Our foundation is a sort of|
spiritual DNA encoded in us
through Christ's resurrection ...
A Cathedral, as is the case with any enormous building, must have a good, strong foundation to match the inspired ingenuity of cathedral architects and engineers. What is this foundation? We know, that in the physical realm, such a foundation has to do with depth, stone, and a general constructing that permits the undercroft's pillars and walls to take their share of the distributed weight of the whole. The Medieval cathedral builders were men who sought awesome, overpowering size in combination with a flowing gracefulness.
In a letter, my friend Rosa Galicia shares this wonderful impression left on her son when they visited some of Europe's greatest cathedrals:
"Maman," he said, "I never knew that a building could be ALIVE."
Rosa goes on to say, "I have thought many times that I could hear the stones singing."
We have this in common with the craftsmen and cathedral builders of the long past Gothic Age: we have that exalted noble ideal that inspired their great projects -- projects, I would quickly add, that took generations, even centuries to complete. The project of building a cathedral was something greater than any one man, greater than the combination of every living builder of every succeeding generation. And so they built their foundations not only with stone and mortar but with the inspiration of the Christian Faith. Therefore, a little wide-eyed boy could say to his mother, "Maman, I never knew that a building could be ALIVE."
Our cathedral soul's foundations are in that rather remote period of time when we had only our infancy's grasp of things going on around about us. It was our parents, but above all else, it was the invisible grace of God who brought us to the sacrament of Holy Baptism. There we were given to Christ who said, "Let the little children come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven!" Some people have difficulty with this and I am saddened for them. They reason, "I didn't take myself to baptism and I don't recall it so how does that really affect me?" Such a question is similar in its thoughtlessness to "I didn't stand at Mount Calvary 2,000 years ago and call up to the Savior on the Cross to save me, so how does that all really affect me?" I trust the parallel is obvious.
While it may take us a lifetime to realize the foundation that was set there at the baptismal font, we grow up desiring the beautiful, the true, the deeply felt, and all that makes for a good man or woman. We dimly realize in Sunday School that this has something to do with Christ but perhaps we don't give that much thought to it all until we begin to grow into adulthood. Then we have this inward desire to know that there is a God and that God cares for us and perhaps the beautiful, the true, the deeply felt, and all that makes for goodness in us will be found in Him who is their source and creator. If we take up our crosses and follow Him; if we remember "I am a baptized Christian and whether or not I remember that event personally is quite beside the point. Jesus took it seriously just as surely as he took it seriously when He died for me upon the cross and rose from the dead to defeat my sin and death on that first Easter! That is all that really matters; I must now take it quite to heart and think upon it with the best of my thinking." In its own way I guess it is the same attitude we need to take toward our existence: "I personally had nothing to do with being conceived and born but my precious parents took it all very seriously, so I'd best be a good son or daughter to them!"
Holy Scripture tells us that there is an image of God embedded deep within the nature of man. This is another way of saying that man can reason, and man can feel reverence as well. And of us Christians it is stated even more specifically: "Christ in you, the hope of all glory!" (Colossians 1: 27). Further, we are assured that we shall be gradually conformed to the image of Christ, and that lifetime process, the fruition of our baptisms, will transform us if only we'll take the Savior seriously. (Romans 8:29; Romans 12:2)
Our foundation, then, is a sort of spiritual DNA encoded in us through Christ's resurrection clothed in our redeemed Humanity (and that is what baptism represents to us, the resurrection we have in Christ!) I think this a good analogy for a cathedral soul: a soul that would be Christian, reverent, and prayerful; a soul that is not afraid of the awesomeness of the universe God has placed without it and within it, and a soul that doesn't belittle life, but exalts in it as a marvelous miracle.
This spiritual DNA is an idea that the great psychologist, C. G. Jung, would have been happy with for he maintained (against Freud and some others) that the mind has an invisible anatomy and physiology just as real and just as vital to life as its physical counterpart. And there are, to use what I believe to be an excellent analogy, spirals of various spiritual chromosomes placed there at our new birth (in baptism) just as surely as our parents contributed to our physical and intellectual chromosomes at our births.
The immensity of the cathedral soul is to be compared not only to the Universe as God's thought outside of us, but as the Universe as God's thought inside of us. We might consider our chromosome spiral, our DNA of the spirit, to consist of seven distinct regions. Why seven? Because, as is pointed out later in this book, God's perfect number is seven, and when God created, us He proclaimed that it was "very good" ... in the case of the rest of creation He simply said, it is "good". Genesis 1:31 depicts God as proclaiming the universe "very good" only after He created man in His own image, and with the potential of becoming like God when it came to matters of love and holiness of character. [Of course this does not mean that a creature can become like the Creator. God is speaking here of our spiritual nature; in our limited human ways, we may imitate His mercy and benevolence toward others.]
