Monday, June 18, 2018

Loretto Church, Liberty Missouri

At a very unassuming eucharistic assembly in Liberty, Missouri, on the northern outskirts of Kansas City, I sing, along with the rest of the congregation, "we, the many, throughout the earth," and I think of my friend flying off to Baku, I think of each face I love scattered across the globe—Rome, Manila, South Carolina—and across the country.

This is us—we, the many—and here we are, all gathered dispersed to the four winds, and yet gathered here together.

I am reminded of a small modern church on the campus of St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN. Its name is an off-brand constituent of this haven of Irish Catholicism on the Indiana planes. Why Loretto? Why is this church named after a strange religious myth of Italian folk Catholicism, where angels carry Mary’s home from Ephesus to a small town in Tuscany. The story smacks of the simple sort of superstition and enchanted worldview of fairytales, where it is in the realm of possibility for angels to carry houses. This is an embarrassing sort of faith at which science scoffs. Flying houses are the purview of tornados in Kansas, not the Seraphim.

Why Loretto? The church’s title becomes an irking mystery which nags at me. I am struck by the simplicity and familiarity of the liturgy here—we are gathered, on this radiant Good Friday afternoon—as the first Christians once did, in a house. This seems to me like the first house churches. The focus here is not on the architecture, but simply on the beauty of community, the great gift of being together. As we celebrate this cross, with all these unexpected familiar faces, I feel that this is the Church, with the most capital C possible. Like the basilica in Nazareth, like the small orthodox chapel built around the living water of her well, this Church is built so solidly on Mary. Mary, the first church, the model of church, the foundation for believers’ being together and their model of communion with God. The spring which bubbles up under the orthodox church in Nazareth is Mary, the source of Church.

In this church we gather through the grace of her openness, and the force of her fiat. In this church, named after the small shrine in Italy which holds her house, we gather as all churches today gather across the globe, to celebrate the death and resurrection which are the source of Mary’s life and our own. This church is named for her, as lady of the house which is not held in place by spatio-temporal boundaries. This Church which spans the earth is simply the house of Mary spreading over terra firma, as though the many universal parish churches which cover the Kansas plains and shine under Indiana clouds are simply one house, delivered across the globe by angels.

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