CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
I was rushing around Rome, looking for a church that should not have been hard to find, and somehow I ended up inside the Pantheon instead. Days later, again looking for the same church, I passed by the Pantheon again and again. For whatever reason, I went inside.
Like me, you may not have known that the Pantheon, a former temple for all the Roman gods, is now a Catholic church dedicated to Mary and the martyrs. The second time I went into the Pantheon, I began to circle around the edge, glancing past the things to see there, but ultimately I was drawn to the altar in the front center. Tourists were all around me, snapping photos and the like, and yet I found myself there in front of the sanctuary, dropping into a genuflection before sliding into the pew to pray.
It should have been frustrating, surrounded by irreverent tourists paying no heed to the sanctuary right there. Instead, it was glorious. I knelt there, at this famous ancient Roman site, but I was kneeling before the true God, in this place that God had taken over from the fake idols for his own glory. And even those tourists, who did not realize they were in a church, were in a church nonetheless, in the presence of Christ and of grace.
As I am writing this, Lent is drawing to a close. Jesus is about to die the death of a criminal, and to the secular world, this doesn’t make any sense. His death cannot make sense without redemption in the Resurrection.
Jesus died broken on a cross: the picture of hopelessness. Yet, as we know, on Easter he rose after conquering death, and he returned in his still broken but now glorified body.
Yes, this means his physical body, but the body of Christ is also more than just the literal. Look at what happened with the Pantheon. There, people worshiped false gods almost irreconcilably. Then the true God came into the picture and redeemed this broken place to make it a house for his very self. He made it a place where people could worship him, thus redeeming the entire structure. People still visit it, and to the world this doesn’t make sense, but God is present there, touching them through this once-broken and now-glorified place.
And just as God’s triumph is not limited to Easter, it is also not limited to the physical. What happened to Christ on Easter is happening to us in our faith. God is taking our brokenness and glorifying it by reference to himself, making this broken place a house for his very self. He is using us to bring grace to others, even when they are unaware, even when it doesn’t make sense. And this is a cause for joy.
Of course, as we enter Easter Season, we are filled with joy. The priest is wearing white for celebration, and the congregation is wearing every other color, and every song abounds in joyfulness.
This Lent, however, I experienced something new and quite exciting. I experienced some of this Easter joy during the Lenten Season. It was strange at first because I felt like Lent should be a sad time, so I should not be joyful. However, I now don’t think that is the case.
In Lent, we sacrifice in preparation for Christ’s excruciating death. Yet, we know the end goal of all of this, we know that Christ’s death is for the sake of His Resurrection and ours. In our sacrificing, we must always have in mind this end, and because of it, I think it is possible to both sacrifice and have joy. The two are not, or should not be, mutually exclusive.
It’s kind of like when you are re-watching a movie, and you’re in the sad part. It’s okay to cry, but you know what’s going to happen. That makes the sad part even more poignant because you know that even in the sadness, there is cause for joy.
Despite our Lenten sacrifices, despite the sadness that is coming on Good Friday, we are the people of Sunday. We know that Christ will rise, and we know that He will transform our brokenness into something glorious. This is our cause for joy.