In a recent blog entry about returning to Xavier since the completion of the major work undertaken over the last year and a half, I wrote of an overwhelming desire to “walk around wow-ing as respectfully as possible.” With each tracing of the cleaned and defined curlicues on the bench ends and each moment of gazing at the statues, the windows, and the sunbeam that continues to fall precisely on pew 39, I find myself saying as Jacob did after his dream, “How awesome is this shrine!”(Gen 28:17)
But, this “shrine” we know as the Church of Saint Francis Xavier, beautifully restored and renovated as it is, takes on most of its notable character because of “inner dispositions,”—the people who gather in here and worship here, the people who come to serve and be served, the thirst that is quenched here, the rest that is sought and offered here; those who carry this love, this respite from struggle and hopelessness, with them to stoops and chapels and shelters and clinics and and and… here in the City and incalculable distances beyond .
The space serves those who gather. There are more ramps for ease of accessibility as well as a “No Standing” zone on the street. The “unseen until too late” subtle variations in the topography of the floor have been smoothed out. The choir has a dedicated space, the sacristy is ample… The space inspires and encourages. We are surrounded with restored paintings and cleaned statues that tell the stories of those who have given their all for the honor and glory of God. The windows are prisms of glory that draw the eye upward, delight, and fascinate.
The space serves those who gather—so that those who gather may leave. The space serves those who gather—so that those who gather may leave—to gather together others along the way. The space serves those who gather here in whatever way or grouping—so that those who gather may leave—to gather together others along the way—in the name of Love. When we leave this space, nourished and inspired, we are bound to share that strength, to offer the welcome we receive to others. In effect, to be the Body of Christ…people of communion, humble servants, people of God.
For me, even with all of my wow-ing and tactile inclinations toward experiencing beauty, I have to say that one of the most inspiring revelations of the recent work is the quotation above the arched doorways at the back of the church. Non est hic aliud Nisi domus Dei Et porta caeli.
Some of the Ah!! Is because of the translation and some is what it means to me because of where it is. After Jacob’s post-dream proclamation of awesomeness, he continues—“This is nothing else but a dwelling place of God and that is the gateway to heaven!” To see this quotation over the doors, one must be looking out over the people gathered—certainly dwelling places of God, each one. When do we have this perspective? When proclaiming, when serving as Eucharistic ministers, when singing, incensing, dancing, returning from Communion.
And we also see it when leaving that way. In a way, these gateways lead to the kingdom of God here on Earth, the streets not yet paved in gold or flowing with milk and honey, where not everyone has enough, not everyone is loved, and not everyone is safe… Not yet. But to that end we gather, we pray, we hope, and we love and we work.
And we do in gratitude for this awesome shrine that invites us in to rest in glory, to be challenged, to be touched by beauty and community, and to leave again to share it all by our actions, our words, our lives.