Fr. Peter Daly
October 31, 2002
I needed a vacation. Our parish had just finished the construction and dedication of our new church and I was burnt out. So, my 82 year-old mother and I packed up and flew west for a week.
We went to see two big “sacred places”: the Grand Canyon and the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. One place made by God. The other made by man. Both are impressive.
Some years ago, when my niece Emily was five, she went to the Grand Canyon with her family. As she looked over the precipice she said, “This must be God’s house.” I had the same reaction when I saw it.
As we approached the rim there was a collective inward taking of breath. The power of the sight makes most people mindful of God. Like standing in a hurricane or seeing a volcano erupt, there is a sense that you are in touch with the awesome power of God. It is the jaw dropping, silence inducing power of God.
Near one of the overlooks at the Canyon rim was a plaque with a quote from Psalm 145, “They speak of the splendor of your glorious majesty and tell of your wondrous works O God.”
Seeing the Grand Canyon is the sort of sight that moves the heart and mind to prayer. It makes us realize that as tiny as we are by comparison, we nevertheless occupy a privileged place in creation. Only human beings can contemplate its beauty and praise God for its existence. In a way it seems that God made it just so we could look at it and think of Him.
In L.A., we went to another kind of dwelling place of God, this one made by human hands.
The new Cathedral in L.A. is controversial. Not only because it was so expensive ($190 million), but also because it is so unusual. However, like the Grand Canyon, it moves the heart and mind to God.
The new Cathedral is massive, holding easily three thousand people. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles needs a large new Cathedral. The old Cathedral, St. Vibiana’s, was damaged beyond repair by an earthquake.
The new Cathedral has echoes of the past. It is made of sandy colored cement that recalls the adobe walls of the early California missions. But it is definitely a 21st century church. It has no stained glass. Rather it has huge windows covered with wafer thin alabaster, which admits light to the whole building.
On the walls are hung wonderful tapestries, depicting a long procession of the communion of saints, each in his or her native dress. All are looking forward to the altar of sacrifice and gazing on the cross of Christ. It feels like they, our ancestors in faith, are part of the worshipping congregation.
The new Cathedral is physically integrated into the great city that surrounds it, yet it is a sort of island. Located right downtown, hard by the Hollywood Freeway, the new Cathedral provides a place of peace and an island of prayer in a noisy, commercial world. Surrounded by rivers of traffic, it reminded me of Notre Dame on its island in Paris, surrounded by another century’s river of commerce, the Seine.
Although I personally would have preferred a more traditional feel, the Cathedral accomplishes some important things.
For one thing, it is beauty that is accessible to the poor. Its huge plaza and quiet mediation garden give everyone a place of serenity and beauty. I saw some street people sitting among the tourists enjoying the sun outside and the quiet inside the Cathedral.
Although these two dwelling places of God are very different, they evoked a similar response in me. Peace. After visiting them both, I felt more at peace. As big as they are, neither “house” can contain God, yet both serve God because they make us listen, like the prophet Elijah on the mountain of Horeb, to the tiny whispering sound of His voice within.
In that sense, they are both very much, “God’s house.”