This past weekend 3,000+ teenage Catholics made pilgrimage to Six Flags Marine World to celebrate Mass with bishops from the local area in an annual event known as On Fire. It truly was On Fire as a stood with my seminarian brothers in the 90 degree heat throughout the day handing out brochures and speaking with countless teens about vocations.
As I stood at our vocation booth, the stadium had reached its absolute capacity with people still making their way to celebrate that which is most important to Catholics. My seminarian brothers and I quickly noticed how the chains to the stadium were roped off my theme park employees. As teenage pilgrims stood at the entrance of the stadium wanting to get in, the theme park employee with her administrative sharp voice said, “No one is being allowed in. The stadium has reached its full capacity. I’m sorry.” My seminarian brother, thinking fast on his feet replied with an even louder voice. “Don’t worry, friends. That’s not what the Church truly teaches. You are all welcome to the Eucharist! God loves you and the pope loves you!” Those patient teenagers simply stood outside listening to the Eucharist from a distance.
Pilgrims make their way to the temple in Jerusalem to give worship to God. Psalm 122 expresses that reality as God’s people offered sacrifice for their sins and made pilgrimage three times a year on Passover, Pentecost, or the Feast of Tabernacles.
Peace reigned in the temple because it was there that the thrones of judgement exercised the Davidic and Mosaic Law. It was the place of sacrifice and divine authority. It’s a practice stemming all the way back to King Darius in our First Reading with the establishment of the Levite priests in the temple to offer countless animals to Yahweh.
The temple. In the Catholic imagination, we not only have a temple, we have a rock on which the temple, the Church is built. In Matthew 16, Jesus promises the security and protection of his bride the Church to a simple fisherman who would exercise his authority to the flock. These are not sentiments found in a historical context alone. Rather, it is a living and abiding promise found in the successor of Saint Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
Today, at 1pm Pacific Standard Time, those three thousand teenagers who gathered at Six Flags, we who gather here in Lincoln, and Catholics in the United States will be the center of attention according to a recent homily given by Deacon Emmett.
For Papa will be with us. And as Catholics we must feel a deep sense of pride and unity on these shores for whoever occupies the chair of Peter, stands as the visible sign of our unity, speaks as the microphone of God on matters of faith and morals. When the Pope speaks, everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation, seems to listen these days.
He comes to strengthen us as the Church in America. He will come to speak the Truth of the Gospel and challenge us to hot topic issues on our vocation to care for the environment, on the beauty, majesty, and nobility of marriage. He will give California its first saint in Junipero Serra. He will exhort us to find new ways to reach out to those estranged and who are outside the Church while still holding to the eternal truths given to us by Christ…. For all those who do the will of God belong to Christ and are his brothers and sisters as we are reminded in today’s Gospel. In the context of this reality, the Pope will exhort us on what it truly means to be a merciful Church, a topic which many mainstream Catholic commentators admit we have not spoken enough about.
Pope Francis will be the first pope to address our nation’s highest leadership at the joint session of Congress in Washington D.C. and the globe’s world leaders at the United Nations in New York City. If those people are listening, we who belong to the flock which the pope shepherds must listen as well. So turn on your television, your radio, your laptop for it is truly an exciting time to be Catholic. Our pilgrimage to stand with the Rock on which God’s temple is built moves us to say with the psalmist, “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!”