On occasion, I encounter relatives or friends who tell me that they worship God in their own way and don't need to go to church. There is a certain logic to what they have to say when they explain that God is everywhere and they don't need the four walls of a building and the rituals of organized religion to find their path to heaven.
I suppose that's okay for them but I've got to tell you that throughout my life the inside of God's house has always been spellbinding and gripping for me.
Growing up at St. Ann's in Cleveland Heights, I can remember the booming voice of the choirmaster Frank Parisi emanating from the rear of the church. The nuns told us to keep our eyes looking straight ahead at the altar and to never turn around because it was disrespectful to God. I was in the fourth grade when I finally realized that the voice belonged to Frank and not to God himself.
One of the most memorable scenes in film history comes at the end of the movie War Of The Worlds starring Gene Barry in the original Tom Cruise-free version of the HG Wells classic. The aliens are about to destroy the last vestiges of humanity when the alien ships confront a beautiful Cathedral with terrified families on their knees praying to God for survival from the onslaught. The Cathedral, its occupants, and the world move on to survive as the alien ships crumple to the ground, destroyed by a simple cold virus.
The message conveyed is that going on your knees in the shadow of the cross is the best way to deal with a crisis.
Who can forget the moving scenes in Victor Hugo's Hunchback Of Notre Dame where the authorities are prohibited from pursuing desperate fugitives who cry "Sanctuary!" in the house of prayer.
In 1946, only eight blocks from Ground Zero in Hiroshima, Japan, you will find Our Lady of the Assumption Church. Everything within miles of the nuclear blast was of course utterly obliterated. Except, that is, for that beautiful Catholic Church which remained standing with its priest inhabitants miraculously spared from radiation poisoning or any ill effects whatsoever. It's one of the great miracles of the 20th century.
They were safe in that special place of worship.
Do you member the Y2K scare as we ushered in the new millennium? I know a fellow who moved to a cabin in Wyoming, a survivalist who felt silly when the world didn't end. To me, the smart ones were those that attended church services because I can't think of a better place to be at a time of crisis.
There's a section in the New Testament where Jesus flashes with anger and even violence because the merchants and moneychangers used the ancient Temple as a place to conduct business. Christ decries the abomination of turning his father's house into a den of thieves.
Look folks, if our churches didn't have something special, Jesus would not have flown into such a rage. There really is something there.
It's invisible but it's palpable. You feel that there is something supernatural and spiritual at church.
The other night I stopped by a local church just to say a few prayers and the only other person in the dimly lit pews was a little old lady in the back. All was quiet and I could tell that she joined me in silently sending petitions to our Creator. Suddenly she began singing hymns in a cracking, unsure, soprano voice that revealed a certain weakness, vulnerability, and hope.
At first I was irritated by the interruption of my reverie. But inexplicably I began to join in with her plaintiff song. Then we talked. Her name is Virginia and she has had a very hard life. Despite that, she has found peace and solace.
In church. A really special place.
You just have to be willing to set aside your ego and your pride and open yourself to the experience.
Yes, God is everywhere.
Think of it this way. If someone was your friend, would you really deny your friend's invitation to come over and have a cup of coffee?
So come on in. There's a pot of Jo on the stove.
You might find a Virginia who needs to talk with you.