Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened to Me in Church

photo by Kevin Oliver / flickr
serendipity: Chance, accident, fluke, good luck, coincidental, fortuitous, providence, happy coincidence, grace.

Unfortunately none of these definitions of serendipity do justice to its meaning. Maybe you find yourself going down a road just ordinary and unexceptional and ta-dah--something happens. You find something on that road or that trail that you never, ever expected. Lightning strikes. Your breath almost stops. You are open-mouthed and wonder-filled.

It's like Jesus said one time. You are going walking in this field--a place you've walked a hundred times. And suddenly you stub your toe. What was it? You kneel down and dig around whatever made your toe ache. Jesus said: Guess what you find? A treasure hidden that field. A treasure of incredible value. That's serendipity.

Such holy moments happen to all of us. Especially
when maybe are feeling anything but holy. Last week in Montreal we decided to wind up the hill to one of the highest peaks in the city. We came to what is called Saint Joseph's Oratory. Which means, in case you are wondering, a place of prayer. You look up at this huge dome. And you look at the tall steps leading to the church door. 283 steps! To see the church you have to climb all those steps. Whatever happened to handicapped access?

Huffing and puffing, stopping half way and then continuing we finally made it to the front door. My wife was so dizzy we had to sit a spell and wait for the dizziness to pass. It is one of the largest worship centers in the world. Eat your heart out Joel Osteen. The sanctuary seats 2,200. But standing room capacity is 10,000.

As we moved down the hall to see the sanctuary I noticed a strange thing. There were crutches and walking canes lining the wall. Not just a few. The huge aisle on both sides was lined with hundreds of wooden crutches. I asked: Wonder what they mean? Someone told me that Brother Andre was responsible for all those crutches. When he was 30 years old people would come to see him and he healed them and they left their crutches behind. Word spread. Even though he told everyone that came that Saint Joseph was responsible--they came to Brother Andre with their brokenness and needs. So many people came from everywhere that he built a chapel on 1904. But the crowds continued to come and the place was too small. And the crutches kept pilig up.

So a new sanctuary was begun in 1924. Brother Andre lived to see much of the construction. When he died in 1937 a million people filed by his coffin. The work continued until the church was inaugurated in 1955. And outside the doors to the main basilica the halls are lined with the crutches.

Who knows about the healing power of Saint Andre? Many are suspicious. Yet people who came to share their burdens--left their crutches behind.

Maybe you are wondering where is the  serendipity? I'm getting there.  When we got through huffing and puffing from our long walk and I looked around at all the vestiges of Catholicism it seemed like just another beautiful church. And then I saw the crutches. This, I said to myself, is what the church is all about. People coming with whatever it is they can hardly bear and leave behind something that caused them pain.

Whatever church is--it happens all the time in little tiny storefronts to great cathedrals. All denominations. All kinds of people. The world over. I remember something Carlyle Marney said once. He called it the Pastor's dream. On Monday morning when the custodians come in to sweep out the sanctuary from Sunday's service they will discover the strangest thing. Instead of umbrellas, odd gloves, idly penciled notes and discarded bulletins, these workers will come upon some other things. Scattered here and there they will find some big man's deep grief and another's disappointment and someone's sense of failure. They will stumble on some quiet woman's bitter hurt, another's painful pride, and someone's quarrel with God. Far over in one section, so tiny they almost miss it, they came upon some youngster's sin and they will find the bulky trash of someone's badly bruised ego, left behind where it belonged. The Pastor remembered the end of his dream. All that the workers found would be swept out and thrown away when church was over.

And this was the funny-not-so-funny thing that happened to me in Montreal. Despite all the terrible and painful things that has been done to the church or by the church through the years--people come and leave behind something they need no more. And this is why after more than 2000 years people still keep coming. Hoping to leave their crutches. Maybe even in Joel Osteen's church, too. And that's what I call my serendipity.

photo by Kevin Oliver/ flickr

--Roger Lovette /

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