When unusually balmy weather occurs after a season of cold and snow, some of us cannot resist thinking about baseball. As I write, pitchers and catchers are packing up for their spring training—an event that for baseball fans is like the first Sunday in Advent for Christians. Like sap rising in the spring, hope again rises in our hearts.
Our gospel lesson comes just after the story
of Jesus' first "sign": turning the gallons of water intended for
purification rites into the wine that reveals his glory. This week's
story features more contrast and conflict, this time centered on another
key Jewish institution: the temple.
It always takes time to get my bearings when I jump into a week's
lectionary texts, because I'm wading into a story that's already
underway. A week and a half into Lent, we're in Mark 8 and Jesus is well
into his ministry. He has fed the multitudes, twice. He has called and
sent out his 12 disciples. He has preached and healed, and he's
beginning to turn toward Jerusalem.
John Updike, who died January 27 at age 76, was one of the literary giants of our time. As I mentioned in my column in the February 10 issue (written before Updike’s death), I have read as much as I could of his work—ever since I saw him interviewed on television and heard him respond to a question about why religion and clergy appear so frequently in his writing.
From Britain to Denmark, Europe has hundreds of empty churches. The closing of a church is painful—especially in villages where the church for centuries served as a community anchor, even for unbelievers. Efforts are often made to adapt the buildings for a community service, such as a library. Because they are very expensive to maintain, empty churches are more frequently turned into some kind of commercial endeavor. The Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, still owned by the Catholic Church, has been turned into a skate park. The Netherlands has the largest number of idle church buildings. Roman Catholic leaders in Holland estimate that within a decade two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be closed, and 700 of the country’s Protestant churches will likely close over the next four years (Wall Street Journal, January 2).