The parish I want to be apart of!

The Milwaukee basilica of St. Josaphat always captivated me, not simply because of its impressive size and wonderful architecture; but because of the story that lies behind the huge stone edifice.  You see St. Josaphat was a mission formed of Polish immigrants back in the early 19th century in the city of Milwaukee.  Their numbers grew, then their church burned to the ground.  The congregation obviously needed to move, but where?  They were a large congregation but had little means; the parish was made up of mostly labor class and the poor.  They saved and collected their resources and hired an architect.  About this time, they heard of a Chicago post office that was decommissioned by the government.  There was a huge cost savings to be had by buying that building, deconstructing it, loading it on 500 rail cars, and rebuilding it on their site, with a few marked changes to make it a church.  This was a great idea, and all were for the cost savings, but there was one catch, getting the building from its current lot in Chicago to the rail cars, then getting it from the rail cars to their site in Milwaukee.  The parishioners solved this problem, they would do it.  So, after a long day of manual labor, they all met, at first journeying to Chicago, and then finally in Milwaukee, to load and unload trucks.  Day after day, week after week, month after month of labor.  Can you imagine?  I work inspecting homes and making roof estimates, a far cry from heavy labor, and I cannot imagine giving up my evenings lifting building materials.  This they did, for their community.


We do see a few stories like this today, but mostly we see flashy pastors creating a shallow cult of personality that thrives for a time, then dies when the pastor moves on.  Or, more frequently, we find the program church that has a little for everyone but nothing that really takes us deeper into the reality of God.  Could we find the spirit of those immigrants of St. Josaphat today?


We are told in scripture that if we have faith, we can move mountains, St Josaphat certainly did that!  Faith is the belief in the unseen.  We know that God wishes for us to know Him, so we study.  We study scripture, we study the saints, we study theology.  This is a great start for our walk with Christ, as faith is that which gives us knowledge of God present in His sacraments.  Living a sacramental life, full of study and contemplation provides Christians with the knowledge that God is real, and present in our lives.  In my year in the Catholic Church, I have found many that love a sacramental life, but I have found many more that come to mass, and that is it!  Open the newspaper and see reports of Catholics in public office supporting abortion minutes before (and after!!) birth.  Instead of building the Church these people are tearing it down, brick by brick, and we can lose hope.


Hope is the ability to reach for what lies ahead, even if the going is tough.  We take the time to teach our children because we have hope that they will grow to be God fearing productive members of society.  If we had no hope of this, we would likely still house them, but we certainly would not nurture them.  This is the reality of so many in our society today, hope is gone for a good life for parents and they project that upon their children, not taking the time to teach and raise their offspring simply for lack of hope that any good will come of their labors.  Without hope we become self-centered and materialistic.  We lack love.


Love is a word with many meanings these days.  I am afraid in many churches today it means giving each other a hug and saying, “God bless”.  Paul speaks in first Corinthians 13 that without love we are loud clanging symbols, among other things.


1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [1]


Paul says love is above both faith and hope, as without it you can have neither faith nor hope.  Seems that we should study this word “love” closely, because if it does mean “give a hug”, then I had better start to hug everyone I see!  (the spectre of me hugging everyone I meet should tell us we need to go deeper for the true meaning!)  The Greek word used for “love” in that section of Corinthians is transliterated “agape”.  If you have been around the Catholic Church for any time at all you have likely heard the word.  There are many words for love in Greek, philio, is brotherly love, pragma is a long-standing love such as you would have for a longtime friend, there are more, but you get the idea.  Agape is the love Jesus gave us on the cross, it is sacrificial love.  If Jesus could have given us a hug and said, “God bless”, instead of being crucified, believe me He would have!  Jesus loved us so much that He died for us.  This is agape love.  To be patient and kind is at times a sacrifice, not to be jealous or boastful is a sacrifice…again, you get the idea.


Parishioners of St. Josaphat had faith, they carried tons for God, knowing He wanted them to build a church.  This was not a shallow faith that would go transfer with their pastor, this was all in faith.  They had hope, they could see the beauty they were constructing piece by piece.  They had hope for their children, building them a place to be raised and educated in the Catholic faith.   But most of all they had agape love; sacrificial love.  Sacrificing night after night to carry block after block.  They did it for love of God, they did it for love of community, which they were apart, they did it for love of their children who came after them and centered their life around the building they built.  It took years, many did not live long enough to see its completion, but they prevailed.

I want to be part of that church!  One where everybody carries the bricks!  One where everyone sees a job and asks how they can help.  One that is a community built on mutual help, like the one in Acts 2.


Acts 2:41-42 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [2]


A community of faith hope and charity.

[1] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 13:4–7). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

[2] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Ac 2:40–42). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s