A few years ago, as I was ushering my 3rd grade Sunday School class to our annual Advent confession day, I reminded them that Jesus was present in the Tabernacle. One of the girls repeated the word “Tabernacle” several times, as if chewing on the word, before proclaiming, “Tabernacle…that’s my favorite word!” It became the word that grounded us when lessons about the Trinity and Church teaching somehow became a weekly update about everyone’s pets. The Tabernacle was our anchor, and each class I reminded them that Jesus was present in that gold box called a Tabernacle whenever they saw that red sanctuary candle lit.
As our Church grapples with the sorrows of the past few months, I feel buoyed up by this memory. It reminds me that our Church is made of much more than the few people who have led us to disappointment and doubt, and I feel emboldened to pray the Creed. Yes, Lord I believe in One God…
I believe that there is a power in being a broken Church. Certainly the Apostles, who felt the corruption and blasphemy of the leaders of their faith at the Church’s very beginnings, must have felt similar emotions. Who can I trust? Is the Lord really present in this Church? Is it worth staying?
Years ago, when I lived in Rome, my parish was Sancta Maria in Trastevere. In the early Church, the taverns, which occupied the Church’s current location, became the very place where the Gospel was spread and hearts were converted to Christ. This bit of history reminds me that the Gospel is not meant to be experienced solely within the confines of the physical church building, and that Jesus Christ is not meant to be kept on reserve in the Tabernacle like a book in a library. Rather, we are all, priest and parishioner alike, meant to proclaim that Gospel and bring that Presence of Christ wherever we go. We are both Tabernacle and sanctuary candle, alive with Christ, present within us, and aflame with the joy of Love Incarnate.
A few years ago, the Holy Father challenged us to be “Missionary Disciples.” I think that, particularly now, we must also be Missionary Healers. Every person is wounded, even (and perhaps most especially) the wound-er. We must accept into our hearts the broken, those who feel alone and rejected. We must give them a resting place in our hearts so that they can experience the warmth of Christ’s Presence in our hearts. Often it is in this moment of mercy that I recognize He is really there.
The world is cold and dark, but His Presence is still aflame, even if it feels like the dying embers of a once roaring fire. The fact remains that light is more powerful than darkness. Even in the darkness we have the moon and stars for light, just as we have Our Lady and the saints (and each other!), giving us hope, pointing us to the sun we cannot see.
We must have faith even when those who promise to lead us go astray, and remain strong in our defense of Christ and His Church, even when our offense fails. We must pray for our leaders, our parish priests who are on the front lines, the offensive line, if you will, taking the hits even when the quarterback fumbles. We are the defense and special teams! We must support our faithful offense, the clergy, who lead us to closer to the endzone, to our Heavenly goal, to become saints in God’s kingdom.
Only God knows the trajectory of our Church. It is my hope, however, that this horrific experience will generate saints of all states of life. Our faith is stronger than sin, as it is made of the very Presence of Christ in our hearts, so long as we let Him remain there. We are living Tabernacles, charged with bringing healing to our broken world. Together we can rebuild His Church, a mission not unique to Saint Francis.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that each of us is broken, wounded by sin, others, and the fallen world in which we live. To all of you, let Christ heal you! He accepts you, as broken as you are. You are never too broken for God.
When you find yourself feeling lost remember the anchor. You are a Tabernacle, Jesus Christ is with you, and you have a mission. Our Church will never crumble because Christ is truly present in our sanctuaries, in our hearts, and in those of countless other Christians. Wherever you are, at home or in your car, at work or school, in a bar or a tavern, you are a Missionary Healer, because you are His and He is yours.