Sitting in Saint Stephens cathedral in Vienna waiting for mass lifts me out of my time and joins me to Christians of all times. I am not a Roman Catholic, but like all Christians I am a catholic, part of the one holy Church.
The Hapsburg dynasty came and went and this church remains. The Cold War was fought and still this church remains. When the loud voices of today are stilled by death, these rocks will still cry out.
The Church is permanent. Barbarians worshipped power, but the Church loved her enemies. Martyrs witnessed to power from Christ over death. Kings ruled justly because her servants rebuked them.
The Church suffers. Christianity denies nothing: the world is not as it should be and a life of pleasure is not pleasant. We seek happiness, but we hardly find it before chaos destroys the little order we have found.
The way of the Cross gives our suffering meaning. God did not bid sin, but once we chose it, He uses the painful results to change me. I can be better than I am, but not less likely to die.
The Church serves. My religious life cannot just be internal. This massive stone structure with stained glass, relics, and art sits in space and time giving the poorest person in Vienna access to world class beauty. Having filled the soul, the Church gives us spiritual food, and if we need them physical food and shelter.
The saints of this church are often those who stood in solidarity with the poor.
The Church prays. Everywhere there are kneelers, rebuking my tourist tendency to move on and check then church off my list. “Stop,” they command. The dead all around me say nothing at all, but are here to remind me that all my tasks are vanity.
I will be dead soon and after that God. Am I ready for the massive joy before me or am I so small minded and faint hearted that joy will burn me up as hellfire?
The Church heals. Just as I despair, I am reminded of grace and forgiveness. No man is lost until dead and the Church has hope even for me. At any moment I can join Paul, Mary, Francis, Wenceslaus, Nina, and billions more in a club so exclusive only gods can join and so open that it provides a way for any one of us to become gods.
It is common for me to point to the secularization of Europe. It is real, but I knelt at mass today on this weekday at noon with scores of German speakers who pray. They are the best of Austria and they are here. They did not seem afraid.
Some say they are mostly old women. That is not what I saw, but God help secularists if it is true, because for seventy years pious old women kept Russian communism on its knees as they prayed on their own.
The church in Europe has been dying for decades, but somehow is not dead yet. The Church still exists in Austria and it will be here in one thousand more years.
I would not trade the power of the youth I saw partying last night for the gentle smile on the grey head in front of me or gain the approval of the spirit of this age if it stopped those worker’s hands from telling her beads.
Her face is calm and beautiful. Each line points to paradise. The water, the wine, and the bread have made her eyes brighter than any surgeon and she fits her form comfortably. She is mightier than presidents or dead kings and she is one of a billion.
Lord I love your Church.