This past Thursday, we had the privilege of hosting two church tours for participants of the 16th International Congress of Medieval Canon Law. They took a break from their conference, being hosted at St. Louis University, to see some sites in Springfield, with our Cathedral being one of the main attractions. Although I do not do it regularly, I thoroughly enjoy explaining the many beautiful elements of our Cathedral to those who come to visit this stunning church. I always walk away from those tours with a renewed sense of gratitude for the privilege of living here and being able to celebrate Mass here every day.
Catholic churches are built to be holy places where people come to encounter the Lord, to step outside of their daily lives and to be lifted up to a higher place. The beauty of a church serves to foreshadow the beauty of Heaven, the final destination in our journey as Catholics. As I have mentioned in the past, the most important part of the church is the tabernacle, for behind those golden doors rests the King of the Universe, our Lord Jesus Christ. He eagerly waits to welcome us, and upon our entrance into house of God, it is fitting for us to give Him our greeting in the form of a genuflection (or profound bow if we cannot genuflect), acknowledging His Real Presence and offering Him a sign of our adoration.
Having first turned to Our Lord in the tabernacle, our eyes behold so many other beautiful things, all of which speak in some way to the various mysteries of our faith. Historically, churches have been designed to be a place not just to worship God, but to learn about the faith. Paintings, mosaics, stained glass windows, and statues tell a story about our Catholic faith and how it has been lived out through the centuries. In a time when many people were unable to read, or when catechetical materials were not readily available, one could learn much by walking through a church, “reading” the story of our faith through the various elements that make up a church.
In addition to my encouragement to make frequent visits to the church to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I would also invite you to consider taking time in the church to read the story of our faith as it is expressed is so many beautiful ways. Do not be afraid to walk around the church to look more closely at the treasures that fill it. You will likely be surprised to notice something that you have never noticed. As you notice these things, ask the Holy Spirit to help you to ponder the story, or the mystery being depicted. Just as when we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord invites us to listen to Him as He speaks to us, so too with the church. If we are open to it, the church will also speak to us though the various elements that adorn it. One important note – we ask that you respect the holiness of the sanctuary of the church and generally to remain out of that area of the church, but you can still see much of what is there by standing at the foot of the steps leading into the sanctuary.
Let us continue to thank God for the gift of this magnificent Cathedral Church. We are privileged to call it our home. May we never become too familiar with this church, but be renewed regularly with a sense of awe at the beauty of such a sacred place.