Luke’s description of the destruction of the Temple and the persecution of the followers of Jesus was written around 80 AD. What he describes in today’s gospel had already taken place in 70 AD when the Emperor Titus destroyed the Temple and the Holy City and carried most of its citizens off in slavery. For the Jewish people destruction of the Temple was akin to the end of the world. The temple was their pride and joy and it was the dwelling place of God.
Too often buildings and monuments can take on a life of their own. We imagine they will always be there, always a part of our lives. We can’t imagine life without them. Many in the parish felt that way about our former St. Gabriel’s. It pained them to see it being torn down. Last September and October, as I celebrated morning Mass I looked out our window and saw a monastery and church that were part and parcel of my life since 1960 being demolished. It wasn’t easy to watch. Even the joy of having our new church blessed and dedicated by Cardinal Ambrozic a year ago tomorrow didn’t change my memories or feelings.
But a building is a building and it is meant to serve the needs of people. The people give a building its meaning. We are grateful for our beautiful new church building. But personally I am more grateful for you good and beautiful people of St. Gabriel’s who are the church. As I keep telling the children in school, the people are the church, not the building. In his first letter St. Peter tells the community to which he was writing that they are living stones meant to make a spiritual house in which God is praised. And Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
Our church will never be completed in the sense that we can never give up trying to be ‘church’. Our parish motto is ‘belonging, believing, becoming’. These are action words. So we never give up being ‘living stones’ trying to be a family of faith, love and service, we never give up trying to be ‘living stones” meant to make a spiritual house in which God is praised. We never give up trying to be ‘living stones’ welcoming stones ready to accept everyone who comes in our doors. We never give up being living stones who respond generously to the needs of others. We never give up being living stones willing to grow to full maturity in Christ by taking advantage of adult learning programs offered in the parish. We never give up being living stones at every Mass we celebrate when we participate as fully as we can in prayers and hymns of the Mass.
One of the remarks Cardinal Ambrozic made last year when he dedicated this building was about our choir – a choir made up of young and old and people of diverse cultural backgrounds. He said ‘your choir sounds like a choir.’ He didn’t mention the organist. But any choir, any cantor, is meant to help us in our celebration of the Mass, not entertain us. Our celebration of Mass is all that it meant to be – when we ‘living stones’ are fully involved – answering the prayers, singing the hymns. I suggest that even if you feel you can’t sing you at least read the words of the hymn we are singing, for they have their own message.
Our building has been called ‘Canada’s first green church’. Our green church is meant to foster the greening of people and bring all of us to an awareness that we are living stones within the wider community of all creation. Within this green building we are meant to become more conscious of the beauty and fragility of creation and come to realize that the care and the healing of Earth is our God given duty.
As part of this celebration of our first anniversary I ask you to join with me in a short prayer in which we will promise to be ‘living stones’ meant to build a spiritual house in which God is praised especially through our willingness to really participate in each Mass, a spiritual house in which we become more and more conscious of our oneness with all of God’s good creation.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we pray for ourselves and for each other that we remember ‘the people, you good people, are the church. May all of us as living stones continue to grow in belonging, believing and becoming.