Part one of our DNA is that we have the deep down desire to live forever. We know that all men die; that has been our experience, but at the foundation of our cathedral soul we know that our longings can never be fulfilled in this lifetime. We have eternal longings because we were redeemed to be eternal.
Part two of our DNA is that we know fear, and have this overwhelming instinct to survive. This, of course, highlights the unnaturalness of suicide -- it goes against every instinct that belongs to a living creature. As we grow older we gradually come to understand that there is an wholesome kind of fear (as well as the unwholesome kind of needless worrying). This wholesome fear was born into us at baptism: the caring fear of hurting those who are good and kind and loving to us and much more than that; the wholesome fear of displeasing God, of hurting Him deeply by our careless or sinful ways. Such fear is good, for it teaches us gradually the healthfulness to the mind and soul of asking God's forgiveness and knowing, by faith, that He will give it and make us stronger in character for the experience.
Part three of our DNA is actually within every sound human mind, the ability to reason and more, the ability to think upon the mysteries of life and of the universe. The difference that our baptisms have made, if we will permit it, is that our thinking and our reasoning can find in such things as mathematics, beautiful melodies, or being "in love" that which transcends the grave itself -- we would never be given these deeper things within us that come from God the Holy Spirit if this life were the end. Where, then, would be the completion that they demand?
Part four of our DNA, or cathedral soul foundation, is that which we cannot manufacture nor are we born with it -- grace, the grace of God. It is, in its own supreme way, much like the genes we are given by our parents: we have no choice in the matter but they are given to us so that we might have certain traits, certain talents, certain appearances. The grace of God is poured into our lives daily and that is how we get through any given day. Unlike the fixed DNA from our parents, prayer is encouraged for the gift of grace, by our Creator. We need to ask Him daily: "Lord, I don't know what is ahead of us this day but You do. Please send me more grace and then there will be nothing that will come up that You and I cannot handle together."
Part five of our DNA of the soul is held in common with all men in just one sense that I can think of: we are able to reflect upon ourselves. To be able to say, "I am feeling such and such" or "I'm the kind of guy (or gal) who enjoys music" reflects the ability of the soul to describe the person she animates. Herein we speak of ourselves in the second person; we stand outside ourselves and speak about who we are. The difference in our baptizmal DNA isn't that we no longer have this human trait but rather that it is given dimensions that are unimaginable to even the wisest of this world. A cathedral soul not only realizes its own person (along with all humans) but is able to say that he is the temple of the Holy Spirit, a cathedral built for Christ whose construction began when our parents handed us over to Christ's pastors and had us baptized. (I Corinthians 3: 10-15 beautifully states this from the point of view of one who pastors souls.)
Part six of our spiritual chromosome spiral is our affinity to holy angels. Many in this world talk of angels but I am afraid they may be talking about the unholy sort for they do so without any reference to their being baptized children of God to whom the angels are ministers. (Hebrews 1: 13-14) There are many close calls in this life, there are many times when our fear suddenly turns to peace, there are many times when the thought occurs to us -- "I must learn to pray more than I do". When we die and our eyes are at last fully opened to our invisible surroundings, I think one of the first things we'll see is how close the Holy and good angels have walked with the precious baptized souls which were redeemed by their Master upon the Cross.
|An English village procession behind the parish banner of St. Michael the Archangel, defender of God's people. There was a happier time when people understood their affinity to guardian angels who were unseen, but placed holy and kindly suggestions into their minds.|
Part seven of our cathedral foundation is that spiritual DNA which often takes a lifetime to fully access but, nevertheless, is there. We were "built" to forgive; we belong to the One who said from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" I haven't arrived there yet but it is still within me and baptism cannot be undone. I pray every Sunday in the Lord's Prayer "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". Sometimes it troubles me to think of what I've just prayed but that's okay; it only shows that I am made of better stuff than I thought I was! Patiently, painfully, but surely we will take these precious lifetimes, however long or short, and apply the constant forgiveness God grants us to our daily living and working situations.
And thus is your foundation, oh Christian soul, oh inward cathedral of God the Holy Spirit. Dare to be who you are because of what Christ has accomplished for you. It is a bold adventure, a road to saintliness, a way of heroism and often self-denial for the sake of real love. We must not be discouraged with the term "saintliness" for the term saint in the New Testament is simply another word for a Christian. The quality of saintliness -- sometimes in great degree and sometimes not to be found at all, especially when we're angry at somebody -- that quality is there for our foundation. Our baptized DNA holds within its makeup that ever present possibility.
I propose to share a few sketches of the lives of many kinds of people who built their houses upon the Rock of Ages rather than the shifting sands of time (Matthew 7: 24-29).
The only difference, I think, between the average Christian called a saint in
scripture and the saintly Christian who is also called a saint in scripture is
this: the latter dared to become every wonderful thing that their baptisms in the
Name of the Most Blessed Trinity was meant to make them. This doesn't mean
that God loves them better than the rest of us who have to struggle hard at
being aware of our baptismal graces, not at all -- rather, it is because they
dared to fall in love with the God in whose Name they were baptized. Of all
the cathedral souls who've ever walked this earth they are the most splendid.
