Homily delivered by Fr. John Carten, SFM, at Scarboro Missions Chapel, Nov. 9, 2014.
Readings: Ez. 47.1-2,8-9, 2; 1 Cor. 3.9b-11,16-17 & John 2.13-22
Today among others things we are celebrating the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. If you have ever been to Rome, you may have visited this basilica which was built around 324 AD and is still a very impressive building today. The land was given to the Pope by the Lateran family as his official residence and even today it remains the official residence of the Bishop of Rome. Before St Peter’s was built, many of the popes lived there and were buried there as well.
All of the readings today refer in some way to building. More than referring to a physical building, they are referring to the spiritual building that God is creating in and through Christ, in other words to the Church, the people of God.
In the reading from the letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, you are God’s building.” And when Paul speaks of the church community that God is building, he says, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; and that foundation is Jesus Christ.”
Paul goes on to say, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master building I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.”
So you and I all have a part to play as church in helping to cooperate with the Spirit of Jesus in bringing about the community of the church. Since Vatican II, renewed emphasis has been placed on the fact that the church community is not the end result of God’s vision. The Kingdom of God is! And this kingdom and not the church was the focal point of the teaching of Jesus. We as church are just a visible sign of the invisible community that God is bringing about among all people.
For over 96 years, Scarboro Missions has had a small part to play in preaching about, witnessing to and building the Kingdom of God. We, both priests and lay missioners, have been blessed to have lived among people of many different nations, cultures and religions. Often we left home with one vision of what God was doing in our world and through our encounter with the people in other countries, came away with a very different understanding of how God was already present and active even among non-Christians, long before we arrived on the scene.
We did good work in witnessing to God’s love for all people, by leading some to Christ, by promoting co-operatives, by standing with people to protect their rights and speaking out for justice. However they opened our eyes to how the mystery of God was present and speaking to and through them to give life and new insights to us.
Today we remember and give thanks for all those who have been a part of the work of Scarboro Missions. As you go outside into the hallway you can see the many faces of the wonderful witnesses who have been a part of our journey. I am sure you, like me, remember many who influenced you in your life. And no doubt they continue to pray for us today in the very presence of God.
But there are many others who have been a part of this mission endeavor whose faces are not on the Memorial Wall. First of all, I am thinking of the families and relatives of these SFM priests who have died. Without their financial support, love, encouragement and prayers, none of the work that has been going on for over a century would have been possible. Secondly I am thinking of all of our former members, priests and lay people, both living and dead, who contributed so much and then responded to God’s call to move in a new direction.
Then of course, it is necessary also to stop and give thanks to all of our staff and to you who are present with us today. You continue to be our “Partners in Mission” and for that we are truly grateful.
One thing is very noticeable as I look around the chapel today. All of us are getting older. And fewer in number. Like many other religious communities in Europe and North America we have been forced to ask ourselves, “Are we as Scarboro Missions coming to the end of our journey? How many more years will we be able to maintain this building? And even if we can financially, how much longer can we justify living here when we have become so few in number?”
The main questions we are asking ourselves at this time are, “Where is the Spirit leading us now? What are the things we are called to let go of? What are the ministries that we want to continue to promote even if we as a community no longer exist?” and “How can we do this if we are no longer around?”
Even though we are getting smaller and smaller, some of our ministries are flourishing, such as the work of Interreligious Dialogue, Justice and Peace efforts, protecting the Integrity of Creation, and the work of our Mission Centre. How can we keep these ministries alive?
The one thing that is absolutely certain is that God in and through the Spirit of Jesus will continue to raise up new people to answer the invitation to cooperate in building up the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God, here on earth, until it, in God’s time, arrives in its fullness.
This was the hope that infused the prophet Ezekiel when he was living among the Jewish people in exile in Babylon at a time when everything they thought of as most important had been destroyed. Their temple in Jerusalem and indeed Jerusalem itself had been reduced to ruins, many of their leaders slaughtered and the remainder of the people carried away into slavery by the Babylonians.
In exile, Ezekiel had a vision of a new and glorious temple rebuilt in Jerusalem and from it the waters of life would flow out into the surrounding desert, the Arabah, bringing new life to all. He even dreamed that the sea of stagnant waters, now known as the Dead Sea, where nothing is able to survive, would come alive with all sorts of new life.
In the Gospel, 500 hundreds years after Ezekiel, Jesus performs a symbolic act to cleanse the temple of his day. He realizes that this will lead to his own death. Yet he embraces this suffering and death, believing that God, the one he addressed as “Father” would raise him up to new life. We too are called to embrace this Paschal mystery, this dying and rising, with hope today, both individually in our own lives and as a church community as well.
This is the vision that we must have in our present age, that in spite of the fact that so much of the church structures that gave us life, are now crumbling down around us, including Scarboro Missions, these changes will lead to new life, in God’s time and in God’s way.
Somehow in all of this diminishment, God is bringing about something new. It is not the end of God’s work among us or among the people of the world. God’s dream for humanity continues and will one day be fully realized. For the present it is enough for us to walk on in hope, using our energies, talents and resources to the best of our ability to keep watering the new twigs of life that are even now unfolding around us, present signs of the Kingdom of God, coming alive in a new way for a new age.
May God fill us with hope, trust and the courage to embrace what is happening and contribute to this new life that is emerging.