December 18, 2014
Tucked away almost at the very end of the Old Testament is one of the shortest books of the Sacred Scripture. It is the prophetic book of Haggai. It consists of only two chapters. Yet, its importance far exceeds its brevity.
The prophet Haggai lived at the time when the Jews were returning to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile (539 B.C.). The exiles were coming back to their ancestral land. They were building comfortable homes, well-appointed and safe. But, the Temple in Jerusalem was in ruins. God’s dwelling place, a heap of stones.
Haggai’s whole message, repeated with clear, straightforward language, was simple and urgent: “Rebuild the Temple.” “Go up into the hill country; bring timber, and build the house that I may take pleasure in it and receive my glory, says the Lord” (1:8). The prophet informed the people of their need to give him the glory due his majesty.
Whether it is the 6th century B.C. or the 21st century A.D., God desires a dwelling place, a sacred place, his holy temple, to be a place of worship and praise in the midst of the restored community of faith. God’s will remains the same. He longs to be with his people in a visible, tangible place, to sanctify their lives.
Now, in every diocese, the cathedral — where the great events of the diocese are celebrated — is to be the most visible place where God makes holy his people. Our cathedral is our largest church. It is our most historic church. The building is 149 old and dates from 20 years after the parish was founded. Its art work is incomparable, with stained glass windows from Innsbruck, Austria.
Our cathedral would warrant our best efforts for the sheer fact that it is our most active parish in the city, if not the whole diocese. As a faith-filled community in the heart of Paterson, the cathedral parish celebrates more than 490 baptisms each year and engages in an extraordinary mission of evangelization coupled with a great outreach to the poor.
But, there is a deeper reason that compels us to heed the words of Haggai and rebuild our cathedral. We are repairing it, restoring it and renewing it not simply because it has shown its age and has fallen into disrepair; not simply because it has great artistic value and is a truly vibrant pastoral ministry. No! We are engaged in this noble work, because the Cathedral is the church of the Diocese of Paterson.
The very identity of the diocese is expressed in the stones of this building. It is here the cathedra, the bishop’s seat that symbolizes his role as teacher and shepherd of the whole diocese, is found. Just as every priest shares in the priesthood of his bishop, so too, every church in a diocese takes its meaning from the bishop’s cathedral. Every other parish church is a chapel to the cathedral.
Our cathedral of St. John the Baptist, great edifice that it is, is more than a building. It is the chosen place where God gathers us together as the Church of Paterson, to speak to us, to strengthen us and to fill us with his grace. This sacred site is worthy of our best efforts, for it expresses what we think of ourselves as the Church of Paterson.
On Dec. 6, in a formal way, we asked God’s blessing on the work undertaken as a diocese to repair and restore the Lord’s temple in our midst. Four times, Haggai went to the people of his day, to encourage them and solicit their help in rebuilding the Temple. He stands unique among the Old Testament prophets because the people responded to his call. We, too, are most grateful for all who have so generously responded to the need to restore our cathedral. We look forward to coming with them to our cathedral when the work already begun, by God’s grace, is completed. Then, because of their dedication and renewed faith, “Greater will be the future glory of this house than the former…And in this place [the Lord] will give [us] peace” (Haggai 2:9).