Last month I visited Montreal and with my husband and son and happened to celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, at the Basilica of Notre Dame. Now, Montreal has a lot of churches that have been designated as basilicas. And after experiencing the sheer enormity and grandeur of many of them, these don’t seem like superfluous designations either. In terms of size and splendor, the Basilica of Notre Dame was the most royal, regal, kingly church building I’d ever set foot in.
But what did it feel like to participate in Mass there on such a seemingly appropriate solemnity? It felt a bit eerie. This enormous sanctuary was (proportionately) quite empty. You see, it’s only roughly 6 to 8 percent of self-identified Catholics in Quebec who attend Mass regularly. Even though this magnificent basilica is frequently visited as a tourist attraction (the admission fees for tours partially fund the upkeep) and all of Montreal is filled with large churches and evidence of the historic influence Catholicism on nearly every street corner, it’s a dramatic example of a setting of the New Evangelization. Evangelization here is little different than starting in a new mission field and building from scratch when it comes to conversion and discipleship.
And what a powerful reminder of what the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is really about. Any time we hear the word “king” it’s natural to think of earthly royalty, of material wealth and power. But grand, regal church buildings, a church that appears successful to the world–none of these things are central to Jesus’ kingship. The most fundamental response we can make to Jesus as King is to recognize and respond to him as Our Lord. To make him master of our lives. To grown into relationship with Jesus so that He is not merely an abstract “Christ” or Messiah, not an impersonal “Lord”–but truly my Lord, your Lord, and our Lord as disciples in His Church.
Earthly signs of Jesus’ Church, like the extraordinary Basilica of Notre Dame in Montreal, offer testimony to the beauty of worship, fit for a king, that we offer to Jesus Christ as Church. Yet at the same time, such material accomplishments are no end in and of themselves. Neither earthly buildings nor institutional might is a guarantee that the saving message of Jesus Christ, the Gospel, the kerygma will be shared, that lives will be changed, that genuine conversion and revival in each person’s heart will bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Very few of us evangelize in places with the as stark a contrast between practice of the Catholic faith and splendor of Catholic buildings as displayed in Montreal. But on a much smaller scale, we are often faced with challenges of discerning how to balance the earthly and spiritual needs of the Church in parish life. We may be tempted to think, “my parish has a huge faith formation program with lots of kids and catechists, so we’re okay, we don’t need to be evangelized here,” but externals do not always tell the whole story. Evangelization is the most important work of building for Jesus Christ as Our Lord, as King of the Universe. We are rightly inspired by and use certain programs and institutions of the Church, but these are not an end goal, and are unsustainable without our essential participation in the Church’s reason for existence–evangelization.
A version of this post also appeared at NewEvangelizers.com.