On this mountain the LORD
will provide for all peoples.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever. (Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9)
As Washingtonians, and as modern Americans, we have all heard it said that “All politics is local.” Regardless of the accuracy of that statement, we Catholics know that all salvation is local, that is, it takes place in a place.
The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Spirit. We know that that is how the Word became flesh. But in Nazareth, in the Basilica of the Annunciation, in the chapel of the grotto where that conversation occurred, the altar bears the inscription: verbum caro hic factum est. Your Latin need not be good to know that means Here the Word became flesh. And from that moment on, the eternal omnipresent God could be found in a particular place.
This “locality” of our salvation made it possible that first Christmas night for the shepherds who received the angels’ greeting to rush to the place where the Infant lay. Or not; we don’t know whether they all went. We know that not all come now! But this localization of the source of life makes it possible for us, too, like those shepherds, to move toward the incarnate God, to move away from Him, or to ignore Him altogether.
I remember visiting with my parents the church where they were married. The pastor let us make our way up into the sanctuary to stand just before the altar. As we turned around to look back toward the entrance, my dad gave a visible shudder. It was not the magnificence of the church, or the length of the aisle, or the beauty of the light streaming through the stained glass, though all of these were breathtaking. It was that he had not stood there nor looked toward those doors since the moment he had done so to see his bride, who made her way toward him to join him on that spot. There, they exchanged their consent and entered into a covenant with one another and with God that changed forever their relationship with one another, and with everyone else on earth. Truly changed, and truly forever – before the eternal God.
A few feet from those doors where my mom entered that church is the baptistery where, almost 55 weeks later, the life of Christ was poured into me in Baptism. That place is linked by the working of God through me to Homewood Alabama, where in Our Lady of Sorrows Church I received Confirmation; and to a spot in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and to the sanctuary of Saint Matthew Cathedral in DC, where I received Holy Orders, respectively Diaconate and Priesthood. These are places I can visit to mark my encounters with the grace that accompanies me. See? All salvation is local.
At the solemn celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday in Jerusalem, the deacon narrating walks away from the lectern and toward the altar erected on the precise spot where Christ’s Cross went to ground on Mount Calvary. There, he kneels and chants the line we all know so well, with the addition of one important word: And here, He handed over His spirit.
Jesus thus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, quoted above in one of the readings often used at funerals. Salvation takes place in a place, and changes that place forever. By the working of God in our world and in our lives, places become not merely “special” because of the memories they hold for us, but indeed they become holy, because of that Divine touch.
One of the reasons I like to read the Isaiah prophecy at funerals here is because of the clear identification of “this mountain” that is the Mount of Calvary, and the mountain that is our Holy Altar. Here, in our midst, the very Cross of Christ goes to ground and His precious blood flows onto the altar, across our lips, and into our lives. This place, right here, is ground made holy by the touch of God.
The founders of our parish built us an altar that clearly looks like the holy mountain God would make it. We can follow the prophecy, and follow the promise of Jesus This is my body…, to the place become holy because there, God is found. Like those shepherds, we can move toward the incarnate God, move away from Him, or ignore Him altogether. We know that He will provide for all peoples, we know that He will destroy death, and we know where it will happen: on this mountain.Monsignor Smith