When Giovanni Bernadone (who we know as Francis of Assisi) rejected his father’s business to live among the poor in the thirteenth century, he walked the hills of his homeland, wandering into the little rundown church of San Damiano. There he knelt before a large wooden icon crucifix and locked his eyes on those of Jesus asking, “Lord, what do you want me to do? Show me what to do with my life.” A voice so clear answered: “Rebuild my church.” Instinctively, he climbed to the roof and began repairing the dilapidated building where this revelation took place, as well as fixing other church structures in the area. But as he did, it gradually dawned on him what Jesus really wanted: for him to help repair the spiritual ecclesial structure that was falling apart for people of his time.
For the next two decades until he died, and to millions of people since, Saint Francis made an enormous impact upon those who want to do their part to rebuild God’s church. We start where we are to do what we can as we gradually realize that there is more to be done. When our current pope chose the name Francis, he knew that the church was in need of great repair for people around the globe. Like his namesake, he dedicates his earthly vocation to rebuilding. He encourages the rest of us to do the same by repairing our relationships with God, one another, and our environment, i.e., all that we encounter.
At Saint Therese Little Flower Parish, the physical structure needs much repair. Like the church in Assisi, the roof leaks. Recent rains have caused damage leaving standing waters. There has been no maintenance person on staff, nor volunteer, to oversee the property for over a decade. But people with names you know (Kopp, McGonigle, Tiehen, Darby, Wilson, Dunn, Oades…) are rolling up their sleeves to help. As they address the physical challenges, you are already responding to the church’s social mission by filling up our empty pantry with so much food that we spread the donations to other area pantries. After we repair the roof in the weeks ahead, we will sanitize walls, replace flooring, paint, and spruce up the place. By rebuilding the church facilities, like Saint Francis, we can recognize other aspects of building up God’s church in Kansas City by strengthening relationships with our neighbors and our society.
There is lots to repair. Some citizens are convinced that the Catholic Church will crumble because it is not on solid ground with those who are dissatisfied by archaic rituals accentuated with dull liturgies and homilies or because of cataclysmic scandals that revealed horrible sins of church officials, while many socially minded religious people are discouraged by the lack of institutional attention to, and support of, urban parishes and marginalized sojourners. But despite our challenges, I meet many people who believe that the church will rise again, and that the urban community will be the key to its new life. I am one of those people. I am grateful to all of you for helping with the rebuilding process.
On Thanksgiving Day, Saint Therese Little Flower will host a 10:00 morning Mass of Gratitude for the great help we have received to provide physical and spiritual nourishment. If you are available to join us, we would love for you to do so. We will bless items for our tables that day (if you want to bring along a candlestick, bottle of wine, loaf of bread, or other food item or decoration for your Thanksgiving table); we place them on/near our communal table of fellowship as we ask a blessing for all those neighbors who come to our pantry to receive an item from your hands for their table. As a family of faith, we are deeply blessed to be brothers and sisters of the carpenter of Nazareth and children of God who help us build.