“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Ezekiel 37 , 1-3
Today I finished Gateway Cup , “St Louis’s premiere Cycling event”. It takes place over Labor day weekend, and is featured in 4 iconic St Louis Neighborhoods, Lafayette Park, Francis Park (ni St, its named after a wierd dude with MR Peanut cane…not the Seraphic Minstrel of old, ) The Hill (The hub of Italian Neighbors in St Louis originally), and Benton Park, which sits in the shadow of Anheiser Busch (and the Cathedral of South St Louis, St Francis De Sales).
The final stage takes place in Benton. A lot of this neighborhood was originally Bavarian immigrants. There are other notable parishes besides SFDS (which is still a notable church, in that it is the center of so called”Traditional Worship” for the Roman Rite in St Louis, I digress)
For instance, St Agnes was the Parish of the Buschs and Lemps, and sits direct in the shadow of AB. Its been closed for some time now, However, it originally hosted a TLM community, one that introduced me to the TLM in my late teens. This parish like so many others was built out of pure love, and quite literally, with nickles and dimes, which very often was all the poor working class could afford
Down the road, we can find St Agatha the official “Polish Parish” of St Louis, after the once great St Stanislaus was sadly lost to an Apostate Priest and Board.
Still down the road, we find the quaint St Michaels Orthodox Church, once a Russian Orthodox Church, now of Serbian Orthodox affiliation (and, the parish of an Uncle that converted to orthodoxy, Bruno, I digress again)
Still there are countless other churches in the area. Many are closed and repurposed, often as homes or schools. I bring all of these to mind, because they very much remind me of the “dry bones” verse in Ezekiel. Once just like the Dry bones Ezekiel of old encountered, these folks, though hard workers who often had a very limited future, had one thing in common, one thing that kept them going. A devotion to their God, one that was manifest in the beautiful Churches our city, and many others are privy to. Many don’t understand that historical aspect, because frankly its been lost to time, and the people who have replaced it have swarmed the area both with struggle and deviance. Its a shadow of what it once was, despite often wealthier people moving in.
Yes, just like the dry bones, often those of us who are weary, find ourselves standing at a valley of death…praying for the day the dry bones might become warriors of God again. I find myself depressed in the fact of acknowledging how far things have fallen, especially in the municipal centers. Where as St Louis isn’t as malevolent in morals as say, a New York, its a very small nudge to go from where we are, to where they are.
However, the dry bones aren’t just those who seemingly are unwilling to change. Its you , me, and everyone who isnt courageous enough to stand up in the face of the evil which has corrupted our world, and that begins down the street. No, we shouldn’t be all crusader and leading the charge. There are little things we can do, examples of things we can do.
I really think this is why areas like the City have so much sadness, and struggle. Many people will blame it on one class, race, or creed abandoning a geographical region for another, but it comes down to realizing the foothold the Enemy gained… and knocked us out with a one two punch. There is a reason why the few churches that are left are flourishing – Its because Lucifer cannot get a foothold in there, and God’s grace abounds.
Make no mistake, these places are sick, and suffering. There can be no revival of the city, with out a revival of the Faith in almighty God that originally emboldened those folks who built it.
However, we Catholics are guilty of leaving our faith with the Chalice or Ciborium. We are so worried about being a contradiction, when the very nature of our faith, our walk, is a contradiction to the world itself. We have become so legalistic in our approach to sin and malice, that we have stopped meeting the Sinner where they are (and make no mistake, this is self reflection as well… Im the greatest of sinners I know). I know with myself, I struggle with even meeting myself at the door, and instead I write off myself as worthless to Him who put so much value in me
Right now, Im listening to “Oh my Soul”.. by Casting Crowns. The End of the refrain is “You’re not alone”. The first time I heard it…I cried like a baby. I still do. But the message is clear. NONE Of us are alone “There’s a place where fear, has to face the God you know”. Powerful. All of the time, sin and suffering are birthed in fear. That fear is rooted in listening to the false message that we arent valued, that we arent loved. If we dont believe we are valued or loved, then its easy to cast aside the 7th of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Reverence, or in more Antiquity “Fear of the Lord”… which doesnt mean God is something to be afraid of, but respected, both because of His power, but also, more importantly, his love and mercy.
Those are absolutely the most difficult concepts for even a person like me to grasp…mostly because my religious education, and scholastics, end up becoming a slap in the face. Again, that legalism will tell me, no, there is no point. Much like our church has often indirectly declared with her attitude toward the poor and suffering, while replacing it with a false sense of mercy for the “pop” causes of our times. Instead of dealing with the suffering that’s in our back yard, we write those poor souls off, because they absolutely convict us. Its a lot easier for our Bishops conference to make pontificating statements about immigrants a thousand miles away. Because just like me, the equation balances to them…because they ignore the stranger at their door, looking far off into the distance.
Fear of the Lord, is realizing that power, and that power first and foremost is trans-formative. Not just for ourselves, but the whole world. That begins with us, not writing people off as beyond help, but quite literally “Hate the Sin and Loving the Sinner”. The blight that’s in our Cities can be cured, and it begins with losing our pride, and embracing the humility that says, I dont have a damn clue what I am supposed to do with this mess… but HE does. The God of Miracles, of Wonders, of Mercies. He can fix this, and we as his instruments, and submitting to that power, can make it happen