Catholic Churches are closing. They are closing everywhere. I am sure that you may have seen a beloved worship space have its doors shuddered in the last few years, or maybe you’re not in a part of the country where that’s happening. In any case, people grieve a special sort of way when they see a building closing that hosted family baptisms, first Holy Communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals. Sure, it’s similar to losing a loved one, but I need to be honest, that building is not a loved one.
I have lived through the closing of four different church buildings and gone through the parish merger process three different times. Every time feels a little different, but my faith remains unshaken and my commitment to the mission remains unwavering. The closing of a church building is something to which I have grown accustomed, not in some sick or twisted glee that a house of worship is closing, but really that I know this is what Holy Mother Church must do to further Her mission. That may seem counterintuitive for progress, but let’s consider the great commissioning.
Matthew 28:18-20 says: Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Jesus says nothing here about the building we use as the home base for worship, but he does give us some pretty clear instructions. When He tells the disciples earlier in the Gospel to leave behind their possessions and follow Him, I think He’s bringing us to the great commissioning. We don’t have time to squabble over property and objects, we need to get out there and preach the Gospel. I have overheard people say that they would leave the Church if their building closes. I have been bold enough to ask them to stay and continue to love the Lord wherever He may be, because Jesus promised He would be with us until the end. All earthly dwellings, churches, houses, and bodies are merely the temporal locations of our souls until they find their way back to the eternity we deserve.
So, what about the mission? A place of worship is a place we can call home. For reasons beyond our control, some of those homes need to be left. Just as Jesus journeyed through many different countries and then the disciples did the same to preach the Gospel, so we must move with Holy Mother Church to more closely follow Christ. I am always inspired by the profound beauty of Saint Maximilian Kolbe who was able to celebrate the Mass in his cell at Auschwitz with the juice from a single grape and a small piece of bread. Is his Mass any less of a sacrifice outside what I’m sure used to be his home church building? He spread the Gospel until he was finally martyred, only focusing on his eternal home with Jesus Christ and bringing the people around him with him to the Lord. If we had that kind of focus, we’d leave the church building on Sunday and never look back! Just as the Right Reverend Boniface Wimmer, OSB said “Forward, always forward, everywhere forward!”
So, what now? The pain of losing a place of worship is real. There is no way to sugar coat that. Let the beautiful treasury of memories you have of your church building serve as a source of joy and inspiration. When we lose someone close to us, we grieve. We can deny the loss, be angry and sad, try to do everything possible to bargain our way out of the experience, but eventually, we need to accept reality. And that’s always painful. Similar to the loss of a loved one, life has not ended, it has changed. These words echoing the funeral liturgy should give us all solace in knowing that even though we may not go to the same church building every Sunday, the same Jesus waits for us in the tabernacle in every Catholic church in the world. The essence of the universality of the church should never be limited in our view, but celebrated. No matter where you grew up, no matter what church you were baptized in, or where you live now, you’re welcome in Holy Mother Church and all of Her places of worship. If your church building was just closed, I assure you that God is asking you to shoulder that grief as a new cross in your faith journey, not to abandon Him. Jesus needs all of us to celebrate His Mission by preaching the Gospel everywhere, even if where that was last week is no longer an option for us. You need not search for a new church, you’ve already found Her and She’s waiting for you with open arms, until the end of the age.
“I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9