Time and Time Again
Today is the feast-day of a building. It is also, in a special way, our feast-day. How?
The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:
Anxiety casts its snare into the future. It is what regret is to the past. These are the marks of our time, and it seems our time on earth is marred by them. ‘Weariness, all weariness,’ laments the Preacher. ‘All that men do beneath the sun I marked, and found it was but frustration and lost labour’ (Eccl 1:14). Regret and fear are what threaten to devour time past and time to come, time that marches mercilessly on, forcing us to never stand still, never to rest in the moment. Amid the burden of such labours, the time the Church sets apart for us to keep holy seem to add toil to trouble. Why make time for God at all? Perhaps the how would make sense of the why.
Today we keep the feast of a building, the Archbasilica of St John Lateran, the cathedral of the Holy See and mother-church of the world. This thing, this church, is erected as an edifice, a sign of something greater. Dedicated 1,700 years ago to Christ the Saviour, it stands for fixity in a world of fluidity. This points to a concrete fact: God became man in Jesus Christ. He entered the world made through him; he entered the world of time, grew up to man’s estate, and in due season died on the Cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. The fact of his sacrificial outpouring is so full, so charged with the grandeur of God, that neither space nor time can contain it. Once given, God’s gift remains. For this we build our churches, not as Babels, to try to muster a mystery, but as monuments whose great measure points to a love without measure, his perduring presence in the Eucharist.
A mother-church does not stand alone; it is mother to others. The fact of our salvation does not stand alone in that span of days 2,000 years ago. If buildings are situated in space, feasts are located in time: today’s feast falls, providentially, eight days after that of All Saints, and a week after All Souls’. We celebrated our communion with the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering. And we follow Christ in time, by following our fathers and mothers in the faith. One week on, we keep this feast, the feast of the Body of Christ on earth. Today is our feast.
Time may never stand still, but it has been transformed. No longer is time the measure of toil and trouble, for God has entered the time he has made for us. No longer do we need to feel engulfed by the relentless tide of time, for God who dwells in eternity has made time the means of encounter with him. If all else is out of your hands, let your feet take you into church. Enter a church, and this clay of earth crosses the threshold of heaven. Enter a church, and offer Christ your time, riddled with its fear and regret. Even at the eleventh hour, come. Make of the present a gift to God. He will fill your time with himself, and it will become the sacrament of his presence, the time of salvation. If you seek assurance of this, enter a church, and cast your gaze upon the crucifix that greets you.
There Christ is on the cross, his hands extended to offer a sacrifice extending across time. What does he see? He sees his temple being built, the temple of his Body. He sees nations coming from afar, generations yet unborn, rendering him glorious praise (Ps 22(21):30-31). He sees you and me: he sees himself, ‘lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his’. And the life we now live in this Body we live by faith in him, who loved us and has given his life for us (Gal 2:20). Incomplete it may be, but his power is made perfect in our weakness (Col 1:24, 2 Cor 12:9). Daily we lose and long for God, in the practice we call faith, trusting that ‘he makes all things beautiful in his time’ (Eccl 3:11). On the Cross, on Good Friday, God looked upon all he had built, and indeed, it was very good (cf Gen 1:31).
In three days, I will raise it up (John 2:19). Today is the feast-day of this building, the Body of Christ. And so it is a feast of our Lord. Come to him, for the day of salvation has dawned. Do not be hindered from him if you find yourself falling time and time again, for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Do not be afraid; enter into the joy of your Lord (Mt 25:21). Take your place as living stones making a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5) so that Christ will raise you up with him. Fear and regret belong to the grave. Death shall be their shepherd. But Christ is Risen, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20). To him be glory and power for ever and ever.
Image: Our Lady of the Rosary & St. Dominic, Haverstock Hill, London