People pray during a Mass at St. John-Visitation Church in the Bronx, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The Faith of the Faithful

The true beauty of the Church resides in those who yearn for God

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Ten years ago, when I arrived to begin my duties as pastor of the parish in which I serve, the parochial vicar at the time said to me: “Dave, celebrating Mass in this church is like being on retreat every day. It is so beautiful — the architecture, the murals, the stained-glass windows. You will love it.”

Indeed, the church building is magnificent. The towering pillars, distinct arches, long aisle, stunning marble, dazzling stained glass, majestic murals, the trademark bell tower with its three unique bells affectionately known as “Thomas, Regis and Bernard,” and the Casavant organ with four manuals and more than 5,000 pipes make for an overwhelming experience. It is not uncommon throughout the week to see people visiting with their cameras in hand. The church building is so spectacular that some have called it “the Cathedral of the South Hills” even though it does not officially hold that title.

Perhaps you are blessed with a similar experience at the church in which you celebrate the sacraments each day.

As priests we owe a debt of gratitude to those who designed and built these holy and majestic edifices in which every stone and every piece of glass has meaning. At the same time, we need to be grateful to the faithful whose donations transformed these designs into realities and who continue to provide a holy space for prayer and worship. It is just as important that we behold the many hands that continue to maintain and, in the case of the church in which I serve, restore these sacred places.

With all due respect to these holy dwellings, though, I find myself more and more looking at the faithful who visit and pray in these places. These people demonstrate a sacred beauty that transcends any ornate design or physical structure. Their presence speaks of faith, and when joined with others they point to the presence of God. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt 18:20).

These people often sit in the same pew and attend the same Mass. Nothing gets in the way of their devotion. There is a transparent fidelity to their lives. Some enjoy coming during off hours to make a visit and just be with Our Lord.

One evening not too long ago I stopped into church after a long walk. I noticed a family devoutly kneeling in the pews on the Blessed Sacrament side of the church. Their heads were bowed. They were deep in prayer. As the family exited the pews, I asked them if they were parishioners. When the wife responded with an accent, I knew that they were not from our town. They were from Brazil, and it turns out that they visit the church regularly. The husband and wife are both doctors from Brazil living in Pittsburgh for the past year to do research at the local medical center.

When I asked the woman, who is a psychiatrist, if she would be publishing a paper on her findings, she said: “Father, that is why we are here tonight. I just got word today that a journal is going to publish my findings. I wanted to come and thank God.” This family came to church on an evening simply to say thanks to God. What faith!

Although they are not parishioners, nonetheless they are part of the People of God. Is it any wonder that we refer to the People of God as “the faithful”? The fidelity of the faithful humbles me time and again. And their holiness inspires me to grow in my faith and be all the more grateful, not only for the churches in which we worship, but for the faithful with whom we worship.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.

 
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