Saints of God, the Lord be with you!
I was the pastor of St. Francis Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J. during “Superstorm Sandy.” We were told to evacuate the island and to take enough clothes for three days. The Poor Clare Sister’s in Chesterfield, N.J. were gracious enough to give me hospitality, and the rest of the friars and sisters stayed with family and friends. Those three days turned into two months being displaced, as we were unable to return to the island with regularity, except for a few hours one day for a “grab and go” to get more clothes. I was able to get into the main church at that time, which had about three feet of bay water in it. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed not only by the damage, but also by the fact that the people of the parish had been scattered far and wide.
Today’s Gospel according to Luke (21: 5-19) reminds the disciples who are marveling at the costly beauty of the Temple that “there will come a time when there will not be left a stone upon another stone.” To the Jews of His day, this must have been shocking since the Temple was the center of their worship.
If the center was gone, what was to become of them? Jesus warns them of the persecution by the authorities and even more shocking, “by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.” Despite it all, Jesus reminds them that He, through the Holy Spirit, will guide them and “not a hair of (their) head will be destroyed” if only they persevere.
Talking to visitors after mass, many people comment on the physical beauty of our church. I tell them that even more beautiful are the people who fill the pews, our parishioners. The church is not simply the building. Rather the Church is all of us: the People of God whom God calls to gather together in the church building to worship, to seek forgiveness, to be nourished through our fellowship with one another, the Word, and the Eucharist, so as to be sent back into the world to live the Good News of Christ’s never ending love for us. As that wonderful hymn says, “How beautiful is the Body of Christ”!
As we quickly come to the end of this liturgical year, let’s look back and see how Christ has repaired and continued to rebuild each of us as individuals and as a community of faith. Let’s also look forward to the coming liturgical year with great expectations for what Christ, through His indwelling Holy Spirit will do in and through us for our parish and the wider community. Let us persevere in faith but let us persevere TOGETHER.
Peace and All Good,
P. S. When all was said and done, St. Francis Church was renovated and continues to be a beacon of Christ’s love and grace on Long Beach Island.