Francois Fenelon is a seventeenth-century French Roman Catholic archbishop, theologian, poet and writer. He was also the court preacher for King Louis XIV of France. His church would be packed with people on days when they knew the King would be in the church. One Sunday, when the king arrived at the chapel, no one else was there but the clergy. The king was curious and asked why the church is empty. To his surprise, the archbishop explained that he informed everyone that His Majesty would not be attending liturgy that day so the king could see and learn who is truly there for God and who simply attended the liturgy to flatter the king.
In the 17th century, long before and after this event, or even now, there are many very different reasons and motivations that bring people to church. And while some of these reasons might be noble and good, we might find others to be misguided and wrong. But perhaps the actual reasoning and rationale of why someone chooses to attend church do not matter much because eventually, every visit to the house of the living God is also an opportunity to encounter Christ. Some of us are here to find a cure and remedy for our wounded souls. Others might be searching for peace, meaning and joy for their lives and some might be here because there is nowhere else left to turn to.
In today’s Gospel reading, we find Christ visiting the temple in Jerusalem for a religious feast. In fact, in the Gospels, we often see Christ visiting synagogues and the temple. Why did Christ visit synagogues and took part in worship services? Did He need to pray? Was he teaching us about the importance of liturgy and spiritual community in our lives? We know that Christ used such moments as opportunities to teach and proclaim the word of God. But it appears that almost every time He visited a place of worship, Christ also healed someone. It appears that for Christ going to a temple or a synagogue was as much about praying and teaching as it was about healing someone in pain and suffering. Could it be that the countless similar stories found in the Gospels are, in fact, an invitation for us to reflect and discover another reason for going to church? Could it be that we too are called to heal when we attend church on Sundays?
It would be quite easy to dismiss this notion by saying that we are not Christ. Surely we can’t give sight to the blind, make the paralytic walk and resurrect the dead. But that would not be entirely true because sometimes, for God to realize and bring forth his magnificent healing miracles, He needs people who will carry the sick to him and lead him to those in need of healing, people who will give the wounded and suffering souls a reason to fight for, live for, continue hoping and waiting for their miracle.
Yes, we might not have healing powers and we don’t see lepers and people possessed with demonic spirits begging for healing in our churches on Sunday mornings, but I assure you that every Sunday there is someone in this church who goes through some of the hardest and darkest days of his or her life. And often all that is needed for their healing miracle to be set in motion is a friendly, honest and warm conversation, a compassionate presence that gives hope, someone who has time to listen, relate and connect with their struggle. This, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is another reason to go to church on Sundays, always remembering and being encouraged that through our prayers during the liturgy and our conversations in the hallway, narthex or the parking lot, we are helping someone to find their healing and encounter Christ.