Have you ever walked into a cathedral? When I say "cathedral", I don't just mean your average Catholic church building. A cathedral is the seat of a bishop who has responsibilities that extend not just to his own parish community, but to perhaps an entire county or group of churches. This being the case, the cathedral is typically much more done-up, so to speak. It has enormous vaulted ceilings, will usually have beautiful works of art – paintings on the walls, statues, stained glass depicting stories from the Bible or saints. The cathedral near us is wonderfully close. Here is a picture of it I took a few months ago:
The cathedral is typically a place of stunning beauty and art. You can knock the church for pouring so much money and effort into building these places, but the truth is that, for the most part, they are open for anyone to come in. The beauty of any church belongs to everybody, in a way. It's a home open (ideally) all the time.
My first experience with the Catholic faith really came when I was very much anti-Catholic. There was a church down the street from my college in Chicago, and I don't think it was a cathedral, but it was beautiful. The beauty wasn't the big thing for me, though. What I loved most was actually the quiet of it. It was open mid-day, mid-week, and you can imagine the difference between that and the streets of downtown Chicago outside. I walked in, sat down, and rested.
The word "sanctuary" comes to mind. That word can mean a lot of different things. It can mean a place of worship, but it can also mean a place of protection. To seek sanctuary somewhere is to seek a place where you can get away from the violence outside. It can mean a place of peace. We can find sanctuary in our homes, a place where we don't have to act different to please people or dress a certain way or say the right things. We can be ourselves.
The cathedral, or any open Catholic church building, is a sanctuary in every way. I believe, as a Christian, that that is not just a metaphorical description, but a real one. Jesus is in every Catholic sanctuary in the form of the Eucharist. He, in Himself, is our sanctuary. But setting Him aside for the moment, and even setting aside all the baggage we bring to our view of Christianity, the Catholic church building is one of the few places in the world that isn't bustling with noise – that doesn't have an atmosphere that's frantic and loud, that isn't trying to sell you something. It's just quietly there, beckoning you into it's bosom. In a Catholic church, you can collect your thoughts. It's a sacred space for your mind to let go and wander. To ponder life, to consider where you are and who you are. To ask yourself the questions and process the experiences in life that the world, in all it's commotion, isn't giving you room to do.
Some people don't like the quiet. I think of that song "Car Radio" by 21 Pilots:
Sometime quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It's on my sleeve
My skin will scream reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream….
There's no hiding for me
I'm forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
But it's in the quiet that the things our heart and mind – or maybe God Himself – have been trying to tells us bubble up to the surface. A quiet space can be a place to put down our emotional guards that can grow so heavy to carry from day to day.
During the Mass, in this sanctuary, we find forgiveness and the strength to go on. We pray the familiar prayers and sing the songs that work as buttresses to our spiritual lives. We give our spirits room. We give God room in us. It's in this space that I have found a tremendous amount of peace. And I am better for it.