In the parish where I am blessed to serve, we are undertaking a transformation of our church sanctuary. On January 7, 2019, workers “invaded” the church and immediately began the process of transformation. Within hours, demolition began on the floor and the seating. A massive wall was torn down. The altar was moved out of the sanctuary and into a temporary location so we can continue celebrating Mass during the time of construction in our church-proper. The tabernacle was relocated into a chapel where we have perpetual Exposition, so workers would be able to do their job without constantly having to pause, genuflect, and acknowledge the Lord’s Presence. Finally, a wall was erected that virtually encloses the entire sanctuary, to ensure the safety of the project. The wall is painted, but it’s unsightly to say the least.
I share this because our sanctuary renovation has been a powerful visual for me of the “renovation” that God desires to do in us personally. One of our deacons preached about this visual the first Sunday after demolition began, making a comparison between what the builders are doing in our sanctuary and what God desires to do in us. Deacon Steve shared that when we first considered our sanctuary, we thought it could simply be “tweaked,” with minor alterations and adjustments here and there, and all would be well. As we looked more carefully, though, we realized this project (as with all building projects!) was going to be a bit more involved. He went on to say that’s exactly how it is with the work God desires to do in us. I don’t need minor tweaks; I need a major renovation. While I was hoping God would be content with the equivalent of some new paint and some minor alterations, in reality He’s looking to knock down walls and build new wings. He wants to make of me, and of you, a fit dwelling place for Him to live. He wants me to be a sanctuary. “Jesus came,” he said, “to transform us from creatures of God to sons and daughters of God.
This “renovation project” is a way to think about the purpose of Lent, at least the first few weeks of Lent. In these wondrous days, as we prepare for the celebration of the wondrous events of our redemption by Jesus’ Passion, death, and Resurrection, the Lord invites us to let Him “go to work” in and on us. He is the Master Builder, the Grand Architect, and He offers abundant grace in these days to cooperate with His Spirit. He wants to conform us more into the image of Jesus. He wants to do this so that we experience the fullness of life only He can give, and so we will then be eager to go out and tell others of the One who is the only answer for all that ails the world in which we live. St. Francis heard the Lord say to him shortly after his conversion, “Francis, go and rebuild My Church, which, as you can see, is in ruins.” We have clearly and painfully seen in the past few months that His Church is in desperate need again. You and I — and not just the cardinals and bishops — are “the living stones” in His Church, and I for one know how many repairs are urgently needed in my own heart and mind. Let us pray for each other, and the whole Church, that in these days of Lent the Lord will fashion of us something truly beautiful, so that those who do not yet know the One who is Beautiful beyond words might come to know Him and the life only He can give.
FR. JOHN RICCARDO is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. He was ordained in 1996 and currently serves as pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, MI. He is passionate about the new evangelization and offering others a life-changing encounter with Jesus.