This past week our attention has been riveted by the plight of the people of Slave Lake. As you know, nearly half the town was destroyed by fire. This situation touched the hearts of people not only in Alberta but also across the country, and many have been making donations in order to help the people affected by this tragedy. Much has been lost due to the fire. What perhaps strikes the deepest chord in our hearts is the loss of people’s homes. We all know the importance to family of having a home. This is where our closest relationships are fashioned and developed. The thought of losing our homes so suddenly and completely sends a chill through each of us, and in solidarity many people have reached out instinctively to offer assistance. Particularly moving are the stories of people who, as they escaped with loved ones the fires that came upon them so suddenly, thought first of taking pictures and family mementos. For them these were far more important than other material assets because they preserved in memory the precious events that had occurred in the home.
The Scripture readings for last Sunday’s Mass (cf. Acts 6:1-7, 1Peter 2:4-9, John 14:1-12) are all about “home.” They speak of a home that has been fashioned for us by God; one that is eternal, that nothing can destroy, and whose construction begins here on earth.
In the Gospel Jesus is speaking to his apostles just before his suffering and death. He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, which is in heaven and in which there are many rooms. He will do so because he wants to have them with him forever. The will of God has been revealed in Jesus and fulfilled in Jesus. That will is to make a home with us forever in heaven. For that purpose Jesus was sent from the Father. Because it is God’s will and work, nothing can destroy it. It is a home of eternal security and peace.
In the second reading St. Peter teaches us that this house that we shall form together with God begins even now in the mystery of the Church. “Come to [Jesus],” he says, “and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” The Church has been fashioned by the death and resurrection of Christ and the subsequent gift of the Holy Spirit. United to Christ, we are in union with one another and form a “spiritual house” in him.
As we know from our own experience, what makes a house a home are the relationships that are formed and nurtured within it. It is the same with the Church. Because of our relationship with Jesus, first of all, and that which we form with other Christians, the Church is always our home. It is here that we belong as we journey on the pilgrimage of life to our eternal home with God.
Both St. Peter and the first reading from Acts tell us something of the kind of relationships that are expected of those who dwell in this spiritual abode that is the Church.
St. Peter tells us that those who live in this spiritual house have been made members of a royal priesthood, called to make of our lives a spiritual sacrifice to God. This means that we make every aspect of our lives an offering to God. Our words, our thoughts, our deeds all must be kept in conformity with the Gospel, such that the entirety of our lives is one continuous act of praise and thanksgiving to God for his saving love.
In particular, we are to be mindful of the poor. In the narrative from Acts recalled in our first reading, there was a dispute in the early Church regarding an unequal distribution of food among the Church members, specifically between the Jewish and Greek widows. This was unacceptable to the Apostles, so they appointed the first deacons to ensure that care was provided uniformly to all in need. Care for the poor remains a hallmark of those who dwell in the Church. As Pope Benedict said in his first encyclical on Christian love, “within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is needed for a dignified life” (Deus Caritas Est, 20).
Jesus has prepared a home for us, both in heaven and on earth. No external force can destroy it. May the Lord help us to treasure more and more the gift of the Church, this spiritual house, as our home. As we strive to offer God lives of praise to Him and of solidarity with the poor, may we be ever mindful of the needs of others, such as the people of Slave Lake or any who suffer, and be ready to come to their aid.