It can only help us to try to follow Jesus as we see Him in their very human
St. John of Kronstadt --
Fr. John of Kronstadt (Russia) was, undoubtedly, one of the greatest and godliest pastors who ever lived. Had Russia taken his course in aiding the poor and downtrodden rather than that of the Communists, I believe that land may well have evangelized most of the world Eastern Orthodox Christianity. It is sad to realize that Christianity, of whatever denomination, is not taken very seriously by the powerful of this world. Perhaps that is, at least in part, because so very few Christians honestly try to follow Christ. Father Kronstadt did follow Christ, and that made him a most prayerful soul.
His parish lay amidst a desolate, poverty-stricken, and drunken town where despair ruled and faith was not a common element in the difficult lives of the peasants. Nevertheless, Fr. John refused to be discouraged and spent a great deal of time upon his knees before His Savior.
He visited all of the homes and was often treated rudely. Were it not for the angels that attended his sojourns, he might well have been robbed and murdered, for the probability of such a thing was strong at Kronstadt.
He would preach to his small congregation with great passion, often crying aloud for their souls. He refused to give up and though few came to church he asserted himself as the parish priest and insisted that all of Kronstadt was his parish and his responsibility in the sight of God.
As the years went by, miracles of healing began to follow after him on his visits. The poor no longer went ragged or hungry, for Kronstadt spent all of his own earnings on their needs. The illiterate were educated and the orphans given nice warm homes because this dear old man saw to it. He practiced what he prayed, for he believed in his own prayers. This rough and ready town was transformed into a holy and decent place. The church was constantly packed with those who desired greatly to learn to pray. That was Fr. John's only secret: he really did believe in every prayer he ever prayed.
We often pray. Of course, our prayers, like ourselves, are imperfect. But, when we come to believe in our prayers then we become the sort of cathedral souls who can turn the "Kronstadts" around us into havens of love and prayerfulness.
He early realized what many of us have never learned; that though it would seem that we either read our prayers or make up our own words, the prayer itself is always given us by God. No matter what our prayer, it is up to us to reverence what we pray as if Christ were standing right in front of us, for He is standing before us at such times, as we pray even the simplest of prayers.
Of prayer this noble priest taught:
"Be firmly convinced that every word, especially those pronounced during
prayer; is realizable, remembering that the author of the word is God the
Word, that our God Himself, worshipped in the Holy Trinity, is expressed by
the three words or names: The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; that each
word has a corresponding being, or that every word can become being and deed.
Therefore reverence the word and value it. Remember that the Son of God, as
the Personal Word of God, is always united with the Father, as the Supreme
Wisdom, participates, by His omnipresence, His creative Word, and the Holy
Ghost the Accomplisher in the words of Holy Scripture, or in the prayers or in
the writings of the most wise Fathers. This is why no word is vain, but it
shall bring you the gift necessary for good deeds.; [Those who] believe
idly, . . . will have to answer for their idle speaking! 'For with God
nothing shall be impossible.' (St. Luke I.37). Power and accomplishment are,
in general, the properties of the word. Such should it also be in the mouths
St. John Vianney, the Cure' of Ars, France --
Fr. John Vianney, the parish priest of the rough little town of Ars in France was raised in that country at a time when the political revolutionaries sent their cronies to turn the little parish churches into speaking halls, and even went so far as to enthrone a Parisian prostitute in the Notre Dame Cathedral calling her the goddess of reason. But John loved Christ and went to secret Masses with his family whenever possible.
He was slow and it took him a few tries to pass his seminary courses but what he lacked because of his slowness he more than compensated for in holy compassion. He had such a love for souls that he spent hour upon hour listening to peoples' confessions and wisely leading them to Christ. He neglected his own health with much fasting and prayer, living mostly on a boiled potato now and then.
The wild town slowly became an holy community under the godly influence of such a man. While he was simple in his tastes and humble in his manner, his sermons converted many a former brawler into a good and decent fellow.
The Cure' of Ars made good on his promise to the little boy he met while upon his first journey to his new parish. To the lad he said, "Show me the way to Ars and I will show you the way to Heaven!" Needless to say that the devil resented this man's trespassing upon his domain. For years the devil tormented St. John Vianney, even going so far as to make his bed jump about the room when the tired priest was trying to get some sleep. Many were terrified with the wild noises of the demons emanating from the rectory at night: some parishioners would come to protect their pastor and would be forever changed as they witnessed the good curate's peace of heart and calmness during these sessions of diabolical attack.
This was a difficult one to write because as I wrote it there seemed to be every sort of frustration the devil could throw my way. Even now he hates Fr. Vianney!
(Last subarticle of Narthex)
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