Sacred Space and Sublime Challenges

[Homily: Blessing of the Temporary Chapel, ADDU, 6.19.12]

Yesterday, we celebrated our last liturgy in the Old Chapel. Today, we are in what was our multi-purpose auditorium. We have done our best to fix it up as a temporary chapel as we wait for the future University Church to rise from the ruins of the old. As we try to settle in to the new, we shall necessarily feel a certain nostalgia for the old. That old, airy, semi-circular structure, filled with sacred images accumulated over the years, was not just a product of wood, stone, steel and glass. It was a place of prayer. A place of worship. It was sacred space. No matter its architectural limitations, or poverty in exterior design, or perceived inadequacy for the pastoral needs of our growing university, its true beauty was in the realm of the interior, inseparable from the many times we bowed down before God in worship in that special place, or we called on Mary for urgent help there, or we begged the Lord to teach us to be generous there, or we took sacred Bread and ate there, or we took consecrated Wine and drank there, in loving memory of the Lord. And because those moments – some of them crisis moments – are such a special part of our lives, we will miss the place where in those moments we encountered the gentleness of our Mother Mary, or the compassion of our loving Father.

In this new chapel are many reminders of the old. The stained glass windows are here, the statues of Mary and Joseph, the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the image of the Sacred Heart, the statue of Our Lady of the Assumption. The most important remnant from the old, however, is yourselves, the worshipping, praying community, no longer there, but now here. Earlier, we blessed this place with holy water. We consecrated it with water to remind us of our baptism. But it is in fact you who are baptized who bless and will bless this place over and over again with your presence; you consecrate this space and will consecrate it over and over again with your worship here, when you bow down before the Holy One and acknowledge him as your God. You make this room special and will make it special over and over again through your privileged moments of prayer here when you encounter the Lord, converse with him, lay yourselves with all your vitality and vulnerability bare before him, hear what he has to say to you, and beg for the courage to continue to take up your Cross daily and follow him.

Following him, as you know, is no mean thing. It means following him in things ordinary and extraordinary; in things banal and heroic. It is always good, in a place like this, to converse with him about what he wants of us as we walk in his footsteps, what he wants us to do as each day we seek truth. Today, he challenges us anew to greater depths in love. In the responsorial psalm, in the context of the Lord’s Last Supper, he says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). That holds true for my spouse, for my children, for my teachers, for my colleagues, for my students, for my friends. “My commandment is this,” Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn15:12). How has Jesus loved us? At the beginning of the Last Supper account, simply John says, “He loved us to the very end” (Jn 13:1). He loved us to the very end, so that his Body could become our Bread of Life, and his Blood, the Wine of our joy, the Cup of our Salvation. He loved us to the very end, so that we too could love others to the very end.

The challenge in today’s Mass is even more radical in the Gospel. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” It’s hard enough to love your loved ones, isn’t it? To love them to the end with true selflessness, true self-sacrifice, true self-offering needs discipline and freedom. Hating those who plot and scheme against you, on the other hand, seems so natural and… appropriate. But Jesus’s challenge is new – where the logic of human loving is overturned by the mystery of divine loving. The reward of loving those who love you is increased love from those you love. The reward of loving those who hate you is increased love from God. The return for wrong in the early era of Old Testament was unlimited revenge, as is the case of Cain. Any wrong done him would be avenged seven times over (Gen 4:15). Later, wrong would be requited by an equal measure of punishment: an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth (Cf. Deut. 19:16-21). Or, the so called Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Cf. Mt. 7:12). But the command of Jesus transcends this: to those who hate you, offer love. As the Father’s perfect love still envelopes the sinner who hates him, so too must we love those who hate us, in imitation of the Father’s perfect love.

Not easy. Especially when I perceive my enemy to be “just evil!” This is matter, nevertheless, for conversation with the Lord in this sacred space, matter to consider as we all recall here the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, and ponder its meaning for us in our everyday lives. Under the continued patronage of Our Lady of the Assumption, may this chapel be a home for our prayer and a refuge for those seeking solace in the Lord.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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