Laodicea and the Early Christian Community

At the very end of the liturgical year, on this Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we gathered as a pilgrim community for morning prayer and Mass in the hotel. While we have come together for morning prayer and Mass like this in the hotel for the past few mornings, this morning was particularly meaningful. Not only is it the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, but as Fr. Jake Beltran mentioned at the end of his homily, we are celebrating the Holy Mass, a foretaste of the Heavenly Wedding Feast, in a wedding banquet hall. How fitting for us pilgrims walking the footsteps of St. Paul, but also pilgrims journeying towards our heavenly homeland, to receive the King of the Universe in the context of a wedding banquet. This experience was certainly no coincidence, but a consolation and a blessing from the Bridegroom of our souls. 

We have only been in Turkey for a week now, but I have already been deeply impacted by how much we take for granted as Americans, first of all the freedom to have Jesus so readily available in so many churches across the United States. The people in Turkey have been extremely welcoming, friendly, kind, and generous to our pilgrim community, but no amount of generosity and kindness can replace the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Our human needs have all been met with abundance, but with a lack of Catholic Churches and time for adoration before our Lord and King, it has been a strenuous activity for me to stay connected to Jesus and receive the blessings and consolations normally received in His healing presence. Before leaving for this trip, I presented an exegetical reflection and research paper on Psalm 133, “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers live in unity…” This Psalms was written at a time when the Jews were exiled in Babylon and they were longing for God’s presence in the Temple. In the absence of the Temple, the Jews had to ask themselves, “how are we to worship God, God who dwells in the Temple?” Psalm 133 speaks of the goodness and blessings of brothers living in unity. Exegetical studies have shown that the purpose of this Psalm was to express longing for God’s presence to find God’s presence the Temple which is also experienced in their unity as a people. Jesus later fulfills this Psalm when He says, “When two or three are gathered together in my name, there I AM in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20) All this is to say that while I have struggled with the lack of time for adoration and healing before our Lord in the Eucharist, I have found God’s presence in our faithful, pilgrim community, as we gather daily for prayers, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, scripture reflections and readings on the road, fraternal sharing and conversations, the laughter and joy between brother seminarians, and even in the smile of a stranger we meet along the way.

Today, we visited Laodicea, one of the Churches mentioned in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:11, 3:14-22), and it was there that we were blessed to see the ruins of an early Christian community founded by St. Paul. The detail and artwork that went into these early churches was astounding, not only on an architectural level, but also theologically. There were remnants of the original baptismal font, through which steps led down into the font for a full submersion into the Water of Life. There was the remnant of a sanctuary built of stone, as well, but which was at one time completely covered in marble. We often think of the early churches as being simple or plain, but this was certainly not the case. These early churches spared no expense in beauty and artwork to glorify the King of the Universe, and to lift the hearts and minds of the faithful to the Heavenly realities. Sadly, if you read the book of Revelation, John writes to the people of this city, Laodicea, not to praise it, but to sharply correct it. The people of Laodicea had become exceedingly rich and wealthy according to earthly standards, and as a result the people had become lukewarm in their faith and worship. Money, wealth, and a comfortable life had made these people think more of earthly treasure rather than heavenly treasure.

Church in Laodicea
Mosaics in Laodicea church

It is easy as pilgrims to get lost along the way. When things are tough, we seek comforts, whether that’s a McDonald’s hamburger or a concrete mixer from Culver’s. While a few small comforts are often needed to boost morale, like a brother sharing some candy or treats on the bus, it can be easy to rest in these comforts and lose zeal for where we are going. My prayer for us as pilgrims in the footsteps of St. Paul, and as pilgrims journeying towards our Home in Heaven, is that we enjoy what God has given us, but never more than we need, so that we can say with St. Paul, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). May St. Paul help us to burn with zeal for God’s house, and remember that even in the absence of God’s presence in the Temple, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us…[nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

-Bro. Kevin Menard, Archdiocese of Chicago

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