Sacred grounding

Out on the plains of North Dakota there once stood a church, a building of severe Gothic style that served my German-Catholic ancestors. It is gone now, demolished! Those who once worshipped there have gone elsewhere. I was deeply saddened when I learned of its passing, because it was on the very grounds of this modest sacred edifice that my faith took first root. Nonetheless, I was determined to return to that small plot of land and recover my memories. So there I stood, some 80 years into my adulthood, on the very foundations of the church of Saint Henry, reminiscing how mysteriously and unostentatiously it all began, this sacramental life that I still ferociously cling to. I will defend and treasure it as long as I am able.

It has often occurred to me that many people, of whatever religious persuasion, retain a fierce rootedness to the church of their origins.

True enough, many also lose touch with their first encounter with the sacred. I hold neither rancor nor enmity. God’s spirit moves in inexplicable ways. I can only speak of the manner the Spirit has moved strangely and mysteriously through my own antiquity.

My point is that deep in their memories, most people will always retain a love affair with the church of their origins, and although now only a memory, they will defend it with a certain ferocity.

This is also the sense I have in reading the Gospel of Saint John for this Third Sunday of Lent. Here we also read the story of someone who has a fierce attachment to the temple in Jerusalem where, as a young man, he first encountered the sacred texts of the Torah and even engaged the scribes over their elucidation. It was also here, in these precincts made holy by centuries of faith and worship that he found men engaged in the secular trade of coins, sacrificial animals and occasional quarrels. The text relates that Jesus “made a sort of whip out of cords and drove them all hence.” An amazing incident to recall: the Son of God defending the temple, the very sacred edifice which he first encountered as a small child.

“In his fury, he drove them all out.” Reading it, I am inclined to say, “Bravo, well done, Jesus!”

In this moment of our history there is still much love and serious contention regarding a high point of land in the Old City of Jerusalem that Jews claim as the exact spot of Solomon’s magnificent temple, the Temple Mount and what Muslims know as Haram el Sharif (the Sacred Noble Sanctuary). It is not too much even to imagine this site as a fierce battleground of faith, a place of religious and cultural divide. One has the sense that it is not simply a piece of dirt, this bulge in the land that is precious to nations and people, but a physical focal point of human and religious discourse that has occurred in this spot through the centuries. People will stand firm on memories of their faith; it is that which has formed their very identity and bound them resolutely to one another, never to become unhinged!

Scriptures for March 8

Exodus 20: 1-17

1 Cor. 1: 22-25

John 2: 13-25

The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese as director of pastoral education. He now lives in Notre Dame, Indiana.

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