Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church
Lake Charles, Louisiana

Monday, February 13, 2012
Dedication of St. Martin de Porres Church
“How lovely your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!”  Psalm 84:2

The exclamation of the psalmist, extolling the beauty of God’s holy Temple in Jerusalem, should draw our attention to what we are accomplishing here tonight.  The Dedication of St. Martin de Porres Church, as a “house of God,” recalls all the occasions in sacred history when the Chosen People built and rebuilt their sacred Temple.  Our first reading from Nehemiah is a perfect example. 

Let us not forget that the Jews had been exiled to Babylon.  The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C.  When the Babylonians themselves were conquered by the Persians, the king of the Persians allowed the exiles to return after approximately sixty years of absence, and this is where we find ourselves in the first reading of this Mass.  Nehemiah, a name which means “God comforts,” describes how Ezra, the priest and scribe, reads “the book of the law of Moses which the Lord prescribed for Israel” (Nehemiah 8:1).  The covenant must be re-established, the walls of the city re-constituted, and the Temple re-built.   Nehemiah, the delegate of the King of Persia, and Ezra the priest-scribe announce to the people, “Today is holy to the Lord your God.  Do not be sad, and do not weep” (Nehemiah 8:9).  The law was articulated once again, and the Temple was to be rebuilt. 

There is no doubt that the Law and Temple were linked in the minds of the people.  The Temple was more than a house of worship, a visual expression of a pride of place for the worshipping Jews.  It was God’s dwelling in their midst.  God lived with His people, and the Temple, in all its splendor, elegance, and ritual, was an abiding sign of God’s favor. 

In this spirit, the words of Psalm 84 call to mind this sentiment. 
    How lovely your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!
    My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord.
    My heart and flesh cry out for the living God.
    As the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest to settle her young,
    My home is by your altars, Lord of hosts, my king and my God! 
    (Psalm 84:2-5)

In a few moments, I will pray the Prayer of Dedication.  The ritual of our Catholic Church will read as follows:  “Here is reflected the mystery of the Church….  The Church is favored, the dwelling place of God on earth:  a temple built of living stones, founded on the apostles with Jesus Christ its corner stone.”  Here will rest the corner stone, the symbol of permanency in the community, the rock of St. Peter, solid and secure.  Here will be placed the altar, with St. Martin de Porres himself to witness the sacred mysteries celebrated upon it that Martin himself held in his own hands while he ministered to the poorest of the poor.  Here will be the font of baptism by which the faithful will become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” (I Peter 2:9).  Here will be the confessional, where the People of God will come to be unbound by the forgiveness spoken of in the Gospel today (cf. Matthew 16:19).  “How lovely your dwelling, Lord of hosts!” 
Make no mistake about it.  Catholics are a people of the incarnation.  They live with the visual.  From incense to holy water, stained glass windows to marble altars, statuary to the very design of the building, everything recalls for them the presence of God dwelling in their midst.  “How lovely your dwelling, Lord of hosts!” 

Just recently I returned from the bishops’ ad limina visit to Rome.  There we prayed at the tombs of the apostles, met with the Successor of St. Peter, and absorbed so much of what makes the Church a living presence in the world today.  At one occasion, we were in conversation with a Benedictine liturgist, and he made this observation.  He said that church architecture was so important for liturgy.  The architecture of a church could either “distract us into the mystery or distract us from the mystery.”  For too long, at least several decades, we have allowed so much to “distract us from the mystery” and we have not profited from the experience.  In many ways it has been a Babylonian captivity, where our souls yearned and pined for the courts of the Lord, some even small reminder of the presence of the sacred in the midst of a secular world that no longer considered anything holy.   

From the beginning, the building of St. Martin de Porres has been an opportunity to “distract us into the mystery.”  It has been built to last.  In this way, it is like the Temple of old.  It reflects a community that truly believes.  It is distinguishable as a house of God.  No one will mistake it for something else.  Its very height, embellishment and decoration challenge the profane to remain outside its doors.  This is as it should be, for it is intended for a chosen people, a priestly people, a holy people.  Here incense will perfume its walls, and the sun will cast color upon its stone, the people will remain in silent prayer and sing praises lasting into eternity and feast upon the Lamb of God to celebrate their union with God.  In an increasingly secular world, we have need desperately to be reminded of what St. Martin de Porres signifies. 
  As I will pray in a moment while anointing the altar, may this building be a sign “of the mystery of Christ and His Church.”  The faithful never live in isolation.  They are known as much by the symbols that represent their faith, as by their moral life and behavior.  It is into this category that a place of loveliness fits.  Just as the liturgy is not invented by us but given to us, just as a church building is blessed by the bishop of a diocese, everything about this church has something to tell us about the Church universal, its place in time and its future destiny.  “How lovely your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!”