If you have ever travelled to Europe, I hope you took time to visit a Cathedral. European cathedrals are magnificent! They tell a great story. Actually, they tell many different types of stories. They tell a story of religion. They tell a story of sacramental worship. They tell a story of culture. They tell a story of commerce.
When I have gone over to Europe (something that I have been blessed to do 4 times, never thinking that I would do that even once) I have marvelled at the Cathedrals. They tell a story of people who had an eye to the future. Often, it would take hundreds of years to build a Cathedral. A generation of people would start the building process until they ran out of money, or some tragedy stopped work. The building would sit unfinished, until another generation would pick up the work. Sometimes, a generation of people would build with the knowledge that they didn’t have the technology to finish. But they knew that their children would invent the means to complete the project. This pattern would continue for hundreds of years, until the Cathedral was finished.
The Cathedral was a sign of the faith and culture of a city. These Cathedrals soared above the earth during a historical period that had few tall buildings. They reached up towards the sky, in the primordial belief that God was up in the heavens. So much of the community of a city (and later, a nation) centered around the Cathedrals. They are still the most visible and prominent architectural legacy of Western civilization.
We can tell from the Cathedrals of Europe that Western civilization was patient, religious, and majestic. The people and their leaders had that type of attitude. It is true that their culture, compared to contemporary culture, was very primitive. While many things have changed for the good over the past 700 years, we have lost the values of patience, religion, and majesty. Might we look back to the past to recover those lost values in the present time?
I reflect on my attitudes when I was 14, 15, and even 25 years old. I was very tightly focused on making my life as good as it could be. I thought that, if I was as dedicated and as good as I could be, I would make a difference in the world. I could not let anyone down- I had to become an engine.
I never gave much thought to this undeniable truth: I am but a page in a story that must be told. I am part of a movement. I am part of a culture. I must, in my daily life, be reminded that others were here before me, and others will occupy my present space one day. I will only be here for a short time. I am part of the human story. I am destined for an entirely different reality altogether, that of eternal life. I don’t know what that will be like, but if Jesus, Mary, and my family and friends are there, I am sure that it will be magnificent.
These are the thoughts that cross my mind as I look at the fallen leaves laying in the street. These are the thoughts I have after celebrating the wonderful festivals of All Saints and All Souls. I think of these things as the days grow colder and darker, and as we near a momentous election on Tuesday. These thoughts cross my mind as I teach young people who are preparing for a future with hope.
Not too long ago, I would have considered these things to be depressing, but now I consider them hopeful, even liberating. I may be called to give it all. I am not called to do it all. It’s comforting to know that I am only a part of the story, and that our faithful God is the one who is writing it. I need to make my brick, my window pane, or my pew to place in the great cathedral that all of us are building together.