Where does the Beauty of Church lie?

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The mural of the Angry Christ in St. Joseph in Victorias City, Negros Occidental in the Philippines. Graphics by Br. Paul Dungca, SDB.

Wikipedia ranks the Basilica of San Martin de Tours in Taal, Batangas not only the largest church building in the Philippines, but also the largest in the whole of Asia.

Topping that list is no other than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (I heard that a Catholic church should not be constructed taller than it). However, St. Peter’s does not hold the distinction of being the first among the great basilicas of Rome, this merit goes to St. John Lateran Basilica, which is not only the mother church of all Catholic churches (this is under the care of the Holy Father), but also the earliest church ever constructed.

This Sunday, we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica which took place in the year 324. The liturgy invites us to ponder on the devotion we give to the church as this Sunday’s Gospel (John 2:13-22) speaks of Jesus’ utter deference to the Temple.

The Word in other words

The Temple used to be the center of Jewish worship until 70 AD when it was destroyed by the Romans. In this episode, Jesus pays a visit to it in time for the Passover feast. But the sight which welcomes Him must have surprised Him, rather negatively.

Vendors hawk animals used for the sacrificial offerings. On one side, a slew of money-changers is at the peak of their business. Since Passover was—and remains to be—one important feast for them, Jews from faraway places come to Jerusalem.

This puts money-changers in proper context: Jews who arrive from other countries need their currency to be converted so that they can buy the sacrificial offerings on sale nearby.

We see here that the religiosity of the Jews has created an industry of trade which pulsates with life, making the enterprising Jews and Temple priests smile big—except that Jesus is not entertained.

Customizing a whip from ropes, He drives them all out of the temple and overturns the tables of the money-changers, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade,” He screams.

Smarting from Jesus’ dressing-down, they retort “What sign have you to show us for doing this?”

Jesus plays their game and ups the ante. He dares them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

The Jews was baffled, they grumble “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”

But they are lost in Jesus’ rhetoric. Only the disciples will remember what He said—but only in hindsight—when He is already raised back to life.

This Gospel episode narrates how Jesus wishes that we give due respect to the church building. After all, it is a structure we set aside precisely for worship, a special place in the community which has been chosen to convey our devotion to God.

What is the Church?

However, Jesus also points out a deeper meaning of what a church is, which goes beyond mere structure. We in the Philippines ought to realize this more: A church remains to be a church even if its very building is smashed by earthquakes or ravaged by the strongest typhoons.

The Church is composed of the community who believe in God. Likewise, the Scriptures reminds us that we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19), as such, we ought to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Hence, to show love to the Church is not merely to provide flowers for its weekly upkeep, but to nourish the community that makes it up, to show concern for the future generations that will constitute its membership, to show love and concern to each person who suffers and is experiencing difficulty.

To consider each one as a member of the Church makes us see in each person a brother or a sister in the truest sense of the word: he/she belongs to your family, to our family. As such, he/she has the power to contribute to its growth or to its destruction.

Hence, special accolades given to a church will have no merit if the community that takes care of it fails to show appropriate care for those members of the community who need it the most: the last, the least, the lost, and the little ones.

In the final analysis, the beauty of the church is measured not by its height, antiquity, grandeur, but the love and compassion which springs from it.

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