The Sacred Heart of Jesus was gone! I walked into church this morning and the statue had been removed from its place on the small temporary altar just outside the sanctuary. It had been there throughout June, considered the month of the Sacred Heart since the moveable Feast Day is invariably in June. So the little altar sat there empty, waiting to be removed.
I thought about when we had put it up, on the last day of April, so our statue of the Blessed Mother could be there for her month, May. She stood there for the First Holy Communion Mass the next Saturday, and the next day to be crowned by our newest Communicants at the culmination of our May Procession.
As I settled into the church to pray, it was especially beautiful. The morning light was streaming through the colorful windows, the air was cool (despite having only one working A/C compressor) and all was still. All was as it should be.
The seasons of faith worked out in the liturgy move through the church with their characteristic array. The violet vesture and increasing candles of the Advent wreath give way to the poinsettias, bright evergreens, and stable scene of the Nativity of Our Lord. Shortly after the Christ Child is stored away, the austerity of Lent marches toward the grieving veils of Passiontide, and the stripping of the altar on Good Friday. The Resurrection brings a riot of flowers and banners, and the majestic Paschal Candle bearing the Light of the Risen Christ. Culminating on Pentecost, the Easter Season yields to the great feasts of the Trinity, the Body and Blood of the Lord, and the Sacred Heart, and finally the measured progress of Ordinary Time. These weeks are ordered to bring us to Christ the King, who bows to welcome the new Advent. Beneath the furniture moving and the colors changing, the church does not change.
Babies are baptized in ones and twos, ranks of teens confirmed, radiant brides and grooms become one before God, bright joyous children in veils and ties become one with God in their First Holy Communion, and mothers, fathers, and friends are grieved and buried. Our neighbors enter the life we share in the sacraments of initiation. Young men follow Christ’s call to seminary, and return to offer their first Mass. Babies outgrow their carried seats, and families are made whole again by returning collegians. Exuberant young priests arrive and hone their craft; grateful young priests move on, shaped by every moment. People change because of what they receive in this church.
Occasionally, I will find people wandering the property, pointing and looking, and find that they are former parishioners, often alumni of our school, who long ago moved away. When visiting the area, they bring back friends or family to show them this important place in their lives. They ask about the nuns, comment about the additional building on the school, and often remark how the church has not changed. She stays the same, not just the stage, but also the foundation upon which all these events, all our lives unfold.
Finally this morning I saw her, our majestic refuge, in her “normal” state, beautifully dressed, but not decorated. I missed the statue, and marveled that its time had ended so soon. I thought about how much the church had seen in that brief but eventful season while the temporary altar stood. I thought about how much I have seen as I have served at the great canopied altar, the center and source of life for this parish. And I gave thanks.
For though the statue is removed, the Sacred Heart of Jesus steadily beats at the center of this church, and from it we all draw life.