and accompanied by handsome publications. I have to wonder whether this has something to do with the fact that the cathedral parish was somewhat eclipsed by the cathedral as cathedral during some of those middle years. My speculation only, but this much is certain: St. James Cathedral parish was vibrant and thriving at the time of the silver jubilee in 1929, and it is vibrant and thriving in 2004!

We will, of course, appropriately mark the 100th anniversary of the cathedral in 2007 but I, for one, am happy that we have the opportunity this year to do nothing more than celebrate the human part of this great place: the flesh and blood rather than the bricks and mortar.

It is a commonplace today to speak first of the Church in terms of people. The Second Vatican Council opened the way for this when, in speaking about the Church, it insisted on speaking before all else of the people to whom God communicates Himself in love. Before any mention of hierarchy, structure, or government—and before any mention of the buildings we call churches—the Council spoke about God’s Holy People. This represented a significant shift in thinking from the time St. James Cathedral parish was established by Bishop Edward O’Dea on November 13, 1904. The thinking of that day is probably best represented by the words in mosaic tile that greet you whenever you enter the cathedral by the main west entrance: Domus Dei Porta Coeli (“House of God, Gate of Heaven”). Those words from Genesis put there in 1907 are clearly words about a building—a magnificent building that is the home for a parish community. The Second Vatican Council’s thinking about the Church is best represented by the very next inscription in the cathedral’s stone floor, the passage from the First Letter of Peter that surrounds the baptistery and that was added many years later in 1994. These words are not about a building but a people, about us. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people that you may declare the wonderful deeds of God who called you out of darkness into marvelous light.”

It is this understanding of the Church as God’s Holy People that makes it so important that we celebrate the centennial of the establishment of our parish. And central to all of this is, of course, our baptism. It was then that we received our call from God, it was then that we were clothed with a priestly dignity beyond our imagining, it was then that we began to walk as children of the light. I like to say that baptism is everywhere at St. James. Literally! The baptism of Christ greets us on the great ceremonial doors; the baptistry is squarely in our path as we enter the nave of the cathedral; and far in the east apse, it is the great baptism window that welcomes the morning light and silently teaches about baptism all day long. All this is very fitting because baptism is the foundation for all that we are and all that we do, and I strongly believe that the great proliferation of life and ministry in this parish in recent years is rooted in our understanding of the call each of us received from God on the day of our baptism.

We will acknowledge the importance of our baptism at the centennial Masses we will be celebrating on November 13-14, and again, with Archbishop Brunett, on November 21. At each of those Masses we will be sprinkled with the baptismal waters and reminded of the great calling that is ours. Later, during the second ‘lap’ of our centennial celebration (2005-2006), baptism will be the underlying theme of an entire year which will be devoted to spiritual renewal.

I am grateful to the many people, staff and volunteers, who have devoted so much time to planning our centennial. I’m also grateful to them for insisting that the centennial be a living celebration. It is always tempting—at a pivotal historical moment such as this one—to devote most of the efforts and energy to “parish archaeology”—i.e., digging up the past. I think that would be a mistake. It’s entertaining and even energizing, of course, to look at old pictures and to pore over old documents and memoirs. I’ve done a fair amount of that myself of late, and I trust you are enjoying the many treasures from the past we have been able to unearth. But we need to live in the present and we must never stop scanning the horizon for what is yet to be. The present is the point at which God’s grace and mercy touch us and our world, and, to borrow from the poet W. H. Auden, the present is what needs to be “redeemed from insignificance.” It is only in the present that we can offer our worship to God; it is only in the present that we can discover the face of Christ in those around us, especially the poor; it is only in the present that we can be a voice for those who have no voice.

And then there is the future. I am deeply gratified by the fact that so many of you responded generously during this past year to a call to look toward the future of this wonderful parish. The Centennial Capital Campaign was all about the future—the future of our parish and of our ministry as a parish in the heart of our city. We who have received so much from five generations of faithful cathedral parishioners have not been content only to receive. At this milestone moment we have been willing to make a significant down-payment on the next hundred years, one that will make a difference in a lot of lives.

I trust you will enjoy this souvenir issue of In Your Midst as much as some of your fellow parishioners enjoyed planning it and putting it together. And I pray that through all of our centennial celebrations—from now until December of 2007—we will, as a parish, grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ who is “in our midst as one who serves.”

Father Michael G. Ryan
Cathedral Pastor

Other articles in the November 2004

One Hundred Years Ago

The Century at St. James

The Pew Next to You

Parish Annual Report 2003-2004

The Cathedral in Cyberspace

Image of the Divine

Cathedral Almanac

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