Building the Church: One Man’s Incredible Story Teaches Us What We All Must Do
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I was once walking around the outside of an incredibly beautiful cathedral; I walked around it twice just gazing in marvel upon the architecture, and trying to work out, or glimpse an understanding of what must have gone through the architect’s mind as he designed and built such an incredible structure.
And to be honest I was lost – I couldn’t fathom it.
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But then I stepped inside, made my way down into the crypt, and went to Mass. And as soon as I saw the elevation of the Eucharist in the priest’s hand, I felt as if I understood everything. I understood how that small elevation made by the priest (of no more than a foot into the air) had inspired this massive cathedral’s elevation up to the sky. Here, the reason was before me – and that reason was Jesus Christ.
This video takes me back to that moment, and leads me again to contemplate the divine spark that ignites the architect’s heart. (And this story of Justo Gallego is quite simply AMAZING!)
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It is my belief that God calls each and every one of us to build a cathedral! Of course we’re not all architects, and very few of us will actually have the capacity or ability to build a physical cathedral. But we are, in a very real way, called to craft our lives such that they give glory to God; to raise up that which may seem most mundane – those raw materials of the architect – and bring them into transfiguration, where God’s glory can be seen by all, and all may “see what a man can do when he trusts in Christ.”
So, what is our cathedral that we’re each called to build? I want to present this to you in terms of vocation.
Our vocation is where we begin our building. Vocation is, if you like, the cornerstone of our cathedral.
If we’re called to married life, then our cathedral is the family that we raise up for the glory of God – this is what we build! How we love one another, how we serve and instruct our children, and how we grow together, these are the small things – those raw materials – by which we create something that rises up from the earth and leads us towards the glory of God, drawing people’s hearts and minds to heaven.
As well as the family itself being seen as a “cathedral,” the Christian family also has the task of building up The Church. As John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio puts it, “Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the Church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God’s family.”
If we’re called to the priesthood, then the “cathedral’ which we build is similarly The Church, but in a different manner. The Catechism articulates this beautifully in saying that “the ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads His Church” (notice the same language is used with the family!). Priests build up the Church by “the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians.”
And so, just as the literal and physical cathedral is designed such that it raises our attention to heaven, so too does the priest, in an ever more direct way, lead us to heaven. As Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Ad Catholici Sacerdotii puts it, “the priest accompanies the Christian throughout the pilgrimage of this life to the gates of heaven.” The priesthood is like a cathedral, and yet so much more than a cathedral because of this reality.
If we’re called to religious life in a community, or as a consecrated person, then our cathedral which we are to build is, again, The Church! (it’s funny how that worked out!). As John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata puts it, “Consecrated persons are called to be a leaven of communion at the service of the mission of the universal Church by the very fact that the manifold charisms of their respective Institutes are granted by the Holy Spirit for the good of the entire Mystical Body, whose upbuilding they must serve.”
Consecrated persons build up the Church by their incredible witness to the characteristic features of Jesus – the chaste, poor and obedient One – making them constantly visible in the world, and directing the eyes of the faithful to the Kingdom of God already at work in history.
In all three vocations then, and indeed as lay people, we find a call to build the Church. Where, in the video, we see a man building a physical church, we build the Church of Christ’s Mystical Body. And, just as Justo in the video has understood, this is a work that we will never see fully completed – at least not until the end of times. And yet it is important. It’s important that we each play our part, and, as unique individuals, bring to our vocation and our work that beautiful set of “tools” which we have each been given – the “tools” of our talents and personalities, our passions and intellect.
And just as that cathedral rises from the ground at the sight of Jesus Christ, and in response to that captivating relationship with Him, so too do we build up the Church with just as much dedication and faith as Justo has exemplified in his building by hand for the last 53 years.
We will probably never see our cathedral finished, nor fully comprehend in what way the small part that we play will affect others. We won’t see how those hearts and minds will be lifted up to God at the sight of such an act of love as that work of Justo, but we may know that God uses each one of us, links in a chain, in bringing about His purpose.
By our Baptism, and then by our vocation, nourished by our talents and work, and carried out in persevering faith, hope, and charity – all this constitutes the way in which we can each construct a cathedral which rises up into the sky and proclaims to the world that in Christ we have a Saviour who loves us, and redeems us.
Below is a poem I wrote about the Cathedral that I mentioned at the beginning.
We must each discern in what way God is calling us to build up His kingdom, and we should each commit ourselves to raising our lives as an offering to Him. In living a life orientated towards the true, the beautiful and the good, we find a summons to transform one’s life – for we ultimately find Christ.