Sunday, October 23, 2011

125 Years

One day, more than 25 years ago, when we were both in seminary, my best friend was teasing me about something or other. Having provoked me sufficiently, he then tried to run away. Being a good seminarian, he ran right into the chapel, where he claimed sanctuary. When I caught him there, he said: “I’m safe here. We’re in a church!”
What is a church? Churches are special places – very special places. From the earliest human history, people have set apart special places for worship. In virtually every civilization, temples and shrines of various sorts have been among the major public buildings – and typically the most beautiful.
Today we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the dedication, on September 19, 1886, of our own “Church on Summit Hill,” Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN.
It is no accident that one and the same name, “church,” is used for both the people who continue Christ’s presence in the world and the place where we assemble to experience his presence most directly, by proclaiming his word and celebrating his sacraments.
When we celebrate the dedication of a church, we celebrate a place, a very special and sacred place unlike any other. We also celebrate a parish, the people this sacred place represents and to whom it means so much. And we celebrate a relationship, the relationship that binds a parish together across space and time. Our unity across space and time as Christ’s Church in the world in turn fosters our future hope for both space and time when the church reaches its final perfection in the heavenly temple.
On the anniversary of the dedication of a church, the community, whose church it is, prays: We thank you now for this house of prayer in which you bless your family as we come to you on pilgrimage. Here you reveal your presence by sacramental signs, and make us one with you through the unseen bond of grace. Here you build your temple of precious stones, and bring the Church to its full stature as the body of Christ throughout the world.
We remember with gratitude today those faithful 19th century Catholics who decided to build a church here on this particular hill to meet the needs of the growing Catholic community in Knoxville. We give thanks for everything that has happened in this beautiful building – for Christian lives begun at its font, fed from its altar, and commended to God from its door, for 125 years of Masses and confessions, of first communions, confirmations, and weddings, of preaching and teaching, of silent prayer and lighted candles. We pray that this sacred space may long continue to witness to God’s presence and action in our world, here in Downtown Knoxville, sanctifying the lives and labors of all who live or work of visit within site of its steeple.

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