“Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest (Isaiah 66:1)?”
There is something about stately, old, Catholic churches that captures my heart. Like our faith itself, they have weathered the test of time. The romantic in me loves to ponder how our founding fathers (and mothers) labored with love to build and furnish these beautiful houses of worship. I stand in awe when I contemplate their daily struggle on the farm, in the shop, and on the homestead – absent the modern conveniences of running water, electricity, and telecommunication, and how in spite of the daily chores they still managed to create these timeless treasures.
The Catholics who established these early parishes are my heroes! Their lives were difficult, but armed with pure faith they sought to build churches that gave God glory, and raised the hearts and minds of their progeny to contemplate His Divine Majesty. They didn’t rely on liturgical design experts or capital campaign managers; no consensus building committees were required here. Rather, they prayed hard, and relied upon their own God-given talents to render from wood and stone a house of worship for their Divine Creator. From the expensive stained glass to the pristine construction, these buildings were fashioned to demonstrate tremendous gratitude to God for His Divine Providence.
The early faithful were willing to forgo necessities – a pair of winter boots, a little more coal, a second work dress, a winter jacket without holes, in order to provide suitable places for the celebration of the greatest miracle on earth- the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As such their lives revolved around the rhythm of the liturgical year and its celebrations- the daily Mass, rosary, solemnity and feast day celebrations, Eucharistic Adoration, and processions brought the community together to bond in Christ while experiencing His eternal love in Word and Sacrament. The earthly remains of these Catholic pioneers often rest in consecrated land amid the shadows of the churches the labored to construct.
Today, my family and I had the opportunity to stop and pray for a moment in one of these gems. We were traveling, and had been praying the Morning Divine Office for today’s Feast of the Guardian Angels. I had just finished praying the line in the intercessions:
“Send St. Michael, the prince of the heavenly host to aid your people, may he defend them against Satan and his angels on the day of battle.”
As I looked out the window, we were passing St. Michael’s Catholic Church, and the front door was open! I had attended Mass in this lovely old church many years ago, but lately it has not been open as frequently. My husband interpreted my squeal of joy appropriately and made a sharp turn into the parking lot. All ten of us piled out, and sheepishly entered the old white wooden church. As we knelt in prayer by the steps of the sanctuary, gazing up at the tabernacle, flanked by a statue of the Sacred Heart and St. Michael on one side and Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the other, I thanked God for beauty of the moment.
The reality of St. Michael’s Church exceeded the romantic notion of my distant memory. Two ladies were cleaning the church with the same affection and attention to detail that had motived the early settlers. One confided to me that each week while cleaning, she lovingly dusted the feet of Jesus on the Sacred Heart Statue. She quipped that it would be a shame to arrive at the pearly gates and receive a less than warm welcome for neglecting her duty to clean well Our Lord’s feet.
As we chatted for a moment with the caretakers, we learned that St. Michael’s was built 126 years ago. The lovely prayer lines worn in the wood of the pews touched my heart. The church is now closed during the winter months as it is costly to heat and there are so few visitors to this peninsula during those months. However, the Diocese of Green Bay recognizes the beauty of this sacred space and maintains it lovingly for less frequent worship. What a joy for my family to have the opportunity to pray where generations have prayed before. The doctrine of the Communion of Saints truly becomes palpable when one visualizes the labor of love rendered by the hands of those faithful children of God who sat in these pews 126 years ago, and whose mortal remains are buried in the adjacent cemetery.
As we knelt once again in prayer before we continued on our journey, I thanked my guardian angel and St. Michael for leading us to the sanctuary of this lovely old church, and I thanked God for preserving it for my children to experience with gratitude and joy.
Happy Feast of the Guardian Angels! May they protect us with devotion, and may God reward them for their loyal diligence.
Ad Jesum per Mariam,