Saturday, January 20, 2018

Oh, the places you'll go!

Right up there with castles and countryside, cathedrals are what everybody expects to see when they visit Europe.  Chartres, Canterbury, Cologne – nobody would dream of skipping these monumental edifices if they passed within fifty miles.  People who do not otherwise darken the door of a church in the course of their year, or even their lives, are all excited to tour the great cathedrals. 
One of the stained glass windows for which Chartres Cathedral is famous.
The interior of Canterbury Cathedral.
The Cathedral of Cologne.
This is a worthy activity, and I would never try to discourage anyone from it.  We Catholics should eagerly engage in it, since we are truly “at home” in any Catholic church around the world, grand or grungy.  We are more likely to understand elements of the cathedrals, and recognize artistic depictions for their true purpose, since we have similar elements in our own church and use them all the time.
I have always been a bit defensive about our cathedral, since it is not very large and most people think of some other building in DC when they hear that word.  Besides the awesome significance of being where I was ordained a priest, Saint Matthew’s Cathedral boasts a truly beautiful interior hidden behind its mundane façade.  Our Religious Ed families so enjoyed their pilgrimage there two year ago, that they are making another one soon this year.
The interior of Washington's Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle
Last week, I went to visit my friend Msgr. David Brockman at his parish in Wake Forest, North Carolina (the town, not the university).  He gave me the grand tour of the new cathedral of the Diocese of Raleigh, apparently the third largest in the US, and the first new cathedral built east of the Mississippi in over a century.  (Knoxville now has one under construction too).  Having heard about it from him when his bishop was first set on building it, I followed through him the planning and design, the fund raising and the permitting, and the construction and consecration, in all of which he played a large part. 
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh, North Carolina
The interior of Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral
Let me tell you, the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh is worth a visit if you are passing within a hundred miles of it, perhaps on your way to the beach, or even a special trip.  It makes you proud to be Catholic, and relieved, even exuberant to know that they can still build beautiful churches.  It is already packed with parishioners, and was filled to overflowing for its first Christmas.   The city of Raleigh, where Catholics have traditionally been in a small minority, is thrilled to have it soaring up at the edge of town.
The baldacchino and interior the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican.

We know that a true cathedral is not just any big church, but is the seat of the bishop of the local church, the diocese.  People who think they have found a cathedral in the Vatican are mistaken, since the great Saint Peter’s is not that but rather a basilica.  We have one of those too, right down the way: the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Even if you know it well, it too now merits another trip since the magnificent Trinity Dome mosaic was completed last month.  You will stop and stare.
The newly completed mosaic of the Trinity Dome at our Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
There is yet another basilica in town – Old Town Alexandria, to be precise.  Saint Mary’s Church there, not large, and only beautiful in comparison to its neighboring churches on that side of the river, is rich in historical significance, and was given the Papal honor of Basilica just this month.  It connects with my family history too: my maternal great-grandmother, Kathryn Risacher, was housekeeper there in the middle of the last century. 
The newly-designated Basilica of Saint Mary in Alexandria, Virginia.
At all these places, tourists will gape and passersby will gawk, but you and I are at home there as if in our own parish.  That should be more reason, not less, for us to pay a visit, to take a tour, to say a prayer and light a candle, and especially to attend a Mass.  Bring the family, and a friend, not as tourists, but as pilgrims.  For these monumental churches do not require a journey to Europe, but rather point the way on our journey to heaven. 

Monsignor Smith

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